Grassroots to Glory - Lauren Price
Wales' triple threat!
She may be on the verge of realising her sporting dream by competing at an Olympic Games but for boxer Lauren Price a special relationship with her grandfather Derek has been the catalyst for her achievements. Whenever his granddaughter, Lauren, was feeling a bit mischievous, she would play with his long, curly hair until he fell asleep—he always did. Once Lauren confirmed Derek was firmly in dreamland, she would get to work.
“I’d find a permanent black marker,” said the boxer, grinning wickedly. “My nan’s out in the kitchen making sandwiches and I coloured his bald patch in black. He’d wake up, and she’d be there with a scour and cleaner, rubbing it off his head, saying ‘oh, what have you done to granddad?’ The next day he looked like he’d been in the sun because he was bright red.”
Lauren was dropped off at Derek and Linda’s house at just three days old, her biological parents unable to care for her. Her grandparents immediately decided to raise her as their own. Price, now 27, speaks with a steady assuredness befitting a world champion. She earned the title in 2019, the first for an amateur Welsh boxer. Her lilt is the unmistakably the product of her Welsh valley upbringing in the village of Ystrad Mynach, where she has steadily become a local celebrity: the triple-sport international athlete who could bring Olympic gold home to Caerphilly.
It is not clear who adopted the metaphor from whom, but both Lauren and Linda are quick to compare young Lauren to Tigger, the perennially rambunctious Winnie the Pooh character with a proverbial spring in his tail. Linda—calm, measured, and the who would happily welcomes anyone into her home —is a bit more like Winnie the Pooh: a problem solver. And Price’s rambunctiousness was, initially, a spot of bother.
“She was a very hyperactive child. That is how we got her into sport to start with,” Linda recalled. “Always bobbing up and down and racing here and racing there. And I said to her grandad, ‘We have got to try and do something to use up this energy,’ I said. ‘Because she’s going to hurt herself in the house all the time.’”
So, Derek took Lauren to the local Athletics club, but they would not take her because she was too young. Undeterred, Derek tried football next—he knew some of the boys from his days as coach at Pengam Boys Club. The lads agreed to give Price an initial look for their new National Lottery funded club, Fleur de Lys, and neither party ever looked back.
“She never, ever came off the field,” said Linda. “She was never substituted once, and like I said she went from strength to strength.
“It was lovely. Lovely, lovely memories. Freezing cold, hot water bottle down your back, hand warmers, boots, scarves, everything, you name it. But I never missed a match.”
Price’s teachers, said Linda, described her as “sort of airy-fairy, but sport mad.” Talk of the talented girl on Fleur de Lys reached as far as Georgetown, who asked if she would play for them on Sundays. Price said yes, despite having also committed to kickboxing at Devils Martial Arts. Linda had achieved her goal of getting Price out of the house with astounding success. The young athlete trained at kickboxing three days a week and on Saturday mornings, played for Fleur de Lys on Saturday afternoons, and Georgetown on Sundays.
Derek, who raised Price with a fierce love of Arsenal and Thierry Henry, was thrilled. Linda said: “He adored Lauren. She gave him another lease on life. When the boys left home, we thought oh that is it, that is the end of him and his football.
“And then Lauren came in and it just went from there. She was the air that he breathed. She’d come in through the door and she was like a breath of fresh air. No matter where she was, she was like ‘whoof I’m here!’ And she’s still the same now. She comes in now, and I cannot wait to see her. Even the dog does blinking somersaults when she comes through the door.”
When Price, who has benefitted from National Lottery support throughout her sporting journey, was little, Linda worked nights at a care home to support the family. Later, she would be up at the crack of dawn and head to the office at the family-owned Bee Line Taxis, where Derek also worked as a driver. It was Derek who usually greeted Price when she got home from school. He would make sure she had something to eat then drive her to training. Linda would be there when Price returned, hot bath drawn to wipe off the dirt and sweat. The trips started to get longer. Price was a world kickboxing champion by 12, defending her title a year later in Limassol, Cyprus alongside Tokyo-bound taekwondo star Lauren Williams.
A Six Degrees of Lauren Price game could likely occupy Team GB’s entire 11-hour flight to Japan. A half-year stint as part of taekwondo’s world class programme at 16 saw her sharing accommodations with Team GB’s Jade Jones and Bianca Walkden. She now lives with fellow British boxer Karriss Artingstall in Sheffield. As a Wales international—Price earned 52 caps before committing to boxing in 2014—she played with Sophie Ingle, set to become Wales’ first female Olympic footballer.
Derek and Linda committed “thousands” of pounds through the years ensuring Price could live out the dream she once scribbled on a homework assignment:
“I want to be a world champion kickboxer, I want to play football for Wales, and I want to go to the Olympics.”It’s fair to say if her and my grandad didn’t take me in at three days old I probably would have gone down a different route, I probably would have even been in care, “ said Price, who is one of over 1,000 athletes to benefit from National Lottery funding allowing her to train full time and access world class facilities, technology, coaching and support teams.
“So, looking at it from a bigger picture it’s crazy-like.”
Linda was in the hospital when, in 2014, the middleweight boxed her way to Commonwealth Games bronze in Glasgow, but Derek was there, as always. That medal solved a dilemma for Price: football or boxing? Also “That was the turning path for me,” said Price. “I’ve always loved the combat sports, so to switch over to boxing wasn’t a massive step for me, because I was always better with my hands than my legs anyway.”
Before she was paid to box—Price successfully auditioned for the National Lottery funded GB programme in 2016—she worked as a teaching assistant for a girl with special needs. When her pupil would get worked up, the future Olympian with her own deep loathing for inertia would offer a calming run. As a girl, “money mad” Price used to pilfer notes from her grandpa’s pile at Bee Line Taxis, stuffing them in her socks. Years later she would earn it outright, driving revellers to Cardiff and back in her Skoda Octavia to pay for basic needs while she trained with Wales from Monday to Thursday. Linda had a banner waiting, like always, when the work paid off and Price returned home from the Gold Coast in 2018 clutching Commonwealth gold.
Price said: “They’ve always supported me in every single way. My nan always used to say to me ‘reach for the moon, if you fall short, you’ll land on the stars. And that’s something that’s always stuck with me.” Linda has not been able to come to many of Price’s events recently—not since Derek was diagnosed with dementia.
She said: “I couldn’t leave him. Because dementia is a terrible illness. Sometimes he could not remember, he would call [Lauren] by one of her uncle’s names, and she would get upset. But deep down you could see that twinkle in his eye when she walked through the door, as if to say, well, I know who you are.”
Derek passed away in November 2020, the year Price’s first chance to qualify for her Olympic dream was postponed by the pandemic. Price secured her ticket to Tokyo in June 2021, topping the podium at the European qualifier without her biggest fan. “Derek would be absolutely ecstatic,” affirmed Linda. “He would be ten feet tall, and he would be the proudest man in the valley.”
There is a card Price will keep on her bedside in Japan. Linda gave it to her before the cancelled qualifier, and the superstitious southpaw did not open it until the second. The stoic boxer cried when she read the signature: “’From Nan and Grandad.’”
Price said: “Obviously he’s passed now, but it was just kind of, the words inside just to believe in myself over the years, you’ve dreamt of this journey, and go and achieve it.
“I made history in November by becoming the first amateur world champion, that was a very proud moment for me as well, but to be the first female to represent Wales at boxing in the Olympic Games is another one I can add to my list for making history. “Just putting on, whether it is the Welsh vest or the GB vest, the hairs on my arm stand up. It gives me goosebumps.”
No noggins will need bleaching this time round, but Price might want to hang onto that Sharpie—for autographs.
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