Former world ironman champion Guy Leech is ready to throw a few punches.
Devastated by the death of the 18-year-old son of a close friend from melanoma, he has shifted his focus to raising money for research into one of Australia's deadliest diseases.
On Sunday morning he will attempt to smash a Guinness world record by leading the largest number of people to complete an outdoor group fitness boxing class. The record stands at 452 participants, but Leech hopes to more than double that by gathering together 1000 participants willing to shadow-box towards a new mark and raise around $20,000 towards melanoma research in the process.
“He was just 18 years old and was doing his HSC,” Leech says of his friend's son. “He wasn't a surfer; didn't go out much in the sun and there was no family history of cancer. Then, two years ago, a melanoma was discovered behind one ear at his hairline.”
Within a year the teen had died. “Family and friends were all dumfounded. It had never occurred to us that something like this could take the life of a person so young.”
For Leech it's also a very personal cause. The former world champion ironman, seven-time winner of the Uncle Toby's series and Coolangatta Gold victor, has spent a large part of his life training and competing in the sun on Sydney beaches. He retired from professional competition 19 years ago and has since worked as a personal trainer to the likes of Madonna and surfing world champion Layne Beachley, and helped radio and TV host Jonathan Coleman shed 40 kilograms.
On learning a grim statistic from the Cancer Institute NSW – that melanoma is the most common cancer amongst 15 to 39-year-olds – he said he felt compelled to act.
“This tragedy is so close to my heart. I became determined to do all I could to fight such a deadly disease and to honour this courageous boy's memory,” Leech said.
Fundraising became a priority, but the athlete dubbed by Inside Sport as “The Fittest Man On The Planet” was not interested in door-knocking or cake stalls.
Proceeds from the outdoor boxing class – to be held on the lawn outside the International College of Management in Manly – will go to the not-for-profit organisation, Melanoma Institute of Australia.
To break the record, the group will need to exercise for at least 30 minutes and Leech has planned more than 45 minutes' worth of activities including running on the spot, push-ups, sit-ups and, of course, plenty of boxing.
If the record is beaten, participants will receive a world record t-shirt and a group photo will be published in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Leech said anyone could join in, no one would be punched and no boxing experience was necessary. “There will be trainers on hand to give tips on technique and I will provide coaching as well,” he said.
“It's a workout that tones and firms the upper body, is a great cross-training alternative, and is good for your heart and lungs. You can get fit within a short period of time. Plus, it's great fun.”
Registration opens at 7.30am on Sunday, with Leech's class to start at 9am. The cost is $20 per participant, which includes sunscreen and the use of a pair of boxing gloves.