Local cancer fundraiser Mark Solan is relishing the opportunity to step into the ring with former Sunderland legend Julio Arca.
The pair are set to face off in a charity boxing bout next month and while Solan’s focus is to raise money in the name of combatting cancer, he won’t let that diminish his competitive nature.
“He’ll be training to knock my head off,” he said. “We both want to win. He’s going to be fit but just because you’re good at football doesn’t mean you’re going to be good at boxing.
“But he’s getting lots of training in, so it’s going to be really interesting. The thing with boxing is that he could knock me out with one punch and that’s the beauty of it.”
Despite juggling a 9-5 day job with round-the-clock charity work for families afflicted by the disease, Solan is in the gym up to five times a week as he prepares to do battle with his sporting hero.
“I’m training like a demon. Everything I do, I do properly. It’s driving me on because the fight will raise money and that will mean I can help more people. I will gladly put myself through this physical torture,” he said.
Solan is one of many whose lives have been affected by cancer having watched his mother lose her battle 20 years ago. By his own admission, he and his family initially failed to cope in her absence but he has since dedicated his life to ‘KO-ing’ the disease which threatened to rip his life apart.
The 42-year-old now runs his own cancer trust – the Solan Connor Fawcett Trust – and his tremendous fundraising and tireless work with families has resulted in him being put forward for a Pride of Britain Award.
It all began last year when the full-time retail store manager swapped the shirt and tie for a pair of gloves as he undertook a white-collar boxing challenge in the name of Cancer Research. Having set an original target of £1,000, Solan quickly smashed that before accruing a national record of over £20,000.
Despite only having dabbled in boxing previously, Solan claims that it was his steadfast determination to help stricken families which propelled him to victory over his opponent inside the opening 85 seconds.
“To be fair to the lad, he didn’t have a chance,” he said. “I train like a professional. I wanted to shock people. I wanted to grab peoples’ attention to get them to sponsor me and it worked. A lot of people thought I was going to get beat.”
Less than a year later and Solan claims that he is currently working with over 50 families in the North East and has raised more than £50,000. Many are wondering how this local do-gooder has managed to entice a former Black Cat into the ring, but his relationship with Arca is one that originates from when the Argentine first signed for Sunderland in 2000.
“I’m a Sunderland fan and Julio [Arca] is one of my heroes,” he said. “When I used to work in Durham, Julio used to come in there. He used to come into the shops, we would go to the games and became pally, then drifted apart a bit.”
After re-uniting at a charity event in 2014, it was suggested by a mutual friend that the duo step into the ring for an impromptu boxing showdown, before Arca got in touch last year to confirm his willingness.
“At the end of the day he’s never boxed before,” he said. “So to put himself in the boxing ring is amazing.
“He’s lost someone to cancer – it’s a great cause. We’re raising money for my charity, for St. Cuthbert’s Hospice in Durham and St. Teresa’s Hospice in Darlington.
“Obviously there’s a respect there, but of course we want to win. Whoever wins, we’ll have a cuddle and a pint together and hopefully raise a few quid.”
For Solan, this is just the beginning as he speaks about cementing a ‘legacy’, with a desire to expand the cancer trust with the aim of making it a registered charity. By accepting the showdown with such a popular sporting figure in the North East, he knows that this could provide the perfect springboard for the cancer trust to move to the next level, whilst generating money for hospices.
“For me, it’s all about exposure,” Solan said. “The charity will never ever leave the North East. I want it to be big enough to help loads of people but small enough so that it’s still personal.
“I will never ever not go around and deal with the families, it will always be me.
“With the boxing match last year – it was only when I saw all the community pull together and the amount of money that we raised that I thought I was onto something and that I could make a real difference.
“I believe this is my calling. I feel I’m blessed to be in a position to help people. I’m just so focused. I look at the families as inspirational. That’s what drives me on. As you get older, it’s all about memories. That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to give families and individuals memories.”
The pair will go head to head at Rainton Meadows Arena in Houghton le Spring on May 7.
Tickets are priced at £30 and can be purchased by contacting Daryll Hall on Facebook. Donations to the money can be made at www.crowdfunding.justgiving.com/mark-solan