For­mer boxer’s vi­sion is now for de­prived chil­dren on the ropes

Mail & Guardian - - Sport - Bruno Cravo

In some ways, says Por­tuguese exboxer Jorge Pina, the loss of most of his sight was the mak­ing of him. “I didn’t lose my sight, I just see things dif­fer­ently,” he says.

Forced to aban­don his world ti­tle dreams, Pina de­votes his time to help­ing trou­bled young­sters from rough neigh­bour­hoods to stay on the right path by chan­nelling their en­ergy into sport.

“Be­fore, I was a self­ish and trou­bled per­son from a dif­fi­cult neigh­bour­hood,” he says. “But now I want to help kids win the com­bat of life.”

His sight prob­lem de­vel­oped in train­ing in 2004 and even­tu­ally put an end to his box­ing ca­reer. An op­er­a­tion two years later failed to fix his de­tached retina and he was left with only 10% vi­sion.

But, even be­fore he had fully re­cov­ered, Pina was ask­ing his doc­tor whether he could run.

“When I lost my sight I needed some­thing pos­i­tive, de­spite my lim­i­ta­tions,” he said, still breath­ing hard from a train­ing run with his sighted guide He­lio Fumo on a Lis­bon ath­let­ics track. “I chose what I was best at: run­ning and shar­ing,” he said.

The run­ning has al­ready taken him to three Par­a­lympics and he aims to be at Tokyo in 2020.

The shar­ing saw him set up shop in Ben­saude, one of Lis­bon’s more de­prived neigh­bour­hoods, where he op­er­ates his own sports as­so­ci­a­tion for lo­cal youths.

In a spar­tan hall, the for­mer mid­dleweight con­tender warms up, shadow-box­ing in front of a ful­l­length mir­ror be­fore call­ing the as­sem­bled young­sters to or­der.

“Lis­ten up, kids, right now — or I’m off!” he growls.

Tall, lean and mus­cled, 42-year-old Pina still cuts an im­pos­ing fig­ure, and the young­sters, mostly from the lo­cal Roma com­mu­nity, qui­eten down and lis­ten.

Wher­ever he goes, the young­sters at­tach them­selves to him, whether they are tak­ing his hand to guide him or just giv­ing him a hug.

“Jorge taught me dis­ci­pline and how to chan­nel my en­ergy,” says one reg­u­lar, Xavier Pereira (13), af­ter ses­sions on the punch­bag and pad work.

“Be­fore I met him I got into trou­ble at school and I didn’t go there very of­ten,” he ad­mits.

Pina has been run­ning such ses­sions since 2011, and also works with autis­tic chil­dren.

“Jorge com­ing here re­ally helped us,” says so­cial worker Vanessa Madeira. “Our kids learn val­ues and how to live as a com­mu­nity, and that builds trust with the par­ents.”

And the suc­cess of his work has con­vinced the city au­thor­i­ties to cre­ate a new base for his as­so­ci­a­tion, pro­vid­ing 60% of the fund­ing.

The new Jorge Pina As­so­ci­a­tion build­ing will pro­vide space for sport and com­mu­nity ac­tiv­i­ties. To raise the rest of the money for the cen­tre, Pina keeps up his run­ning, with the help of Fumo.

He also has to stay in shape for the next Par­a­lympics, to make sure he can make the qual­i­fy­ing times. And for that, Pina is up early ev­ery morn­ing for his train­ing run.

His apart­ment bears wit­ness to his ded­i­ca­tion: the tro­phies on the shelves, the en­ergy drinks, food sup­ple­ments, fruit and ce­real bars fu­elling his next sport­ing chal­lenge.

Much of what he does to­day is in­formed by his Chris­tian faith. And his part­ner, Raquel Pe­dro, backs him up ev­ery step of the way.

At 42, Pina still feels in top phys­i­cal form and even speaks in terms of the re­birth of his sport­ing ca­reer.

“As a boxer, I saw other peo­ple as en­e­mies. To­day, I am my own ad­ver­sary and those who sur­round me give me the strength to sur­pass my­self. I’m hap­pier than I was be­fore.” — AFP

Come­back: Par­tially blind Jorge Pina teaches box­ing to autis­tic chil­dren at Oli­vais School in Lis­bon. Photo: Pa­tri­cia de melo Mor­eira/afp

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