‘Second chances’ is the theme our whole school is looking at this term, and 8H chose to hold their ‘second chances’ assembly on the life of John McAvoy.

John McAvoy was convicted of armed robbery in 2005, and was sentenced to life in prison with no parole.  Yet his tale of redemption, which the children retold in their assembly, is scarcely believable.  From convicted criminal, destined to remain in prison for life, to a Nike triathlete living the dream, John McAvoy’s journey is one of aspirational self-reinvention.

The turning point came when he learned that his best friend had died in a similar robbery.  He decided to change his life for the better.

Pupils heard how the prison gym became McAvoy’s refuge.  It was a way of channeling his energy into something rewarding, an escape from the toxic goings on with other inmates and a chance to do something with his time of incarceration.  McAvoy discovered the indoor rowing machine and found he was allowed more than his allocated time if he was training for one of the many rowing challenges. It gave him focus.

“When I was in isolation for a whole year in a segregation cell, if I’d sat there on day one thinking, ‘I’m going to spend the next 365 days of my life locked in this 8ft x 12ft cell’, I wouldn’t have been able to mentally cope with that. So I had to develop coping strategies and I wanted to grow in that situation.

“I wanted to feel alive and I did that by doing ‘cell circuits’ – burpees, press-ups, step-ups, sit-ups – and I’d do thousands of each exercise because that just made me feel alive. I didn’t understand at the time about exercise and mental health, but obviously it was having a profound impact. And I would read everyday so I went through this transition of growth when I was in this situation.

“I didn’t have a release date. I literally never knew when I was going to get out. So I had to keep myself in the moment because otherwise I would have gone crazy.”

“It was then I realised how precious life is,”

By educating himself and getting progressively fitter, he was able to turn his life around.

“I went from a criminal, that only knew criminality from a young boy, to suddenly becoming an athlete and breaking records.”

On leaving prison, McAvoy became a government adviser as well as a Nike athlete, and whilst he is determined to see how far he can go in Ironman triathlons, he says his main focus is helping others.

When asked what one thing he is grateful for, he simply replies, “Being alive.”

It was an extremely moving assembly which ended with the following prayer:

Lord, forgive me for the times when I judge others for the very things that I do myself.  Lord, today I repent of my sins.  Thank you that every day is the opportunity for a new start, a second chance.  Thank you for the riches of your kindness and love.  Thank you for your forgiveness made possible through the blood of Jesus Christ.  Thank you that you are a God who gives us so many chances to enjoy your love.