Australian boxing champion Jeff Horn has opened up on the bullying that drove him to have suicidal thoughts.
In an emotional episode of Australian Story on ABC TV, the 29-year-old – who shot to prominence after a July win over Manny Pacquiao in Brisbane – shed light on the emotional battle that drove him to boxing.
Horn, who initially entered a Queensland gym hoping to learn how to “stand up for myself”, said he was heavily bullied at school, recalling a particularly demeaning incident that scarred him.
“I definitely didn’t look tough and I got picked on, probably for that reason,” Horn said during the episode.
“I think it was grade eight or grade nine, one of the guys that was bullying me, he ran up and punched me in the side of the head when I wasn’t looking.
“[Another time] a gang of about 30 guys followed us up after school and told us to get on our knees.
“And then he just slapped me across the face and then with my other mate they slapped him across the face as well. And we just felt so demeaned.
“I can remember them leaving us and us walking back to our friend’s place and just feeling so down on ourselves because we couldn’t do anything and we just felt so useless.”
Horn’s mother, Liza Dykstra, also appeared on the episode and recalled how her son “used to cry in bed at night”.
“We tried to protect him in every way that we could to make life a bit easier,” she said. “But the bullying still continued.
“Jeffrey did say that he had thoughts of committing suicide, that he just felt alone. He goes, ‘I don’t say that I was going to do it, but I thought of it at the times when the kids were being really bullying to me’.”
Horn’s decision to enter Glenn Rushton’s gym changed his life, with the former quickly showing the talent and application that convinced his trainer he would make it to the top.
“It wasn’t surprising when Jeff told me he’d been bullied,” Rushton said on Australian Story.
“He had it written all over his face. But there is a story behind every person who walks through my door, wanting to learn how to look after themselves. So I just embrace that.”
Under Rushton’s tutelage, Horn became a national champion and represented Australia at the Olympics before his breakthrough earlier this year, when he stunned Pacquiao to become the WBO welterweight world champion.
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