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.
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.
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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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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