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Fighting spirit of Victor, the blind boxer who became an inspiration

Former chef who lives in Angel pays tribute to boxing club: ‘The guys focus on my capabilities, not my disability’

08 February, 2019 — By Calum Fraser

Victor Barraso Ibañez with Islington Boxing Club coach Reinaldo Oliver: ‘He is great’

A FORMER chef who went blind at the age of 25 has told how he refused to give up his love of sports – and is now ducking and diving in a boxing ring.

Coaches at Islington Boxing Club say Victor Barraso Ibañez, now 37, is an “inspiration” after knocking on their door and asking to put on the gloves.

He lost his sight in 2009 to a rare genetic disorder called retinitis pigmentosa (RP).

“I’ve had RP since I was born, but I had tried to run away from it,” he says. “I pretended it was not happening to me. Then at 25, bam, I lost all my sight. I could not fake it any more. It was a dark moment, very dark.”

Mr Barraso Ibañez, who lives in Angel after moving to the UK from Spain in 2001, spoke as he took part in a 90-minute workout this week, wearing a red top, black shorts, sweatband and dark glasses.

But he is most proud of his matching socks. “Most people don’t realise the effort that goes into the smallest things,” Mr Barraso Ibañez says. “I have to buy all the same socks so I never worry if they’re matching.”

After losing his sight he received rehabilitation and assistance from Isling­ton Council, but craved the active life he had led before. Then he walked through the doors of the club in Hazellville Road, Upper Holloway, and met its boss, Reggie Hagland, asking if he could join in some sessions.

Mr Hagland says: “You think you have heard and seen everything in boxing, then someone like Victor turns up. I asked Reinaldo [Oliver], the coach: ‘Are you comfortable with doing it?’ He said: ‘Yeah, yeah, no problem.’ Credit to Victor, he is doing fantastic here. He’s an inspiration.”

Mr Barraso Ibañez, a masters student at a London university, visits the club about four to five times a week. He has a “buddy” to guide him as he moves from one workout station to the next.

“Every day I have moments when I feel down,” he says. “I’m trying to get on the tube and someone bumps into me. I hate lampposts, I have an allergy to them. I hit a lamppost, my head is bleeding and I have to pretend like nothing has happened.

“The hit to the ego is worse than the hit to the body.”

But he adds: “When I am here, I just have to focus on technique. It doesn’t matter if I cannot see. This is a safe environment for me to get my frustration out. You focus your mind on the balance and the technique, then every­thing else fades away.”

Mr Barraso Ibañez had tried a boxing class specially for people with disabilities, but numbers dropped off. By the time it closed there were only two of them.

“The guys here opened the doors for me no problem,” he says. “They focus more on capabil­ities rather than seeing my disability. Reinaldo is great. He does not treat me different to any other boxer, he gives me the same amount of s***. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

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