Photo courtesy of Marnya Rothe
I am the only Australian to knock out Mundine. I won ‘The Contender’.
Before these two achievements I was in a dark place, I had a death wish.
One day Johnny Lewis, professional boxing trainer, gave me the opportunity to turn my life around and join The Contender.
Johnny and my old man are great friends and introduced me down at the local hangout, the Newtown Police Boys Club when I was just a kid. I’d been bullied down at Alexandria Public School and my old man caught whiff of it. Letting him down was the one thing I was afraid of. I remember him telling me “If I find out you sh*t yourself, I’m going to give it to ya”. The next day I remember the kid trying to rough me up. I lost total control throwing a table across the class room at him. From that day on my old man sent me to Johnny so I could learn to hold me hands up. Even though he never let me compete in the ring I fell in love with the game. I remember as a kid hitting the pads in the Newtown Police Boys Club with all the other boys chasing their dreams. I’d sprint up Erko road to watch Kostya Tszyu, Jeff Harding and Jeff Fenech after school while they sparred.
As I grew up my focus shifted to Rugby League where I aimed to follow in my father’s footsteps. He played for Newtown, Souths and Norths in the late 60s right through to the 70s. I met a lovely lady, Melissa, who I fell in love with. To me, the sun rose and set with her. Within six months she fell pregnant and we had to become parents to Mia overnight. I was still trying to figure out who I was. At that stage of my life I was finding my feet in first grade with the Rabbitohs. No six-figure contract and we were beginning to become challenged financially. Melissa stuck by me and insisted I keep chasing my dreams. While all this was going on Souths were kicked out of the competition and I was left searching for some cash to make ends meet. My wife and I were living in the big smoke and by this point we had a second baby daughter, Billie. I turned to amateur boxing, where I fought eight fights and got to the final of the State Champs only to be disqualified. These were tough times but luckily Souths got re-instated and I was earning some coin again. However, when my contract wasn’t renewed and I had no trade to fall back on I hit rock bottom. We loved each other to death, but Melissa left me soon after. I’d become depressed, I hung with the wrong crowd and turned to the grog for a solid 18 months. I was walking the streets looking for a brawl and at the same time I was contemplating some seriously bad sh*t.
That’s when the phone call came along. I’ll never forget me telling my old man that I was going to try and turn my life around in the ring. He told me I was crazy and that without preparation I’d get myself seriously hurt, or killed. He was only doing what every other father would do and looking out for my well-being. The majority of the boxers in the competition were Top 10 and I was a novice at best. I pleaded with my mother that this was my opportunity and that I needed to show my girls that I can be a role model.
I’ll never forget Johnny Lewis telling me that the thing in between your two ears is the sharpest tool in the shed if used correctly. I understood that boxing is very much a physical game but where it is won is all mental. I had to find that fuel, that inner strength to help me survive in the ring. We sat down and we spoke about my children (my two girls), my ex-wife and my family (dad, mum and brother Nat).
At the time my girls had seen the worst of me; depressed, pissed and shaken up. When walking into The Contender I used my kids as my fuel to turn my life around. They needed me to be their role model. I’ve always wanted to be their protector/body guard. I wanted to set a standard and show that I can look after them. I wanted them to know life’s tough, you can hang in there and turn it around by staying positive. You can accomplish anything with this mindset. Never give up. They are my heart and soul.
Being told that I was a no hoper and that I’ll end up in jail probably warranted my behaviour at the time. I was no boy scout, I was young and immature. I wanted to show my ex wife that she made the wrong decision leaving me. We loved each other to death but because we were so young we just didn’t know how to deal with life and the struggles that came with it. We were always at each other’s throat living with children and trying to make ends meet. I wanted to show her that I can do anything I put my mind to. We had some really good times. Relationships are the hardest game in the world.
I wanted my mum and dad to be proud. I let them down. At one stage mum and dad were walking the streets after a guy had been found dead in the gutters. It got to the point that they thought it was me. I wanted to show them that yes I was that down and out kid but now they don’t need to worry about me anymore.
It’s a lonely sport boxing you’ve got nowhere to hide. Unlike the footy field, where I could go and hide on the wing. I can relate the loneliness that I feel in the boxing ring to those dark times in my life. For me it was all mental, using these people in my life to block out all the psyche and fear. I’d seen the darkest and now it was doing it all for the people in my life. I’m also very lucky to have been referred to Angus Kerrboyle, someone who I could go and open up to in those dark times. Finding someone outside of family that you can speak to is very important.
I wasn’t for my girls coming to watch me fight. The first fight I ever let them watch was The Contender final. I was worried that they’d hate seeing me get hit. They now know that when dad puts his mind to something, he’s determined, lives a clean life in sport. It’s inspired them to play sports themselves. They’re playing Rugby 7’s at the moment. I’d much rather them doing that than hanging on the corners with kids smoking and drinking. When the girls grow up and they’re in tough times maybe they look back at what I did. They’re old enough now to know what I went through and understand what I went through was for them. Life doesn’t come with a manual.
The folks are very proud. People talk to them about what I did and it’s in their hearts forever. After The Contender my old man came to training, cooked me meals, helped me make weight for my professional fights. My folks have always been a part of everything I’ve done in my life. Whenever they tell the stories of my fights and the lead up they are tickled pink. I am extremely fortunate to have a very supportive family. It wasn’t me, it was we.
Even though boxing is a tough game, it saved my life. If The Contender didn’t come along I don’t know where I’d be today.
Garth is an avid supporter and ambassador of R U OK? You don't need to be an expert, just a great mate and a good listener. So, if you notice someone who might be struggling, start a conversation. www.ruok.org.au
Garth Wood is an Australian professional boxer and former professional rugby league player. Wood won the 2009/2010 Contender Boxing Series. He played rugby league for the South Sydney Rabbitohs and the Balmain Tigers in the NRL. Ambassador for R U OK Day.
Follow Garth Wood on Instagram @garthwood13