It’s never an easy decision to walk away from something you love and so Paddy Toland’s proclamation that he will end his 25-year association with kickboxing will come as a shock to many!
The three-time world amateur kickboxing champion has become a towering figure in the sport.
He’s left a profound impact as both athlete and coach and kickboxing will be poorer for his imminent departure.
In 1989 and 1990 Toland won the Irish and British titles and went on to become world lightweight champion in Australia.
Four years later he challenged for the light-welterweight world title in San Diego before claiming his third world title in 1996 in Las Vegas when he stopped his American opponent in the third round.
Turning his hand to coaching, he opened his own gym in Carrigans and has enjoyed unrivalled success since.
At 53 years of age, the Killea man closed the door on the much lauded gym for the last time after almost 12 years.
Toland has built monuments of glory in the various PT’s Gyms spread throughout Derry and Donegal and they will continue to thrive in his absence. The conveyor belt will continue too churn out champions but his presence will be sorely missed.
Four world professional kickboxing champions, six European, two Commonwealth and seven Irish title winners crossed through the threshold of the gym since it opened its doors in 2002.
Toland has been coach and mentor to various world champions on both sides of the border and no-one can question his stellar contribution to kickboxing in the city and beyond.
He cemented that legacy by staging the biggest kickboxing and K1 show ever to take place on these shores in conjunction with the City of Culture celebrations at The Venue on Saturday night.
He’s going out with a bang! Toland has promised to deliver a spectacular send-off and there’s no better way to bring to an end such a glittering career.
Since hanging up his gloves, Toland has been part of the furniture at the gym he built with his own hands.
From 4am until close Toland would be found mentoring and coaching his kickboxing disciples but now he’s ready to walk away, intending to dedicate more time to himself.
“I’m really happy with what I’ve achieved in the sport,” he said. “A lot of the fighters that came through the doors of my gym could’ve went down different paths and I’d like to think that the sport has changed their lives for the better.
“Not just the world champions but all the members that came through the club.
“‘Keep moving forward’ has always been my motto and that’s what I intend to do.”
The charismatic coach claims he needs a fresh challenge and will now focus his energy on triathlons and the notoriously difficult Ironman competitions.
“There’s a lot of other things that I want to do,” he revealed.
“I want to do triathlons and Ironmans. I’m in my fifties now and if I don’t do it in the next couple of years I’ll never do it and I’ll look back and regret it.
“I’ve been at this game and coaching a long time and you can never really take much time out for yourself.
“You’re always involved with the fighters and making sure they’re okay.
“So I need a bit of time for myself and the only way to do that is to step away from the coaching altogether.
“Everything I do I give 100 per cent so I know that if I don’t walk away completely then I’ll be back.
“So it’s a hard decision but a decision I had to make for my future.
“The time passes by so quick and I always tell myself I’ll do it next year and next thing you know 10 years go past.
“So you just have to decide that you’ve done all you can do and you need to move on.”
Toland held his final training session last Friday night and when he closed the doors as coach for the final time, he admitted it tugged at his heart strings.
“It will be tough to walk away from it on Saturday night but I think it was more emotional last Friday night because that was their last training session.
“That was all the fighters that I’ve had on the shows in the past. They’ve all been there from I started coaching 12 or 13 years ago and that was the last training session we’ll all ever have together.
“We’ve just finished a 12 week training camp and Friday was the last night so that was emotional for all of us.”
Toland claims he will have no regrets about walking away from the sport which has given him so much.
And he’s confident the future of the sport in Derry and Donegal is in capable hands.
“I’m leaving it in good hands,” he said.
“All the coaches are very capable at what they do and are able to take the thing forward.
“There’s a lot of good coaches that have come out of this gym and they all have their own gyms now and they’ll keep pushing forward and bring new young guys through.
“I’m proud of what I’ve done. That’s what I’ve been telling the coaches that, ‘okay I’m away, but you all have to keep going forward’.
“They’re the new generation and it’s up to them to take up where I left off.
“There’s new blood and new ideas and I’m leaving at a good time.”