Joel Walsh is an International Kick Boxer and Taekwondo Athlete who represents Great Britain. A British Champion in both sports, he also holds 4 black belts. Joel has been a Junior European Medalist in Kick boxing, a Senior European Medalist in Taekwondo and was one of the first Welsh male athletes to turn Professional in the sport. He is a 10-time Welsh Kickboxing Champion and Junior British Champion as well as a 3 time former British Open winner. Only just last September he entered the National Taekwondo Championships in Manchester and it was there that he won the –63kg British title.
When we asked Joel about his upbringing he told us he grew up without his Father around at all. He had 4 other siblings and so that placed a lot of responsibility on his Mother who did almost everything. Things were tough but Joel always remembered that even though they didn’t have much they were always happy and that was helped by the fact that Uncles, Cousins and other members of the wider family stepped in to take up the role of a Father figure, with even his brothers and sisters playing their part.
From the age of four, Joel’s Mother had decided to get him involved in Kickboxing. Joel told us that where he grew up in Cardiff, which is in Wales in the UK, it wasn’t the nicest of places and his Mother just wanted to make sure he could take care of himself. Joel was a natural and began competing straight away. He had a gift and wasn’t sure where that had come from but by chance, at around aged 12, he found out that his Biological Father had been a great Kick boxer himself. Joel was at a competition, when someone asked his Mother if he was the son of… and named his Father. His Mother asked how he knew and he remarked that Joel had the exact same fighting style and that instinctively he just knew.
Up until secondary school and just after, Joel’s journey had been on a consistent upward spiral. Joel had excelled in Kickboxing as a junior and won absolutely everything. Joel started in the Pee – Wee leagues at age 4 and went from there. It was his Coach, Jeff Copp, who became like a Father to Joel who was one of his biggest influences, who seeing his potential was willing to sacrifice and take him all over the country giving him just the support he needed.
Joel told us there were a number of challenges he faced going through secondary school as the only black child there with bullying often an issue but through his Kick boxing he started to gain a a name for himself but as he got a little older, things suddenly changed. He told us “ At around 15 or 16 I just wanted to be out with my friends and living my life, instead of training everyday and so I came away from the sport. When I got to 17, I was just about training on and off and competing now and then. At 18 I dropped out of University, quit my job and at that point had lost contact with my Mum. She had always been my biggest supporter coming to all my competitions and as those were the happiest times of my life, the break was difficult, although I’m happy to say we’re back connected now and rebuilding that bond.
I was at the lowest point in my life and just doing Manual labor to survive. One day I thought I don’t want to be doing this in 20 years time and asked myself what else can I do with my life. I thought what’s the one thing I’ve always been great at and realised it was Kickboxing.” I realised making a living straight away in Kickboxing wasn’t realistic and wondered what else was possible.” As he sat taking a break from his work, Joel began to watch Martial arts videos and stumbling across the sport of Taekwondo, suddenly realised that was something he could do.
Joel started training and teaching himself and after making it to a National coaching session was told by the Welsh Coach that he definitely had a future in the sport. Having an Irish family background, Joel decided to save up his last pennies to go for a trial with the Irish team but when he got over there, things just weren’t right and he came home wondering what was next. He had already won the British Championships and along with his previous kickboxing achievements qualified for Olympic cycle competitions. and so at that point, decided to take himself out to Athens Greece for the Presidents cup. It was the biggest competition he’d ever fought in and was finally on the biggest stage and platform with his name out there.
Things almost didn’t work out for Joel though. Unfortunately he had no support or funding up until then and at one point he was even having to sneak into the local gym to train, so when he got to Athens he was completely alone without a Coach. The President of the Federation told him if you don’t have anyone in the Coaches chair you can’t fight. It was only after Joel had tried to get random people from the other teams to do so and failed, that he managed to get his brother-in-law to fly out and was allowed to compete. Joel eventually lost to an Israeli national team player but getting as far as he had had been a massive achievement and once he was home and on reflection, he knew he had what it would take to be successful, he just needed a break.
That break came when as Joe told us “I was praying to God for an opportunity and by a miracle my videos were spotted on Instagram and I ended up in Manchester on a trial for Team GB. When I got there, the Head coach put his arm around me and told me ‘this is your time to shine to show everyone what you’ve got.” and I just remember standing in the centre and having all my Olympic Idols and heroes I’d got to meet that day giving me so much encouragement.” In the end the trial went really well and Joel managed not only to get his name out to UK Sport, but get signed as a Professional and then go on to fulfil his dream of representing team GB.
When we asked Joel how his faith had helped him in his life he said, “I didn’t come from a very religious household and I just took myself to church one day. I was just attracted to the idea of it and it seems like the right thing to do at the age of around 11 or 12. Initially I was inspired by a poem that my Religious Education teacher read me and from that point on, I always had a connection to God and had an awareness that he was there. It was always that extra bit of comfort when I was out competing and it always helped to know I’d spoken to God and prayed beforehand often visiting a local church as I always did and still do.
We asked Joel at the end of his amazing story what he wanted you guys to learn from it and here’s what he said: “For me, the relationship was never there with my Father and it was difficult not knowing where I came from but even though it’s difficult you have to learn to use pain as fuel to rise above everything. You just have to trust the process and sometimes pain is part of the process to make you a better person. At times I didn’t have a father figure or the role models to keep me on track and so although I made mistakes at times. I was always determined that people wouldn’t be able to turn round and say this kid came from nothing and so he’ll never be nothing. I never knew if the sacrifices I was making were going to pay off but in the back of my mind I knew I could make it and gave it everything. Just remember You can be dealt the worst set of cards in life but it all depends on what you do with them. Some of you are in the worst of homes and from the most horrendous of backgrounds but there is nothing that can stop you from going out and working and re-shuffling the pack. God will always give you an opportunity to do just that.
As for Joel’s future, right now he’s getting ready for the next Olympic cycle, as with starting Taekwondo late, he was too late to push for the 2020 games. At the moment he is focused on Kickboxing and will transition back to Taekwondo in time for the next Commonwealth games in 2022 and the next Olympic cycle with the target of Paris 2024. As for Kickboxing, he has the World Championships at the end of this year as well as the World University games and as a Family we’re looking forward to being able to follow Joel’s journey and hopefully being a part of his success.