Learning to fight with Idris Elba

After losing her child and almost dying from Covid, learning to fight turned Chanika’s life around
By Nadoya Reid

Idris with Leytonstone woman Chanika Gayle-Dore
Idris with Leytonstone woman Chanika Gayle-Dore

After losing her newborn son and almost dying from Covid, a Leytonstone woman turned her life around with the help of international star Idris Elba.

Chanika Gayle-Dore, 29, was one of eight young people chosen to be part of Idris Elba’s Fight School Programme, televised on BBC Two.

Under the direction of the actor, best known for his role in The Wire, participants received an intense five months of boxing training before competing against one another in the ring.

Chanika told the Echo she applied to the show while grieving her newborn son, adding: “I had just recently moved at the time and I was at home for a long time in an empty flat.

“I would just sit and think ‘there is nothing here’. I knew I needed to make a change, have direction and get back my confidence and drive.”

By the time she heard she had been accepted, Chanika was in intensive care, suffering from Covid-related pneumonia, with doctors telling her mum she “was not going to make it”.

However, she bounced back and was still able to take part in the show, despite joining slightly later than other participants, and said it left her with renewed confidence and newfound passion for boxing

This story is published by Waltham Forest Echo, Waltham Forest's free monthly newspaper and free news website. We are a not-for-profit publication, published by a small social enterprise. We have no rich backers and rely on the support of our readers. Donate or become a supporter.

Chanika hugging her mum after a bout (credit: BBC2)

She told the Echo: “Being mentored by Idris was very cool. He was a big support, constantly checked in on us and always made himself available… but the highlight of my experience was the transformation within myself and what I achieved.

“Before coming on the show, I used to procrastinate quite a bit. I used to wait for others to do something before I would do it. Being on the show has taught me you miss valuable opportunities waiting for other people to do things with you.

“I have made the wrong choices in my past but I have learnt that you can choose to make better ones at any point or any age in a time.

“The show has made me become more confident and outgoing and that has helped me to do what I have always loved to do, which is helping others.”

Since leaving the programme, Chanika is working towards a boxing license and coaching schoolchildren, including at Aberfeldy Boxing Club in Poplar.

She also now runs women empowerment workshops, named “Candid Convos with Chan”, and hopes to begin putting them on around the borough.

You can watch Idris Elba’s Fight School on iPlayer here.

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