Anthony Crolla’s exhilarating world title triumph in November was almost fairy tale worthy but it is he who is feeling inspired by members of ‘Crolla’s Army’ ahead of the Great Manchester Run.
The highly admired boxer delivered a rousing performance that night to stop Darleys Perez in the fifth round, just eleven months after suffering a fractured skull in an attack outside his Manchester home.
Now he has hand-picked 12 runners – each with their own individual motivations – to tackle the 10k challenge for numerous charities.
And as he met his teammates for the first time in Salford Quays this week, he told MM just how encouraged he was.
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“People were going on about my story being inspirational last year but talking to the team, they’ve had it much tougher than me,” he said.
“There are loads of great charities and causes so hopefully on the day we’ll raise some much-needed awareness for them.
“I really believe there aren’t many opportunities like this. To get behind the run in a time of need and give our all to support each charity is brilliant.”
Crolla was taking time out from preparations for the first defence of his WBA lightweight world title against Ismael Barroso.
He squares-off against the Venezuelan at the Manchester Arena on Saturday, May 7, with the run just two weeks later on Sunday, May 22.
Naturally he’s hoping both weekends will give cause for celebration.
“I’m going to have to make sure I don’t go off the diet and stay in shape so I can keep up with the rest of this army,” he insisted.
“But hopefully on the day each of the runners will be supported by their friends and family to raise as much awareness and money as they can.”
That sentiment was echoed by each of the team’s runners, including Benjamin Uzokwe, who is running for the same autism charity as Crolla.
The 19-year-old, who is an amateur boxer himself and recently sparred with the undefeated Jack Catterall, hopes to emulate his local idol by making it professionally and spoke of identifying with his cause.
“My nana showed me it [the run] in the paper and I liked it because Crolla’s running it for an autism charity,” he said.
“I’ve got a little sister who’s autistic so it’s quite appealing to me to do the same. She moved to Australia a few years ago but I know autism isn’t really a big thing with a lot of awareness here and it’s hard to get diagnosed.
“So I thought it’d be good if I could raise some money towards it at the same time as doing something fun for me. It’s a great experience to meet someone like Anthony and then to do the run itself.
“I’m a fit lad and it’s just another challenge for me.”
Ben is targeting a time of around 43 or 44 minutes, while for most of the expected 40,000 runners, the main target may be to simply complete.
Adam Irvine – another member of ‘Crolla’s Army’ – takes this approach, having thought he would never have that luxury when diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2008.
He received the all-clear seven years ago after life-saving treatment at Manchester’s Christie Hospital – one of the largest cancer treatment centres in Europe – and is running 10k for the eighth time.
This year is extra special he explained, in part thanks to the attention Crolla has added to the event.
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“I underwent treatment at the Christie so it’s my way of trying to repay them for saving my life basically,” said Adam, 30.
“There were times throughout the treatment when I wasn’t sure on the outcome, but that’s another reason why it’s nice to be able to run.
“And this year, with Anthony being a Manchester person himself and with what he brings to the city through what he’s done it boxing, it’s a brilliant thing.”
For all of ‘Crolla’s Army’ as Adam emphasised, the most important thing is to enjoy the day and help make a difference.
“The money does help but the awareness I think is even bigger,” he added.
“Just raising the profile of the Christie and getting people talking about cancer so it’s not a taboo subject is important.
“Hopefully then that can get more people to the doctors in the first place.”
To enter the Great Manchester Run, which takes place on the closed city-centre streets on Sunday, May 22 you can go to: www.greatrun.org/Manchester