McAvoy’s Path to Redemption: From Prison Cell to Ironman

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Former armed robber John McAvoy is keenly aware that he could have become just another statistic – a criminal gunned down by police on the streets of London after a failed heist in 2005.

Instead, with the help of one of his prison guards, he changed his life to become a world indoor rowing record holder and a Nike sponsored athlete.

The turning point for McAvoy was when he learned in 2009 of the death of his friend, Aaron Cloud, who was killed while fleeing an armed robbery in the Netherlands.

“It is probably the most profound thing that has happened in my life,” the 37-year-old told AFP. “He was the first deceased person I loved and could relate to.

“The way he died made me face my mortality.

Reformed gun thief John McAvoy is now a Nike athlete

-, JOHN MCAVOY / AFP

“I reflected on when I was arrested and how easy it would have been for one of the armed policemen to have shot me if I had made a move.”

This forced McAvoy, in his own words, to “reset” even though he was still in jail.

– Prison officer –

The influence of prison warden Darren Davis proved crucial after rejecting the pleas of radical British preacher Abu Hamza to convert to Islam.

Hamza, who is currently serving a life sentence in the United States, left a Quran on McAvoy’s bed in his cell when the two were held in Belmarsh High Security Prison.

McAvoy returned it to Hamza.

McAvoy’s journey to a life sentence – he was sentenced to five years in prison at 18 for a previous armed robbery – had a certain fatality about it.

His stepfather, Billy Tobin, was described by McAvoy’s lawyer during his second trial in 2005 as “the bane of the Flying Squad” (specialized police unit) and his uncle Micky McAvoy was sentenced to 25 years jail for his role in the Brink’s-Mat robbery. in 1983.

“Being a criminal was a way of life and the risk you take is jail,” he said. “This is due to the adults who raised me.

“I was not exposed to Warren Buffett and Richard Branson. My models were all involved in serious crimes.”

Meeting Davis once he was transferred to a lower-security Category B prison allowed McAvoy to channel all the talents he had deployed in a “negative and toxic” manner in a positive direction.

“We were chatting, he would tell me about his family and he would bring me books,” he said. “It was the first time that an adult male showed an unconditional interest in me rather than a direct interest.”

Encouraged, McAvoy became a record holder, notably holding indoor rowing records for distance covered in 24 hours and 100,000 meters.

Those records have now been broken, but the accomplishments have transformed the way he looked at himself.

“It made me feel like I wasn’t a loser,” he said. “When I broke them, there was this feeling of an overwhelming sense of pride that I had accomplished something with my life.

“I remember this urge when I was a little boy when money was the benchmark of success.

“Landing on the gym mat after breaking the 24 hour record, I felt like this little kid.”

He will never forget the welcome when he returns to his prison wing after breaking the record.

“It was like a movie, 20 to 30 prisoners were all clapping and shouting ‘well done’. They (the inmates) were getting updates every hour,” he said.

Returning outside the prison, he discovered he was too old for top-level rowing, but the grueling Ironman triathlon event – involving long-distance swimming, running and cycling – suited his abilities.

He marvels at Nike’s decision to offer him a contract – “I’m under the same umbrella as Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Mo Farah” – and says the sport has given him “a community spirit” and healthy friendships.

McAvoy is heavily involved in helping young offenders and during the first coronavirus lockdown in England earlier this year, sent copies of his autobiography to prisoners under the age of 21.

He remains close to Davis, in stark contrast to his relationship with Tobin, whom he last saw in 2003.

“It was so sad to see a man I loved as a hero – he had been my superman – suddenly so weak and vulnerable,” he said.

Former armed robber John McAvoy is keenly aware that he could have become just another statistic – a criminal gunned down by police on the streets of London after a failed heist in 2005.

Instead, with the help of one of his prison guards, he changed his life to become a world indoor rowing record holder and a Nike sponsored athlete.

The turning point for McAvoy was when he learned in 2009 of the death of his friend, Aaron Cloud, who was killed while fleeing an armed robbery in the Netherlands.

“It is probably the most profound thing that has happened in my life,” the 37-year-old told AFP. “He was the first deceased person I loved and could relate to.

“The way he died made me face my mortality.

Reformed gun thief John McAvoy is now a Nike athlete

Reformed gun thief John McAvoy is now a Nike athlete

-, JOHN MCAVOY / AFP

“I reflected on when I was arrested and how easy it would have been for one of the armed policemen to have shot me if I had made a move.”

This forced McAvoy, in his own words, to “reset” even though he was still in jail.

– Prison officer –

The influence of prison warden Darren Davis proved crucial after rejecting the pleas of radical British preacher Abu Hamza to convert to Islam.

Hamza, who is currently serving a life sentence in the United States, left a Quran on McAvoy’s bed in his cell when the two were held in Belmarsh High Security Prison.

McAvoy returned it to Hamza.

McAvoy’s journey to a life sentence – he was sentenced to five years in prison at 18 for an armed robbery – had a certain fatality about it.

His stepfather, Billy Tobin, was described by McAvoy’s lawyer during his second trial in 2005 as “the bane of the Flying Squad” (specialized police unit) and his uncle Micky McAvoy was sentenced to 25 years jail for his role in the Brink’s-Mat robbery. in 1983.

“Being a criminal was a way of life and the risk you take is jail,” he said. “This is due to the adults who raised me.

“I haven’t been exposed to Warren Buffett and Richard Branson. My models were all involved in serious crimes.

Meeting Davis once he was transferred to a lower-security Category B prison allowed McAvoy to channel all the talents he had deployed in a “negative and toxic” manner in a positive direction.

“We were chatting, he would tell me about his family and he would bring me books,” he said. “It was the first time that an adult male showed an unconditional interest in me rather than a direct interest.”

Encouraged, McAvoy became a record holder, notably holding indoor rowing records for distance covered in 24 hours and 100,000 meters.

Those records have now been broken, but the accomplishments have transformed the way he looked at himself.

“It made me feel like I wasn’t a loser,” he said. “When I broke them, there was this feeling of an overwhelming sense of pride that I had accomplished something with my life.

“I remember this urge when I was little when money was the benchmark of success.

“Landing on the gym mat after breaking the 24 hour record, I felt like this little kid.”

He will never forget the welcome when he returns to his prison wing after breaking the record.

“It was like a movie, 20 to 30 prisoners were clapping and shouting ‘bravo’. They (the inmates) were getting updates every hour, ”he said.

Back outside the prison, he discovered he was too old for top-level rowing, but the Ironman triathlon event – involving swimming, running, and long-distance cycling – was suitable. to its capabilities.

He marvels at Nike’s decision to offer him a contract – “I’m under the same umbrella as Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Mo Farah” – and says the sport has given him “a community spirit” and healthy friendships .

McAvoy is heavily involved in helping young offenders and during the first coronavirus lockdown in England earlier this year, sent copies of his autobiography to prisoners under the age of 21.

He remains close to Davis, in stark contrast to his relationship with Tobin, whom he last saw in 2003.

“It was so sad to see a man I loved as a hero – he had been my superman – suddenly so weak and vulnerable,” he said.


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