Meet the Yorkshire pig farmer who set up a boxing club after being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease

An East Yorkshire farmer who is one of the most forthright campaigners for the pig sector was used to bashing politicians and supermarket executives verbally. Then six years ago he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and now he’s thumping out a different message in the boxing ring on behalf of others in his community and to help him cope with Parkinson’s.

Richard Longthorp farms at Burland, just outside Howden, and is still involved with campaigning on behalf of pig farmers, most recently with the ‘Bite Into British’ campaign launched at the turn of the year.

He said his involvement with boxing at a new centre in Goole came about through his love of sport and through his Parkinson’s.

“I played rugby for Selby until just shy of being 50 and have had my own gym at home for 30-odd years doing weights and cardio work most mornings including a stair climber and a vicious thing called a versaclimber.

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    Pig farmer Richard Longthorp trains at St Paul's Boxing Gym in Hull

    “I’m also involved with Howden Rotary Club which has supported St Paul’s Boxing Club in Hull for many years and when it was mooted there would be a new Goole club with the similar principles and ethos of offering opportunities to people from all walks of life engaging with important things like structure, discipline, fitness and a team ethic, I volunteered my services to become the link between the Rotary Club and Goole Boxing Club.”

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    During the formation period that led to the Goole club opening a year ago, Richard said he found that boxing could also be beneficial to his condition and hopefully to others.

    “I’d been having discussions about the new Goole Boxing Club with Mike Bromby, the head coach at St Paul’s who is also on the Goole management committee, and I’d also explained about some research I’d done. In America it had been found there were benefits to be gained from boxing for those who suffer from Parkinson’s.

    The former rugby player was diagnosed with Parkinson's six years ago

    “Mike and his team are always keen to expand their work with people who have mental or physical health problems and asked if I would like a training session and, even though I’m pushing 70 and hadn’t boxed at all before, I said yes immediately and a week later I was strapping up in the ring at St Paul’s and have been going ever since.

    “I explained to Mike, after the first session, what I had found beneficial. One of the things with Parkinson’s is the brain tells the body to do something and that part of the body may often just point blank refuse, but if you can set up a series of triggers this can help. In my case it was Mike shouting a series of numbers and every time he shouted ‘two’ I made a right hand jab. After a certain while it seems to get the body going so that you can actually do it for yourself. It’s something to do with neural pathways.

    “The other things that I have benefited from through boxing are that it is great for balance and coordination. With Parkinson’s your balance suffers badly. I was told at the outset of my diagnosis that people don’t die of Parkinson’s, they die with Parkinson’s because of falling and banging heads and breaking hips.”

    While Richard, with his sporting head on, admits he would like to take on someone in the ring with perhaps similar disability, he said he is more concerned with the work being undertaken at Goole Boxing Club which has already proved successful.

    “I’d love to be able to get in the ring with somebody of perhaps similar condition as I’m always keen on a challenge, although I would need a licence to box from the British Board of Control. My one reservation though would be it’s alright concentrating on hitting pads at training, but someone there thumping me on the nose I might find a bit much.

    “More importantly I would love this kind of coaching for anyone with some form of disability to be more widely known to others who have Parkinson’s or whatever they suffer from and to get the work of Goole Boxing Club better known.

    “Renetta Edwards is head coach at Goole and in just a year has done a marvellous job in bringing a community together. I still go across to Hull for training because I don’t want to get in the way of the work at Goole.

    “Goole is already catering for a number of specific groups including schoolchildren that have been excluded from mainstream education and adults with autism in addition to providing a local resource for the budding boxers of tomorrow.”

    Richard said he’s hopeful that greater media exposure of the work being done in Goole, at St Paul’s in Hull and all around the country will help those from all walks of life.

    “Goole is already fulfilling its purpose and is proving a great addition to the local community. I’m very much keen for it to remain that way and now become a useful training resource for others like me with Parkinson’s or other degenerative diseases."

    Richard said it is all about giving the brain a workover.

    “I’m not infirm. It is just the brain that is affected by Parkinson’s but as a consequence of the brain not sending signals to the body you have to work your brain very hard for the full 60 minutes of a training session.

    “Parkinson’s slows me down and everyone who suffers from it too and another manifestation of Parkinson’s is that it leads to anxiety and sometimes a lack of confidence. For instance, I’m no longer confident challenging politicians and retail executives in the bang-bang-bang style I was once able to.

    “My style was to hit them and keep hitting them, metaphorically. Today I’m hitting boxing pads and at least I can still deliver my own kind of campaigning for fellow colleagues with Parkinson’s and other degenerative diseases.

    “Goole Boxing Club is already playing a leading role.”