Passed/Failed: An education in the life of Wayne McCullough, former world champion boxer

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The Independent Online

Boxing saved my life. We lived at the top of the Shankill Road in Belfast, part of the area in which the Troubles were at their peak, while I was growing up. I would have been part of it; you don't know any different. My school was a crazy school. Kids came from the Shankill Road and would join up to be terrorists. I moved to America in 1993; I still talk to my friends in Belfast but I know what they're doing. I've witnessed a few bombs and shootings; you know to keep your mouth shut.

I remember a bomb going off in the local community centre. The story was that there was a guy inside making a bomb and it went off prematurely. The guy's head was still stuck to the ceiling when I went in. There were riots between the kids on both sides of the Protestant and Catholic divide every night at the Springmartin peace line. It was just the way you were brought up in Belfast: you knew which religion you were. But I'd been boxing since I was seven or eight and you start mixing with Catholics in the boxing ring and become friends with them. At secondary school, we played football against Catholic schools and there were no problems.

With boxing, I've been round the world; without it, I'd never have been out the front door! I never fought once at school, because everyone respected me. They'd seen me fight in the ring. I was small but I would confront bullies and say, "Don't bully that guy". They'd back off.

I attended Springhill primary school. I played a lot of soccer. When I went back there as an adult for a documentary, one of the teachers said that I always worked hard but always wanted to go home and then to the work-out in the gym.

I passed my 11-plus and could have gone on to grammar school but I went to Cairnmartin secondary, the closest school to my house. It was stupid, in a way. I wasn't pushed by my parents. While there I did a lot of speeches; you had to learn them and stand up in front of the whole school. This came in handy; now I do a lot of speeches to young kids about staying away from drugs and alcohol. When I am in front of the camera, I have no problems.

In my third year, I passed all my exams. Then I was in the top class, 4A1, and my teachers begged me to stay on but I was never pushed by my parents to stay. I turned 16 in July 1986 but was able to leave in May. I should have stayed on, I really should. I could have been injured and then would have had to start again and go back to college to get qualifications. Later, I did get a sports-nutrition qualification.

I liked English at school and I wrote Pocket Rocket myself; my wife typed it out. We did 95,000 words in 12 days - her fingers were sore! I'm good with figures, too, which is handy: in boxing you get contracts with different purses. My seven-year-old daughter tests us both on multiplication.

My wife is my manager and, because we travel a lot, my daughter is home-schooled. We've got a computer programme that gives her each day's programme and she sends the results in. When she does a reading test, she lifts a phone and gets a live person. She gets As; B-minus is her worst mark. She's learning so much more than she would at school in America. She loves to mix with other kids and I send her to cheerleading, swimming and ballet classes. She says she wants to be a director: living in Las Vegas, she'll be able to do that.

Wayne McCullough, 35, became the WBC bantamweight world champion in 1995. Pocket Rocket: Don't Quit!, his autobiography, is out now

jonty@jonathansale.com

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