Marek Sthalekar: Motivated and Ready to Run the Alpine Run Project

Marek Sthalekar with Alpine Run Project team and John McAvoy

Marek Sthalekar with Alpine Run Project team and John McAvoy | Image thanks to Youth Beyond Borders

One of many London youths the Gloves Not Gunz (GNG) team has enjoyed teaching at the gym is the young athlete and model Marek Sthalekar. North Londoner Marek also happens to be one of the selected youths taking part in the upcoming Alpine Run Project, an inspiring initiative sponsored by Nike and created by Youth Beyond Borders (YBB) and London-born IronMan Triathlete John McAvoy.

John’s dream, of which Marek is now a part, was to create a project to bring inner-city young people out to the mountains using the vehicle of sport and, in particular, trail running.

John McAvoy’s journey from prison to a Nike-sponsored professional athlete is a powerful reminder of the positive role sport can play in our lives–the effects of which can be revolutionary for both the individual and the wider community. 

And fuelling the positive impact sport is having on the lives of young people in the UK are initiatives like the Alpine Run Project, a project about which McAvoy comments: I wanted young people to become torch bearers of the Alpine Run Project to show other young people from their communities how big and beautiful the world is. 

Taking place in August 2023, the Alpine Run Project will support 16-22-year-olds from cities across England who have all experienced different challenges in their lives to improve their physical and mental well-being, connect them with nature, and help them into employment and training opportunities. 

In the lead-up to the team’s group training camp at the end of April, GNG’s Grace Watson caught up with Marek to learn more about his fitness journey, advice to other young people, role models and the far-reaching excitement about traversing the beautiful and epic French Alps in Chamonix, France.

Marek Sthalekar

The work behind the scenes…North Londoner Marek is in training as he prepares for the upcoming Alpine Run Project with John McAvoy, Youth Beyond Borders and event sponsors Nike.

How did you get involved with GNG? 

I’m from North London, and years ago, I came across GNG on social media (Instagram). Since then, I connected with Adam and the boys from the Boxing Club have been supporting each other since. I used to be very unfit, and I saw boxing as a way to change my life at that point. Hannes (GNG team member) was doing the same, and all of the lads were there, so we naturally connected. 

Marek Sthalekar

Boxing gave London youth Marek Sthalekar, discipline and focus

Talk to me a bit about your fitness journey and how it impacted your life.

My fitness started in 2020 for a combination of reasons. I didn’t have any focus in life then, and I was getting in a lot of trouble at school (nothing ever involved with crime, just fighting and not really focusing on lessons – not really doing much.) 

Boxing gave me discipline. It got me fit, mentally and physically. And it’s just been amazing ever since.

How has being involved with GNG helped you on your journey, both in fitness and lifestyle?

The support from the guys has been really good; for example, Adam (Co-founder at GNG) helped me get on board with Nike on the Alpine Run Project. 


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A post shared by Marek Sthalekar (@mareksthalekar)

What’s your favourite thing about GNG?

Everyone has that one goal: to make everyone else want to be better people. You just want to become a better person!

It’s also the good morals that GNG promotes….It’s that collective goal to change lives, to do better, and to be better people. 

What’s your current fitness routine? 

I took some time away from boxing, and my focus went to weights at the lifting (regular) gym, which meant my overall fitness levels went down. But now that I’ve got this project, I’ve got to bring my fitness back up. So I’m regularly going back to my boxing club here in North London, and they’re helping me with my fitness as well.

I train about four to five times per week, not just with boxing, but with other things to help get my overall fitness up. 

Andrew Woodroffe coaching Marek, one of the young athletes

Andrew Woodroffe coaching Marek, one of the young athletes running in the Alpine Run Project | image thanks to Youth Beyond Borders

Talk to us about the beginning of this journey: how did you learn about the project, and when did you apply?

I applied myself after seeing the GNG post on Instagram. When I turned up to the Nike HQ in Kings Cross and saw Adam, I was really surprised, as I didn’t know he was involved. It was about a month later when I heard back from Youth Beyond Borders that I’d got the opportunity, at which point I couldn’t even remember filling in the application form! And then I saw John’s name and recognised who he was.

When you found out you’d been selected, what were your initial thoughts? 

At the time, I was asked to take a Zoom call to receive the news when I was at school. I was nervous at first, but not a bad type of nervous – just really excited for the journey to begin.

It was a very proud moment for me: knowing that all the work I’d done since I started my fitness journey had led to this. And I’m really excited to be working with John and such a big brand like Nike.

Talk to me about any anticipation and how fitness has helped you deal with such feelings. 

My nervousness came from getting to meet everyone. I went from being not very confident before I started my fitness journey to the kind of person confident enough to take part in a massive initiative like the Alpine Run Project! For example, two years ago, I would never have been able to do everything we are doing, but now it is just 100% fine.

Marek Sthalekar with Alpine Run Project team and John McAvoy

Marek Sthalekar with Alpine Run Project team and John McAvoy | Image thanks to Youth Beyond Borders

What are you looking forward to most about the project? 

The actual running (which will be fifteen kilometres for me). At our first training camp, I’m looking forward to running with the whole team. I’ve met the rest of the group already, so running together will be good. 

And, of course, I’m looking forward to experiencing the mountains in person, nature, and am sure it will be completely different. 

Beautiful area! Do you think this project will challenge you, and if so, how? 

I am not a runner, I’m a boxer, so I have to get into that runner’s physique–and runner’s mentality! It’s going to be more of a mental challenge than a physical one, and it will be the biggest challenge I’ve faced thus far.

I have gone through other challenges (like I mentioned before about school), but this – racing, that is – will be the most demanding one yet.

How has the project been thus far, and what are some highlights? 

Yeah, I’ve really been enjoying it. Obviously, the kit drop on the first day was the best thing! 

The initial runs were really difficult, and I didn’t want to finish at first because I wasn’t a runner; I wasn’t ready yet. I’m much better now. Earlier in April, I went on a near-ten kilometre run with my friend, which felt really good…I didn’t want to stop! It wasn’t tiring at all, but rather a more relaxed type of run.

I’m really loving and enjoying the runs now. 

It’s great that you’re at this stage already, as by the time you get to the actual run, you’ll be able to push yourself even more.

Yeah. And for me, I am not in it to win the race, I’m in it for the experience. 

Marek Weights Gym Interview Alpine Run Project

Getting ready to run! Marek Sthalekar trains four to five times weekly, from boxing and weights to running and other fitness routines.

What advice do you have for people your age and younger (16 years old) who are looking at what you’ve achieved and think, “I can’t do that.”

It started with me really wanting something and knowing what I wanted, and the fact that it would involve working with Nike, John and YBB was not something I knew when I started.

I was focused on wanting to move up – to level up – and had the mentality of wanting to be that 1% better every single day. 

So people out there who want stuff, you have got to go after it! It’s a combination of having that drive, wanting to live with good morals, and doing things that will help other people. Adam helped get me involved with this out of the kindness of his heart…it happened because of my mentality. 

Marek Alpine Run Project

Marek Sthalekar is also focused on getting back into modelling.

Who’s your role model in your life? 

I don’t have one specific role model. I believe in having a mentality of always trying to do better. But there are a few people I follow on social media, such as John McAvoy, who’s a massive role model with how he’s turned his life around. It’s amazing how he went from a prison cell to breaking world records and is now a global role model. 

There’s another guy called Kori Sampson who’s very big in TV and the modelling world, and whose physique and how he carries himself inspires me. Modelling is something I got involved with at the start of my fitness journey and, after taking a break from it, is something I’m looking to get back into.

Marek Sthalekar

Alpine Run Project participant Marek Sthalekar
stays focused on building physical fitness and mental agility.

What do you think your strengths are? 

Motivating people. Motivating the team of runners to continue running because it is difficult. For example, as much as I said it was nice going for a near-ten km run, sometimes it was challenging. So motivating people is one of the things which I enjoy… Seeing people do better. 

If you could pick one track you could run to and train to, what would it be and why? 

I can’t remember the song’s name, but it’s by Black Eyed Peas – very positive when you’re running. 

If you could pick one meal after you’ve trained, what is your go-to food? 

I don’t love fast food. I enjoy food that is nutritional and beneficial, like chicken and salad, pulses, and chickpeas. I LOVE food, but it’s what made me fat! I am very adventurous with what I eat; while I still love eating, I just make sure I work it off now. 

Stay up to date with Marek and the rest of the team running in the upcoming Alpine Run Project by following Marek on Insta, HERE; and GNG, HERE. Learn more about the initiative by following John McAvoy, HERE; Nike Running, HERE; and Youth Beyond Borders, HERE. View more articles and stay up to date with all GNG by visiting our website, HERE.

Interview by Grace Watson | Blog by Sarah-Claire Picton | Photography thanks to YBB, John McAvoy, and Marek Sthalekar

Ian Garry Announced As An Official Ambassador for Gloves Not Gunz


Pictured: MMA and UFC star ‘The Future’ Ian Machado Garry


Undefeated Irish professional MMA and UFC star ‘The Future’ Ian Machado Garry has been announced as Gloves Not Gunz latest ambassador as the organisation strives to grow its sports programmes and youth services across the UK in 2023.

Over the past year, Ian has gone from strength to strength in his professional career and is currently on a three-fight win streak after joining the UFC in 2021 taking his record to 10-0. Ian’s values, passion, and determination along with his hard work, personality and confidence are what attracted Gloves Not Gunz to the star.

In November 2022, Ian held a training session at the Gloves Not Gunz boxing gym in Croydon, London where young people in the local community could try out the sport, develop their skills, and learn from MMA’s rising star.

Pictured: Ian Garry delivering a session at the Boxing HQ in December 2022.

Commenting on becoming an Ambassador for Gloves Not Gunz, Ian said: “Gloves Not Gunz is a phenomenal concept. After the training session and getting to meet everyone and seeing first-hand the impact programmes like Gloves Not Gunz can have on the community, it made my decision very easy when I was approached to become an ambassador.

“I know just how important it is to have role models to look up to and a safe place to go where you can train and meet others. Sport can have such a big impact on your physical, mental, and emotional well-being and I am honoured to become an ambassador of Gloves Not Gunz and look forward to working with them to inspire young people and grow the sport across the UK.”

Founders and Directors of Gloves Not Gunz, Adam Ballard and Ben Eckett added: “We are delighted to have Ian on board as one of our ambassadors. Not only does he bring knowledge and experience with his success to date, but he also brings passion, excitement, and integrity. Ian is someone the young people we work with can look up to and we are excited to work with him starting with our first masterclass taking place on Thursday 5th January 2023.”

Pictured: Ian Garry at the GNG Boxing HQ in December 2022.

Founded in 2017 by local dads Adam Ballard and Ben Eckett, Gloves Not Gunz uses a holistic approach to supporting young people and the community through sport, mentoring, education, employment, and therapeutic interventions. Supporting thousands of young people each year through its free service and programmes, Gloves Not Gunz aims to break down barriers and tackle key issues within the community whilst creating change and inspiring the youth of today.

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2022 Reflections With Adam Ballard and Ben Eckett

As 2022 draws to a close, we sat down with Gloves Not Gunz and Urban Yogi’s UK founders and directors, Adam Ballard and Ben Eckett to talk reflections and lessons, and what we can expect in 2023.



Talk us through how this year has been for Gloves Not Gunz and Urban Yogi’s UK?

Ben: This year has been a year of positivity and growth for us. We’ve seen some of our contracts extended with councils and local authorities and we’ve received new funding which has been great after having a difficult year in 2021. In 2022 we have expanded our services in schools, implemented and developed new systems, and built structure and consistency within the team and organisation.

Adam: 2022 has been the year I was able to take my role full-time, which has been a huge relief. Taking the leap has been the best thing as before I was struggling to juggle everything. Now, I’ve got more time to develop and grow the organisation. There are moments in life when you’ve got to just throw caution to the wind and thankfully this has worked out.


Training session with MMA and UFC star, Ian Garry at the Gloves Not Gunz Boxing HQ

How have the Gloves Not Gunz and Urban Yogi’s UK teams developed over the past 12-months?

Ben: This year we decided to get Gloves Not Gunz and Urban Yogi’s together which we’ve never done before so it’s been really nice to see how both organisations can help each other. We’ve also hired new people who have proven to be great additions to the teams.

Adam: We’ve continued to employ young people which is personally one of my favourite things we get to do, as we can offer them an opportunity they may not get elsewhere.


A taster boxing session at our Community Day in August | image by Bevin Sutherland

What have been some of the challenges that you’ve faced this year?

Adam: One of the challenges we’ve faced has been engaging with other community groups in Croydon and some of the politics in the work we do.

Ben: The challenges and politics can make you feel frustrated and angry, but you have to realise that it’s not worth it and we just need to focus on what we’re doing.


Where would you like Gloves Not Gunz and Urban Yogi’s UK to be this time next year?

Ben: In 2023 we’re really focusing on expansion – expanding both the team and our services and programmes. We’ve got some really exciting things in the pipeline that we can’t wait to roll out and we’re looking forward to continuing to change young people’s lives.

Adam: Yes, we definitely want to expand across the country too, with the plan to perhaps go international as well. We’ve got big plans for the next year, which is exciting.


Training session with MMA and UFC star, Ian Garry at the Gloves Not Gunz Boxing HQ

What three words sum up 2022 for you?

Both: Progressive, Innovative and Reflective


GNG and UYUK Community Day in August | image by Bevin Sutherland



2022 has been another successful and transformative year for Gloves Not Gunz and Urban Yogi’s UK. We’d like to thank everyone who has used our services, attended our programmes, supported us, and worked with us to inspire and create positive change. We look forward to 2023 and another year of success with our team, young people, partners, sponsors, and ambassadors.  

We wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from everyone at Gloves Not Gunz and Urban Yogi’s UK!


To find out more about Gloves Not Gunz visit the website here and keep up to date on Twitter and Instagram.

To find out more about Urban Yogi’s UK visit the website here and keep posted for updates on Twitter and Instagram.

Roles ‘n’ Role Models: Q&A with Romario Simpson

Physical fitness, movement and breath have always been important to Romario Simpson, one of our youth mentors at Gloves Not Gunz (GNG) and a yoga teacher with Urban Yogis UK (UYUK). From competing in a national gym competition as a teenager, to graduating as a professional actor from The Academy Of Live & Recorded Arts in his twenties, Romario’s humble enthusiasm and self-motivation makes him a true role model. Romario’s big smile matches his compassionate, fun-lovin’ spirit…. And for anyone who’s met him, you’ll agree his warmth and positive energy is authentic as it is infectious.

As Croydon community gathered at the Boxing Club to celebrate Gloves Not Gunz and Urban Yogis UK turning five in August ’22, we sat with Romario to chat about his role, the importance of breath, and how yoga can help young people in the UK.

That Smile… Romario in Tree Pose at our Community Day in August | image by Bevin Sutherland

Tell us about yourself and your role at GNG and UYUK?
Hello, my name is Romario and I am a youth mentor with Gloves Not Gunz and a yoga teacher with Urban Yogis UK.

Community Day UYUK

Celebrating UYUK and GNG Community Day 2022, image by Bevin Sutherland

How did you get involved with GNG and UYUK?
It began during the first lockdown. I used to do a security job, and then lockdown happened and everything shut down. I thought: ‘What more can I give?’, and I’ve always been interested in youth work because I grew up in a community that was under privileged and I had a lot of negative influences and no role models. So I thought I’d like to be a role model to these youths growing up, and got involved with Gloves Not Gunz.

GNG saw the passion in me, and they trained me up with health and safety and then trained me to be a yoga teacher. I completed my qualification in October 2021, so it’s almost been a year since I’ve been teaching.

Community Day Romario Simpson

An inspiring role model: Romario leads a Yoga Session during Community Day 2022 | image by Bevin Sutherland

What are the challenges that exist for young people in UK, and how can a discipline like a martial arts or yoga help?
I think a lot of the challenges for young people in the UK is the influence of social media, and how much it can change a young person’s perception—how much it can influence their everyday decision making.

A practice like yoga can help just calm the mind and bring people back to self, because it is hard to take time for self.

When young people take that five or ten minutes just to breathe, that can help their psyche in not letting all these influences corrupt them.

0Romario Demonstrates Seated Twist in a Group Yoga Sesh at Community Day 2022 | image by Bevin Sutherland

Who is your role model?
My role model is the incredible actor Denzel Washington. He has nothing but positive things to say to the world and he uses his influence to do so. Big up Denzel!

Follow Urban Yogis UK on Instagram, here. 

Follow Gloves Not Gunz on Instagram, here.

Romario Simpson

Side by Side: Coming Together at Community Day 2022 | image by Bevin Sutherland

Images by Bevin Sutherland

Gloves Not Gunz Hosts Free Community Day To Celebrate 5-Year Success

Gloves Not Gunz and Urban Yogi’s UK will celebrate their success over the past five years at a community day in Croydon on Friday 19th August 2022.

The Community Day which will be held from 3pm Friday 19th August 2022 at Norbury Pavilion, Croydon, will see staff, volunteers, ambassadors, stakeholders, and the local community come together to celebrate five years of creating positive futures, inspiring change, and preventing crime through boxing and yoga. The event is free to attend and will include boxing, yoga, jiu jitsu, football sessions, workshops, activities, a BBQ, and refreshments.

Gloves Not Gunz, which was set up by Directors and local dads, Adam Ballard, and Ben Eckett, has had a profound impact on young people and communities over the past five years. It has worked with over 3,000 young people across the Borough of London, delivering over 350 of its programmes. These range from mentoring, community sports sessions, school workshops, community outreach and community interventions which include setting up sport/education sessions in crime hotspots. The organisation has also developed a stellar reputation, receiving a Metropolitan Police Service Commendation and an invitation to consult parliament in the All-Parliamentary Group as a result of its positive work within the community.

Gloves Not Gunz and Urban Yogi’s Director, Adam Ballard commented: “It has been incredible to see the success of both organisations over the past five years. We wanted to celebrate this milestone by giving back to the community, our staff, volunteers and partners and stakeholders. Gloves Not Gunz and Urban Yogi’s hopes to see as many people as possible attend the event which is completely free and get involved with the sessions and activities taking place. In addition, we hope the day will further raise awareness of the work we do and inspire more young people to get involved with our programmes and use the power of sport to positively impact their lives.”

The event will be held at: Norbury Pavilion, Croydon, SW16 3LX from 3pm – 7pm on Friday 19th August. All are welcome.

To find out more about Urban Yogi’s, click here.

Gloves Not Gunz Community Day

New Website

We’re very happy to announce the launch of our new website.