JOE Paladino is famous for his fighting spirit.
Standing at 6ft 6in, the former St Helens Town goalkeeper and heavyweight boxer has faced few opponents who filled him with fear.
That was until doctors told the 46-year-old in March last year he was suffering from thyroid cancer.
Big JP, as he is affectionately known, admits he sobbed when he first learnt the news and feared he had just a few months to live.
“When I was told I was obviously devastated,” said dad-of-four Joe. “But I was determined to fight this thing and beat it.”
Now firmly on the road to a complete recovery, he’s determined to channel that same fighting spirit into different areas.
His first priority was to radically alter his work-life balance so he can dedicate more of his time to his four children.
Next he set about transforming his thriving gym, Sutton Boxing Academy, into a charity with a mission statement of improving the health of people in St Helens.
“When you go to a cancer ward – and I have been to a few during the past year – you meet a lot of people from St Helens,” said Joe, who is from Sutton.
“You have to ask yourself why. Obviously you don’t have to be a genius to see our industrial past has something to do with it, but the overall health of the town must also play a part.
“Turning the gym into a charity was my way of giving something back. A lot of places – and I’d include some local authority places – charge really high fees.
“They are supposed to be helping improve the health of the town and they are but the prices are also putting a lot of people off from going to the gym.”
Joe’s newly named Sutton Fire Fit Boxing Academy will charge adults £8.50 per month to use its gym, while under 11s use the boxing facilities for free.
The academy already has an enviable reputation for producing talented fighters and organising community-based schemes for youngsters keen to try their hand at the sweet science. Now under the guise of a charity, that work is guaranteed to continue into the future.
“We have everything in place now, so we are officially a charity,” said Joe, who also enjoyed a successful boxing career after hanging up his boots.
“When you look around St Helens it’s clear to see there are a lot of health problems and I want to do something to help.”
The dad-of-four also insists his cancer battle has mellowed his famously combative nature and has inspired him to seek out new challenges.
“I’m going to do the Great North Run this year and I’m back training as hard as ever,” he said. “I’m up to four miles now and it’s going well.
“I’ll be working 16 hours a week and that’s all. After the running costs, everything will go back into helping the community.
“When you’ve through something like I’ve been through, you want to put something back and do the right thing. This is my way of doing just that.”
l RIGHT: Joe Paladino, 46, ringside at his gym in Sutton, with his children Giuseppe, 16, Gabriella, 12, Daniela, 12, and Joshua, eight.