BY ANDREW LUCAS
“I was scared”- It’s the moment that prompted young Aussie boxer Jayden Heyward to turn his life around.
The Sutherland Shire’s renowned for teenagers hanging out by the beach and having a good time, but for 20-year-old Jayden Heyward it wasn’t quite that easy.
At 13-years-old, Heyward found himself part of a group of young delinquents who instead chose to get up to mischief after school.
It began as a bit of fun and games, however things soon escalated for Heyward and he was left with a decision that would soon change his path in life.
“I was hanging around with a group of kick-arounds,” Heyward said.
“Most of them were a bunch of losers, some of them were alright, (we were) just getting into stupid stuff, getting arrested and getting into trouble.
“My dad was edging me to get out of it.”
Heyward is one of several teenagers who have found themselves in trouble with the law at a young age.
Then the 20-year-old found boxing.
His story mirrors those who have gone before him with numerous former troubled teens using boxing as an outlet to find some discipline.
Even the likes of famous US boxers Dwight Qawi and Bernard Hopkins spent time in prison before turning their lives around and forging professional boxing careers.
“My dad was edging me to get out of it.”
PCYC Penrith currently has over 1000 junior members who participate including 10 at-risk young people who feature in police youth programs throughout the year.
“I think the main things are that it gives them focus and direction, and an outlet for their aggression and frustrations,” club manager Natalie Face said.
“The physical exertion, the fact that they can literally hit something and the technical aspects of boxing all contribute.
“The coaches are also assertive and instil discipline whilst being kind and fair and someone to talk to.”
Face also stressed the importance of wayward teenagers having strong support networks and influences to help change their lives.
“It largely depends on their support networks outside of their peers and the PCYC,” Face said.
“If they’re going home to a difficult family life, then it can make their journey a lot tougher.
“Seeing PCYC police officers taking part in sports activities and encouraging them to do boxing classes can pave the way for constructive conversations and outcomes.”
Heyward’s trainer of six years, Terry Lewis couldn’t be prouder of his journey.
“He was headed down the wrong path with the group he was hanging around with, doing stuff that young blokes get up to,” Lewis said.
“He’s sort of changed his life around completely, he’s got an apprenticeship now, he’s really into his boxing, he works hard.
“Not many succeed in turning their lives around.”
Making that life-changing decision didn’t end up being so easy for the Miranda teenager as things were soon taken out of his own hands.
“When I left that group of people, one of them wanted to fight me because I didn’t want to hang out with them anymore,” Heyward said.
“He used to walk past my house everyday and yell out stuff, threaten me and throw stuff at my house.
“I was scared.
“I didn’t know how to fight.”
“I was scared.”
Heyward began boxing at 13 with his dad’s friend who took him to Peter Kazzi’s gym at Earlwood where he met veteran boxing trainer Terry Lewis.
With 30 years’ experience in the sport, Lewis became a mentor for the talented young sportsman.
“He’s awesome, he always puts in 110%, he just loves the sport, he does it out of pure passion and he believes in me and the other boys we train with,” Heyward said.
Boxing didn’t just turn out to be an outlet to stay out of trouble for the youngster, but also as a means of protecting himself.
“After a year of boxing we walked into each other and he spat on me and I lost it,” he said.
“At the end of the day, he was the sole reason I started because I was scared.
“So I started and learned to protect myself and now I can.
“It just made it all worth it, ever since then I’ve just been kicking down little goals that I had, that I’ve set through boxing and I’m slowly getting achievements from that.”
Heyward showed off his talent winning the New South Wales state 75-kilogram division elite boxing title.
He is also the winner of an Australian Novice title in amateur boxing after he defeated the defending champion in the 69-kilogram division in his first major competition.
“That was the highlight of my career, I was so happy,” Heyward said.
“I won it and it was awesome.”
It hasn’t been an easy road for the third-year apprentice carpenter who works and trains up to six days a week, sacrificing nights out after work to chase his dream.
“That was the highlight of my career, I was so happy.”
Instead of going out and partying with his friends, he’s up early the next morning running sand dunes in Yowie Bay and sparring at gyms in Caringbah and Earlwood.
“It’s very tough, going to training every day, missing out on events, missing out on parties, but it’s also rewarding,” the 20-year-old said.
“You get a lot of respect from people that you probably wouldn’t have got from before.
“You just have to pick what you want to do, it all comes down to your decision- you’re the only one that’s going to be in there, so if you don’t make the right choices, you’re the one who’s going to pay the consequences for that.
“It’s hard to not go to your friend’s party but it’s all about sacrifices.”
Heyward also trains with another young adult who found himself in a similar situation only years ago.
“I’ve got one boy that’s done similar to Jayden,” Lewis said.
“He’s there with Jayden, they train and run together, they’ve got a really strong bond together as far as boxing’s concerned, they push each other at the gym.
“(It’s all about) discipline, if you haven’t got discipline you’re going nowhere.
“If you dedicate yourself, you’ll succeed in life.
“If you cut corners and try take the easy path, you’ll end up right back where you were, quite fast.”
The biggest moment in the young boxer’s career came before it all began when he was given an ultimatum by his dad.
“I got arrested, I got blamed for something I didn’t do,” Heyward said.
“I was put up for assault and robbery charges. I was on bail conditions for 8 months.
“The police were knocking on my door every single day, waking my parents up, I was 13, they were sick of it.
“They didn’t have a nice sleep for eight months.
“And that was the changing point, Dad said: ‘You either quit it or you leave my house’ and I’m so grateful he did that and I’m so much better from where I was.”
“They didn’t have a nice sleep for eight months.”
It was a decision that’s also set Heyward up for a professional career in Boxing.
“My ultimate goal is to turn professional and make a successful career out of this,” Heyward said.
“I’d love to go to the Olympics, but I’m just focusing on a professional career.”
Boxers have a choice of when they want to turn professional, with most choosing to do so at 19.
“I always thought he had a lot of talent, it was just getting that dedication that’s required,” Lewis said.
Asked if Heyward could make the 2020 Olympics, Lewis said, “Yeah I actually do (think so).”
“He fought in the nationals which were a selection trial for the Commonwealth
Games, I thought he had actually won the fight, but the judges saw it differently.
“We’ve still got plenty of time, it’s not till 2020. We’ll do plenty of work in that time to make sure he’s right when selection trials come around again.”
Upon reflection of his seven-year journey in the sport, Heyward credits his dad and his trainer for getting him to the position he is in today.
“From where I’ve been to now, I got a lot of respect and that’s what keeps me going, that’s all that matters,” he said.
“I love the respect you get from people especially from my family.
“My dad, as cliché as it is (is my idol), he’s awesome, he’s shown a lot of patience and love despite all the stuff I’ve put him through.”
Away from boxing Heyward realises the importance of switching off, hanging out with his friends doing what shire kids do best – having a laugh and partying.