Cold, damp rooms underneath railway bridges have long been the habitat of London’s boxing fraternity.

Rich, claret blood stains decorate the canvasses, consciously left uncleaned, showcasing the struggles of generations of men, who had, at times, eloquently danced, and at others, relentlessly battled within the ropes.

“Get in there son, you’ll be alright.”

Said Ernie, with a half smoked Red Marlboro hanging from the side of his mouth. An octogenarian chain smoker, I never saw him without a cigarette, even when sat at ringside.

Although this was a ‘gym’ nobody dared ask Ernie to stop. I suspect this was less to do with his fearsome reputation as a pugilist than his infamously sharp tongue.

This was my first fight, between the ropes I stepped, terrified, trembling, regretful. I was no tough guy.

There are two types of people who become boxers.  Those who learn to fight because they like it and those who learn to fight because they’re fed up of being pushed around.

I was firmly in the second camp and beginning to profoundly regret my decision to learn.

What was I doing here?

The towering beacon of threat that stood in the opposite corner appeared to be everything I was not. Muscled, broad shouldered, confident, free from fear, aggressive, brutal…and I was about to engage in hand to hand combat with him.

Talk about bad decisions…

The bell rang, marking the start of the longest 9 minutes of my life.

For two and a half rounds, my opponent delivered an unrelenting barrage of almost entirely unanswered punches. This was David versus Goliath….except David had forgotten his slingshot and there was nothing standing in Goliath’s way.

Finally and entirely predictably, old Ernie threw in the towel.

“OK. The kids had enough.” he said.

Perhaps I should have been a thespian, because in by far the best performance of the night, flailing my arms and showing faux-contempt towards Ernie, I managed to convince everybody (except myself) that I was dismayed at the decision to quit.

Truth is, I could have hugged Ernie.

I sat, in pain, on the bench in the corner as he did his best to tend to my bruises.

“You win or you learn Kid. This time you learned.” Ernie was a kind man underneath his rough exterior.

I glanced over at my opponent in the opposite corner. His eyes still burning with hatred, his muscles still pumped with adrenaline. Victory clearly not enough to satisfy his blood lust.

“What have I learned taking a one sided beating from that nasty thug? Nothing.” I said.

Ernie just shook his head. He’d heard it all before.

You learn 

Taking a shower after a fight doesn’t heal the wounds, but when the warm water is cascading over your shoulders and down your back, the edge of the pain seems to be taken away.

I’d been in the shower for almost 30 minutes, eyes shut and hands pressed firmly against the tiles, when I heard the shower next to me being turned on.

“How are you feeling mate?” Said an unfamiliar voice.

I opened my eyes and looked across. The voice asking how I was feeling was coming from the very person who had delivered my pain.

How dare he come in here and ask me how i’m feeling. I thought to myself.

“I’ve felt better.” I said, abruptly.

“I’ve done worse.” He replied.

I had thought his retort was serious until I noticed a smile breaking across his face. This smile slowly turning into a laugh. I started laughing too.

And then we talked for hours. Openly and candidly like old friends.

The brutal ‘thug’ who had ‘handed me my ass’ was an orphan. He grew up in various homes and fighting had been a part of his life from early on.

Finding boxing helped him escape from street life, it had taught him discipline, respect and self belief.

He’d endured a hard existence that was short on love. I’d judged him to be a thug based on his appearance, and whilst his appearance gave away his tough, fighting background, it did little to explain the whys or the wherefores.

This ‘thug’ is one of the most decent and considerate people I have been lucky enough to meet, and remains a close friend. Today he is a dedicated local community worker, keeping underprivileged children away from a life of crime.

“You win or you learn kid.”

I learned nothing about boxing or even losing that day, but I did learn about reserving your judgement. I learned that everybody has a story.

Most importantly, I learned that sometimes when you lose, its not immediately clear what you learn from it.

Sometimes, you have to look a little harder for the lesson and it’s not always what you might expect.

Finding meaning 

Until recently, I like to think I was pretty adept at looking for the lesson when things didn’t turn out the way I had expected or wanted.

Always reminding myself that the lesson would be there if only I looked hard enough.

The truth is, i’ve struggled to find meaning in the loss of our darling daughter. The promise of life was dangled, only to be inexplicably snatched away before it began.

She never experienced a hug from her Mummy, never a kiss goodnight on her forehead from her Daddy.

Looking down on my daughters perfect little face, I was stunned by the enormity of what we had lost.

Until that moment Zoe had been conceptual, now she was very real and painfully absent.

This is the biggest loss of my life. A pain the likes of which I have never felt. A deep love reserved for a special little girl trapped inside.

What can the lesson possibly be?

Look harder Daniel. Look harder.

A Gift from Zoe 

If a life is measured by years lived or breath’s taken then Zoe’s life had meant nothing, but if a life is measured by how much you change the people you touch for the better, then Zoe’s life was immeasurably valuable.

We knew Zoe had Down’s syndrome, and plenty of other challenges besides, and because of this we had to change the way we looked at the world around us.

We are more understanding people because of Zoe.  What a simple, but priceless, gift.

This was Zoe’s gift to us.

Our positive nature focuses on this wonderful gift, as we move forwards in our lives with Zoe deeply entrenched in our hearts.

Thank you 

Thank you to everybody.

Over time we will do our best to personally thank every person who has sent us kind messages and made donations to Sands, the charity for stillborn and neonatal deaths, in Zoe’s name.

The Team Body Project website is about to undergo some very exciting changes, LOTS of new workouts and plenty of very cool updates.

I apologise for the short delay and hope you understand why we have not rushed back into production. We are more focused on making Team Body Project the BEST workout website in the world than ever.

Thank you for your patience. You are our lifetime members, so you will experience everything very soon 🙂

If you would like to make a donation to West London Sands,  you can do so on the link below.

These donations really do mean a lot to us.

Daniel, Alex and family.

  1. Cortina 6 years ago

    Life is hard, but beautiful. I am so sorry for you loss, and it sucks, but I am encouraged by the way that you have found beauty in it also. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Heather Kidson 7 years ago

    Daniel and Alex,

    To be full of joy and simultaneously heartbroken is one of life’s
    trials. Zoe was and is a precious gift as is her sister. Take time to
    heal your hearts and enjoy your lovely family.


  3. Elisa Blue 7 years ago

    Thank you Daniel and Alex for sharing your journey with us. My deepest sympathies to you and your whole family. I keep you close to my heart and wish only love and compassion to you all. Much love.

  4. Yolande Phillips 7 years ago

    Thank you for this so poetically written tribute to Zoe.This what I see this blog as….a tribute to a beautiful soul.God knew what he was doing when he gave you the gift of Zoe.He knew that you and Alex would be the best couple to bring this darling into the world to touch so many lives and give so many life lessons. What a wonderful gift. Through your pain you have still been able to see the joy of this gift.Thank you so very much for sharing this with us.Your strength in all of this is inspiring.I am sure that you have had dark days and some dark moments will continue to spring up but I am confident that these times will bring you further forward .As someone said earlier,please take all the time that you and your family need.Your Body Project family love you and wait patiently until the time is right.

  5. Jane Brooks 7 years ago

    Dear Daniel and Alex,
    I work with a Downs Syndrome child. I can see that you have great compassion.
    This passage from Psalm 139 made me think of you.. and Zoe:
    “For You formed my inward parts;
    You covered me in my mother’s womb.
    14 I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;[b]
    Marvelous are Your works,
    And that my soul knows very well.
    15 My frame was not hidden from You,
    When I was made in secret,
    And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
    16 Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
    And in Your book they all were written,
    The days fashioned for me,
    When as yet there were none of them.”

  6. Karen Mennenga 7 years ago

    You have brought tears to my eyes as I think of your family going through this difficult time. I too had a stillborn little girl, Katie. Alive till the very last moments when the cord was too tightly wrapped around her neck and she died…31 years ago. I’m glad you have family and body project friends to be with you. The charity is a wonderful idea. Blessings…Karen

  7. Laura Hamilton 7 years ago

    Daniel and Alex

    Zoe, you and the rest of your family have touched so many – and to think we’re scattered around the globe. As Amara said, Zoe’s gift will stay with us and continue to evolve as time passes.

    I like to think that we continue to exist as long as we have a place in somebody’s memory.

    I wish you and your family a future filled with love, light and laughter. Zoe will always be with you and with those of us whose lives have been touched by her.

  8. Andleeb Ghani 7 years ago

    Dear Daniel
    You are a really talented and a selfless soul! The belief in humanity and giving your utmost not only to your family but to others who dont even know you personally is commendable!!!
    Wishing you all tge best and may you enjoy lots of happiness and love with your family…

  9. Jennifer Jarvis 7 years ago

    The strength you exhibit is an amazing power of example to us all. Zoe has affected many lives and will continue to do so through you and Alex. xoxo

  10. Monica 7 years ago

    Daniel – Reading your words just brought tears to this Mommy’s eyes. When you “meet” your children for the first time it is a wondrous thing. (I’ve always told our kids they are my heart walking around outside of my body. There is no other way for me to explain my love for them.) How painful to meet Zoe under such circumstances and yet how amazing to have had her for the time you did. It’s just been a blessing, how you and Alex have handled this and been so open and sharing. Thank you. When you hug your other children with your arms you will also hug Zoe with your heart.

  11. Ruth Palatnik 7 years ago

    Daniel, Alex, and family,
    First, take extra time if you need to. Alex is still after birth (and you both have a newborn to deal with as well as the pain of your loss).
    Zoe has influenced others, but Daniel and Alex, so have you! Your statement early on, that you were not to be pittied for having a child with Down syndrome, posted publicly, surely has ripple effects. While I wish for all of your readers healthy children, I am so glad that the message that a less than perfect person is human, lovable, and a gift rang loud and clear. (I wish we would apply that to OURSELVES as well!) It seems that she accomplished, already, whatever her “task” was.
    Again condolences, and may you enjoy your living child with unabashed joy.

  12. Amara Hamilton 7 years ago

    Such a beautiful photo of Zoe’s hands and feet, nestled between bunnies and flowers. Heartbreaking and at the same time acknowledging her space in your hearts and life. I am thankful that you have shared her journey with us and are allowing us to hold space for each one of you in your family during this difficult journey. Few people are as open and compassionate as you are and that is a gift to all of us. You may not quite understand yet what Zoe’s gift truly is – it will likely evolve and change as time passes – but for sure, we have all been touched in our own unique way. Sometimes with children there is grief and sorrow right at the beginning of life, sometimes it comes later. We don’t know until we have to face it. I wish you strength and peace as you move forward and much joy in the gifts that baby Amara is bringing to you. Much love to you all!

  13. Lizette Van Huyssteen 7 years ago

    Hi Daniel, thinking of you guys in this time.

    My husband & I joined your team 4 weeks ago and I must say we love your workouts.

    Thank you for the positive motivation.

    All the best.


  14. LLM G 7 years ago

    I wish I can say more than sorry for your loss.

  15. helen mccarroll 7 years ago

    Oh Daniel and Alex, what an inspiring message. Zoe has touched so many lives because of your selfness spirits and your willingness to share your story and your pain. I too will try to look at things differently and without judging . Zoe’s legacy will live on. Thank you for all you do. You are remarkable people and am I am grateful. Peace, Helen

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