Nathan Dale sees light at the end of the tunnel
- Credit: Jerry Daws/stillfocused
Nathan Dale is dripping beads of sweat. He's just completed six rounds of sparring with a lad from Suffolk who is clearly a weight or three above his welterweight frame.
It's gruelling stuff, but the smile on Dale's face is wide, clearly visible behind his yellow and green protective headgear.
If the corner post were made of wood you'd expect to see a notch on one as Dale marks off another step towards full recovery. The 25-year-old has been out of the ring for just over a year now, deciding that the post-fight pain in his right hand was finally too much to handle.
Surgery, in Manchester under boxing specialist Mike Hayton, was carried out in June, followed by 'a world of pain'.
But instead of shooting pains up the length of his right arm, Dale has just the odd twinge or two in his hand. It's a sign of progress, the completion of which can't come too soon for the amiable Norwich native.
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It was in February last year that Dale held aloft the vacant IBF Youth welterweight title in front of an ecstatic home crowd.
The promise of better things to come was there, but so, for Dale, was the problematic hand.
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There was little doubt something needed to be done so, before it got worse, the decision was made to go under the knife.
'Mike Hayton said he couldn't believe how far I had got with this injury and that I must have been in so much pain,' recalled Dale.
'To be honest, I got a bit of a buzz from that, thinking that someone like that, a man who didn't know me but had all that specialist knowledge, would say that. I thought, 'what am I going to be like with two hands?'
After the surgery, Dale slowly went through the gears in the gym – clearly a heavily bandaged hand needed care, so the route to recovery was a gentle one – staying in trim, jogging, running, shadow boxing, ring work without punching, pad work without punching, then some sparring, then four rounds, then six rounds.
Today, the biggest step – through the ropes – is agonisingly close. Not close enough for next week's first Norwich show of the year, but, not long after, Dale will finally 'return to work'.
'The first six months of it were terrible because I was on such a high after winning the title and it just got taken away from me. I had to vacate the belt in July, so it was terrible. After I had the operation I was back in the gym doing little bits, but I am back where I am now sooner than I thought I'd be, so I am happy.
'I have been boxing since I was nine so I've been doing it longer than I haven't been doing it, and it was a big shock when it got taken away. Now everything is sorted it is obvious that not everyone has seen what I can do in the ring yet.
'I have obviously been holding back. I haven't been letting it go.
'Now it is feeling stronger so I believe I will be shocking a few people this year.'