Young Lee Welsh, 13, battles back from cancer to claim boxing honours

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Young boxer Lee Welsh has taken on his biggest fight against cancer and won – and he continues to defy the odds with an incredible medal haul.

The teenager from Larbert, Stirlingshire, is now firmly in remission after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2016 and undergoing an aggressive course of chemotherapy.

In 2018, the Year of Young People, he’s now fighting fit, and racking up fresh medal wins after bravely getting back in the ring over a year ago and refusing to be bowed by the terrifying experience.

In fact, he has never felt stronger after doctors recently advised that he would only have to return for check-ups once every six months, signalling their confidence in his recovery.

Recent honours for Lee have included medal wins earlier this month at the BSL School & Junior Championships, becoming Scottish Intermediate School Boy Champion, silver medallist at the GB Tri Nations Schoolboys tournament, and a Monkstown International Box Cup Champion.

The 13-year-old Larbert High School pupil continues to train at Jonesy’s Boxing Club in Stirling and admits that he might soon have to get a new trophy cabinet to hold all of his silverware.

Further helping his recovery have been the constant messages of support from many of his sporting idols, including Carl Frampton who dedicated his win over Scott Quigg in 2016 to Lee, and remained in his corner throughout his cancer fight.

Frampton tweeted “delighted for the wee man and his family” after Lee was given the all-clear.

Other inspirational supporters have been Rangers FC – Lee’s favourite football team – and he was invited to meet the squad at their Auchenhowie training ground. Lee continues to be in regular contact with some of the players.

Scots professional boxer Josh Taylor is also a big fan of Lee’s and the youngster was delighted to meet his home grown idol at the SSE Hydro in Glasgow earlier this month.

In turn, Lee has inspired others after being named the Pride of Forth Valley, Citizen of the Year in 2016, a Young Scot Unsung Hero in 2017, and a finalist at the Amplifon Awards for Brave Britons in 2017.

He’s also been a very active fundraiser, and continues to generate vital donations for the Les Hoey DreamMaker Foundation which helps to make dreams come true for special children battling life-threatening illnesses and was very supportive throughout Lee’s ordeal.

Reflecting on his battle, Lee said: “Carl Frampton just told me to keep going – and that’s what I’ve done.

“Being told I had cancer was a big shock. I found a lump in my side and people thought it was appendicitis, but it didn’t go away. I had an MRI scan and biopsy to confirm my diagnosis and then I was in the children’s hospital for chemotherapy sessions five days at a time.

“The first question I asked people at the hospital was ‘Am I going to die?’ They couldn’t say for sure, but thought there was a good success rate for that type of cancer, particularly as it had been found early.

“When they told me that, I said I would just need to win by knockout!

“After the first block of treatment, we were hoping that the tumour would drop 25 per cent, but it actually dropped 50 per cent, which was brilliant.

“In between my blocks of treatment, I loved to visit the gym and take part in some light training. Everyone in the gym shaved their hair for me, which I thought was amazing.

“I was so lucky to respond well to treatment, but other children in the hospital were facing far worse, and I’ll always remember what they were going through.

“I never knew when I started boxing that it would one day help me to prepare for my battle with cancer. It’s about discipline – a long, hard slog and you have to make sacrifices, while looking after your diet, so boxing was a useful tool.

“I’m not afraid of anyone now, so my motto has become ‘Fear no foe’. It doesn’t get any worse than cancer – that’s been my biggest opponent by far.”

Now the sky’s the limit, and Lee one day hopes to box on the world stage, following in the footsteps of the 11 talented Scottish boxers who made the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games team.

His dad Richard – who, along with close coaching friends, first inspired a very young Lee to get in the ring after taking him along to training while his mum worked a back shift - is hugely proud of his son’s battling spirit and is hopeful for him to get in the ring at the European Championships in May.

He said: “That’s the next big one for us, though we feel that Lee can do anything now. We went through a very hard time as a family, but it’s made us stronger – and Lee has taken on older and bigger boys without a second thought now. Nothing phases him anymore.

“The continued support for Lee has been overwhelming and truly inspiring, and we can’t thank everyone enough as he embarks on a new chapter. He is still learning and just loves his boxing, it has given him so much confidence”

Fraser Walker, Interim CEO for Boxing Scotland, said: "We’re incredibly proud of Lee’s achievements, both in and out of the ring.

“He’s a shining example to others in this, the Year of Young People, and we can’t wait to see just what he’s capable of in the years ahead. We’re in no doubt that there’s so much more to come.

“From day one, he has been able to count on the full support of the Boxing Scotland family, and he remains an inspiration to us all.”