Teens find Solace at Ballina fight gym
SIXTEEN-year-old John Slade is quickly making a name for himself as a muay Thai fighter who loves a challenge.
It's why he took his last fight with only four days' notice, facing a more experienced 23-year-old competitor.
It is also why now even while injured he is stepping outside his comfort zone to help Solace Muay Thai owner Spiro Darzanos in a coaching role at Ballina.
Darzanos has been a breath of fresh air for a number of teenagers who he has taken under his wing in a mentor role over the past 12 months.
"I've found we live in a region where teenagers don't have a lot to do and they can easily find themselves in trouble," Darzanos said.
"We're trying to provide an outlet away from drugs, alcohol and other bad habits kids can pick up around that age.
"All I do is guide them and they choose what path they take from there.
"I see a lot of good in Johnny (Slade), taking a small coaching role is how I started out and there is no way he would have been confident enough to do that until now."
Slade has had the most fights from the Solace team and was one of the first ones to step into the ring last year.
The gym is booming with a number of its members competing in a Fight Night challenge at Kirra Sports Club earlier this month.
"It's definitely not an easy sport but it has been a great experience for me," Slade said. "I think it helps people feel better about themselves and I've learned a lot already.
"Both my feet were bruised after my last fight so the plan is to keep training and get ready to go again next year."
Slade, who lives in Alstonville, credits Darzanos for helping him along the way.
Darzanos trained his team for the recent Fight Night while also co-promoting the event in hopes of bringing a show to Ballina early next year.
"I wouldn't be where I am without him," Slade said. "He can have 50 people training and he still has time to take an interest and look after everyone."