Slimline Damien Sullivan determined to fulfil his dreams at Gold Coast Games
TWO years ago, Damien Sullivan was tipping the scales at close to 20-and-a-half stone. On a summer holiday with friends in Tenerife, chest pains blighted leisurely strolls along the promenade.
Working late nights as a doorman wasn’t conducive to a healthy lifestyle but, at just 22, he knew something had to change.
“I was still boxing but I was just eating unhealthy, living unhealthy, doing loads of drinking and eating crappy foods,” he recalls.
“So I just changed it around, decided one day I needed to get healthier.”
Over six stone later, Sullivan feels – and looks – like a new man.
Next week the Emerald heavyweight will step between the ropes at the Commonwealth Games in Australia. Not so long ago it would have been unthinkable that he could find himself on such a stage.
And it was the strength of his own will, nothing else, that led him to the road paved with Gold.
“I have loads of friends in the fitness industry but, to be honest, I went about it my own way.
“I got about 30 kilos off and then I was back boxing again competitively, doing well. I've 40 kilos off in total now.
“I work at night time but now I get up at eight or nine instead of lying on until one or two o’clock, have my breakfast, my coffee. I’ve two wee kids - Emelia (3) and Hailie (1) - so they’re running about, torturing me.
“A big factor in it too was cutting milk out of my coffee – nobody ever thinks about that but I was just drinking loads of black coffee and it was like a natural fat burner. And Lenadoon Deli has been a massive help because they look after my nutrition.
“When I first started working with John [Conlan] about two years ago, I was never part of anything like this before. I’ll never go up in weight again.
“I’ve a far healthier lifestyle.”
Having previously campaigned in the super-heavy class, a slimmed down Sullivan was now competing at 91kg. He trained away in Jordanstown and went away to Russia with the Ulster High Performance team, ears and mind open.
The end of November would be the real acid test of how far the 24-year-old had come when he faced former Holy Trinity club-mate Jason Barron in the Ulster Elite final.
Barron had come up trumps when they last met three years previous, but this time there would be no denying Sullivan.
“All those things were in my head. Jason, who’s a lovely fella, boxes for my old club, my old trainer Harry [Hawkins] was in his corner.
“I was just sitting in the changing room thinking ‘keep cool, you’ve got this big man, this is your house’. And then I went out and delivered.
“There’s probably loads of people going to the Commonwealth Games thinking ‘I’m meant to be going to this’ or ‘I’m that good’ but I am just so grateful. Every day I go into that training session, if I can get one per cent better I’m a happy man.
“I want to get better and better – I don’t just want to stay the way I am. I want to improve every day. I’ve fallen in and out of love with boxing, but now I’m here.
“It’s funny but I always remember John saying to me about a year-and-a-half ago ‘your goal should be to get to the Commonwealths’. He told me I should be picturing walking on to that plane every day, and that’s what I did.
“Now I’m I’ve visualising celebrating with John when I win a medal, then focusing on changing the colour.”
Sullivan had cut his night shifts down before the team departed for Australia earlier this month, the two mouths to feed at home meaning he couldn’t afford the luxury of parking work altogether.
It is a reality that has helped to keep him grounded, and he insists it never entered his mind that crossed words with one drunken punter could lead to an injury that would end his Commonwealths dream.
“You always get people mouthing with alcohol on board but I’m a good talker – I can talk them around, and then they wind their necks in,” he smiles.
And, though it would take a brave man to get lippy with the Lenadoon man nowadays, Sullivan has never forgotten the reasons that led to him first darkening the door of Gleann boxing club.
“I was small, I got a hard time on the street.
“I was a wee chunky kid and I always ran about with crowds older than me, and they sort of picked on me a wee bit. Some of those people go out of their way to speak to me now and I’ll speak to them alright, but I’ve never forgotten who they are. I’ve seen their true colours.
“Kids can be cruel, so I decided to go to boxing to try and do something about it. Since then my life has got better, from 16 or 17, you stop being afraid. If kids of 17 or 18 see you’re scared, they’ll try and control you and I just didn’t want that any more.
“I didn’t want bullies and people older than me telling me what to do so I took it into my own hands, and now there’s not too many people would say boo to me - heavyweight champion of Ulster, baddest man in Ireland!”
DANGER IN THE DRAW
91kg: Cheavon Clarke (England)
COMPETED for Jamaica at the 2014 Commonwealths, and the 27-year-old will fancy his chances of landing a medal this time around. It has been said that even the Grim Reaper can’t knock him out after he twice cheated death as a child - the first time when he fell off a ladder and was impaled on a metal spike, the second when he flatlined as surgeons went to work on his burst appendix. Landed a European silver medal in his first outing for England after losing to Olympic champion Evgeny Tishchenko in the final.
IN TOMORROW'S IRISH NEWS
He lit up the Ulster Hall back in November - can he do the same Down Under? Neil Loughran talks to lightweight hope James McGivern...