Joshua Buatsi and Nike are linking up on a series of new projects that shines a light on Croydon, the “lone borough” of London where Buatsi grew from a kid with potential into British boxing’s next big thing.
Fresh from announcing the Nike Training Camp Croydon – a project that will see 50 young people from Croydon awarded with Level 3 PT qualifications – a six-week-long ‘training camp’ has launched for three of London’s young gamechangers: Sidemen star Tobjizzle, YouTuber Els Marshall and model and journalist Simran Randhawa.
The camp sees each influencers work with Joshua Buatsi and a specially assigned Nike trainer, with a view to giving them a taster of what’s in store for those who register for the Nike Training Camp Croydon.
We caught up with Tobi, Els and Simran during their training camp to see what it’s like to work with a pro boxer, how it’s affected their attitude to health and fitness, and why exercise can be vital for the mind, body and soul.
VERSUS: Have you guys ever taken part in any boxing training before? What were your first impressions of life in the boxing gym?
Els: It’s not my first ever time doing boxing, but it’s definitely my first time doing it to this level with proper pad work and conditioning. My dad actually runs a charity called Boxing Futures, so I’ve been around the sport before but this is a different level – obviously working with a professional trainer and Buatsi, too. I’ve learned a lot already, Buatsi was teaching me so many techniques in our first session and obviously I’ve never worked with a professional fighter before so the knowledge we’re getting is the best. It’s been very cool and a great experience so far.
Simran: I’ve done a couple of boxing sessions before but I don’t really think it’d qualify as proper boxing! It was more like boxercise classes so this was my first time properly in this environment. It was a lot more intense and technical than I thought it would be and the level of strength and fitness you need to do this sport was very eye opening.
Tobi: This is my first time learning to box, the only thing I knew about boxing prior to this was hit your opponent and don’t get hit [laughs]. My first impression of the training was that it’s actually a lot harder than it looks, particularly in terms of the levels of fitness required. It really made my respect levels for boxers go a lot higher.
VERSUS: What are the best parts of the sessions?
Els: It’s the pad work, I love pad work. And when we get to spar that’s a crazy experience, especially if you haven’t done it before, but pad work is just so technical and you can really feel yourself improving. It’s all very tiring, though! You’ve got to have great cardio but I don’t think there’s a better sport to get you in better shape than boxing.
VERSUS: How cool has it been to work with Joshua Buatsi up close, and also your specially assigned Nike Trainer?
Els: It’s been amazing. With Buatsi, obviously he’s from Croydon and I’m from Croydon, so there’s already a lot of good energy there – we actually went to the same school, too! It honestly felt like training with one of my friends, you know what I mean? He’s very cool and I didn’t really see him as someone on a pedestal despite what he’s achieved, he comes across as a normal guy. And Courtney, my Nike trainer, is proper cool, too – he knows his stuff and he gets me to put the work in, don’t get me wrong! He pushes me to my limit but that’s what we need…he’s a great personal trainer and no pain, no gain!
Simran: It’s actually super inspiring! I’ve always been active, into fitness and I’ve always played sports but when you’re working alongside Joshua or my Nike trainer Kim – people who are professionally trained in sport – it shows just how much deep work goes in to get it at the highest level and it’s raised my levels too. Kim’s made me realise that I’m so much stronger and I can lift heavier than I thought I could and it’s been a big boost of confidence.
Tobi: Training with both Joshua and Ryan has been really fun! They both push you to your limit but at the same time are very understanding of your capabilities, you can tell they really care about the sport and it’s motivating to see their passion and an honour to learn from them.
VERSUS: Are you boxing fans? This must give you a newfound respect for the sport, too…
Els: Yeah I watch boxing pretty often but this is making me want to get even more into it. I watch all the big fights but I feel like I understand it all a lot more now having taken part in something myself.
Simran: I’ve always watched boxing with my friend but this has given me such a good insight into it and an appreciation for how hard these athletes work.
Tobi: I’m a casual boxing viewer to be honest, although I’ve been to watch quite a few professional bouts.
VERSUS: What’s your overall attitude to health and fitness like? Does it play a big part in your day-to-day life?
Els: It definitely does. I try and put a lot of emphasis on diet and exercise, they’re both really important to me. I also just try and make little changes to help things, like I walk to and from college now instead of getting public transport. I’m always sure to eat a balanced three or four meals a day too and I’m trying to get to the gym in between these Nike sessions. It’s really important to maintain your fitness as much as you can – people should view that side of their lives just as importantly as work life, in my opinion.
Simran: Yeah so I’ve always been into sport and fitness since I was young but over the last few years, I’ve really noticed the impact that exercise has on my mental health and that’s the primary reason why I keep fit. For example, running – for me running is a form of mindfulness, it’s a really important way for me to switch off. I don’t focus on time or distance, I just set my watch and go! And I think that extends to all forms of training, it’s such a good way of focusing on something other than work and day-to-day tasks.
Tobi: I recently embarked on a personal fitness journey to see how training would affect both my day to day life and my ability to participate in sports (football mainly). Growing up I had, and still have, quite a fast metabolism as well as a natural leaness, so it’s been easy for me to think I was “fitter” than I actually am. However, since I started training 3-4 times a week I’ve been able to see a difference in both my lifestyle and my physical ability on the football pitch.
VERSUS: Have you always been active people and do you think it’s important to get young people into sport?
Els: Yeah I’ve done loads! I used to dance when I was much younger and obviously I play football as often as I can – I used to play 11-a-side for a couple of decent amateur clubs. I think it’s important for young ones to play sport, definitely…I feel that’s something everyone has to do! Whether it’s organised or just with friends, it teaches a lot of positive values.
Tobi: I played a lot of football when I was younger, basically everyday, at school, at home, whenever and wherever I could find time and space, I kicked a football. I think it’s important for young people to get into the habit of keeping fit early on in life, because I know that one day my metabolism won’t be the same and it’ll be harder for me to keep in good shape, and that happens to everyone, so the sooner you start to deal with it, the better.
VERSUS: So what was it about this project that got you interested?
Els: I like to challenge myself and I’ve never really had a PT before, so it was new territory for me. I knew it would be tough – I didn’t think quite this tough – but I knew it would be tough and I’m always down for a challenge. I usually go to the gym by myself but I’ve never been pushed in this way before so it was very appealing. And obviously the chance to work alongside Nike and Joshua Buatsi is big too.
Simran: I think it was the chance to take my training to a different level and get an insight into what it feels like to train like a professional athlete.
Tobi: I’ve had a few friends who’ve participated in amateur boxing match ups recently, JJ (KSI) being one in particular, and I saw the hard work they put into training for their fights, so I wanted to get a little taste of what it was like to train like that.
VERSUS: Joshua Buatsi is giving back to Croydon a lot in his work with Nike right now. Where did you grow up and how important is that place to your identity?
Els: I think where people first grew up will always stay with them, you always come back to your roots. Croydon is where I grew up and it’s very important to go back to where you came from and admire the things about a place that shaped you – you learn a lot from those early environments and it never leaves you, I think that’s very important.
Simran: I’m from North West London and I think it’s such a massive part of my identity, but I think in a general sense being from London is a huge part of who I am and I’m really grateful to travel so much – I’ve been on like 40 different trips this year – but always coming back home is such a special thing for me. The city is such a source of inspiration for me and I talk about it all the time!
Tobi: I’m super proud of where I’m from, both by blood and by birth location. I grew up in East London with my family not having too much to work with but making it work, and that shaped me to be the way I am now. Both my parents instilled an “African” work ethic in me, if you like, along with a sense of determination and a belief that you could achieve anything you put your mind to, and witnessing them put that into practice first hand inspired me to work hard for what I wanted and is a large part of the reason I’m able to do things like this today.
VERSUS: The boxing gym probably feels like it might be quite an intimidating place. How important do you feel it is to inspire young women to train and break past their fears?
Simran: I was the only girl in the ring and initially I definitely found it pretty intimidating and I felt the pressure – I wanted to keep up! But once I got past that mental block and became dedicated to doing the best I can do, training became so enjoyable. There’s definitely been a rise of seeing strong women but I still don’t feel like I see many women of colour in this space, and this has been a great opportunity to try and change that a little bit.
VERSUS: What’s been the most memorable moment of this journey been so far and are you likely to keep boxing once camp ends?
Els: Training with Buatsi and meeting the other young people on this journey has been great – I’ve been watching Tobi for so many years so to link up with him is amazing. I’d like to continue boxing at the end of this, I feel like it could be the start of something for me…I could get into this YouTube boxing thing and have a little fight, you never know!
Simran: The most memorable moment has definitely been Kim making me realise I can lift heavier! When we started she had me lifting 15KG weights and in my most recent session we’ve already moved up to 45KG. It’s made me appreciate how great it is to feel strong. I’d love to keep this going.
Tobi: I really enjoy doing padwork and I think the cardio would be good for my football, I’d definitely be down to do some more training.
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Photography by Steve Howse.