Thousands of hours of volunteering to help young fighters become their best, all while running his own business, has seen Darren Withers take out the prestigious Sports Association of Australia Riverina Branch’s Services to Sport Award.
Presented for the 19th time at the Sports Star of the Year Awards last week, the award recognises the contribution an individual has made over an extended period of time, involving themselves in providing a long-lasting and invaluable contribution to sport in the region.
Withers started his training at the Cobram Thai Boxing Club 25 years ago under the guidance of Jason Hawker, eventually taking on the head coach role rather than see the club fold after instructors eventually left.
‘‘He still holds the role to this day, where the club is in one of its healthiest states, with participation continually growing, through the involvement of young and old,’’ award presenter Jon O’Dwyer said.
‘‘Darren volunteers his services to many different sporting bodies who wish to have a community class in Muay Thai, and this includes doing free fitness classes for various football clubs in the area.’’
In his time as head coach, Withers has trained numerous fighters for various bouts in Melbourne.
‘‘He gives his time freely to coach and encourage his fighters, making sure they’re in peak physical condition and armed with the necessary skills and strategies for ultimate competition and success,’’ O’Dwyer said.
‘‘There’s no doubt that Darren Withers has etched his name into the history books of the local Cobram Barooga community with his undeniable, and as many would attest to, sometimes brutal, passion for the sport he loves and gives so much to.’’
O’Dwyer said under Withers, the Cobram Thai Boxing Club had introduced a number of other classes and programs in addition to its strong Muay Thai program, to cater to a greater audience.
‘‘To top this off, Darren has created a sense of belonging, where admiration and respect of individual achievement is promoted and shared, creating a family-like environment,’’ O’Dwyer said.
‘‘No doubt one of his greatest pleasures came when he trained local fighter Daniel Ellis to the Victorian WKA state title.
‘‘This was a great, fantastic achievement by Daniel, who won the 2014 Senior Sports Star of the Year, but also an extremely satisfying victory for coach Darren and no doubt many hours of training between Daniel and Darren went into securing this title.’’
Withers said the club had gone from strength to strength, from the adults’ classes to young kids doing rolling classes at kindergartens.
‘‘We’ve come a long way for a sport that’s not hugely recognised,’’ he said,
‘‘My aim is to try and get it out there and make it a bit more mainstream.
‘‘My passion for the sport is still there.’’
Withers said it was an honour to receive the award.
‘‘I was really surprised, I had no idea,’’ he said. It’s really encouraging and really special to win it.’’