By SafetyCulture Team   |  
November 6th, 2020

From Iron Bars to Iron Man | A Conversation with John McAvoy

Reading Time: 3 minutes

At our ‘From Surviving To Thriving’ Virtual Summit, we heard from John McAvoy, who has an incredible story of resilience and transformation to share.

John was a high-profile armed robber serving life in prison at age 24, where he found redemption through the power of sport.

Born into a criminal environment, John served a total of 10 years in some of the UK’s highest security prisons with some of the most violent people in society, including Abu Hamza. John bought his first gun at the age of 16 and quickly became one of the UK’s most wanted men. 

But after the loss of his best friend and reflecting on his moral code, he turned his life around in prison with sport.  Having broken both British and World records while incarcerated, he is now forging a new life as an endurance athlete. He became a Nike Ironman, giving talks to schoolchildren and invited to No.10 Downing Street, home of the UK Prime Minister. 

John knows a thing or two about pivoting in order to thrive, as he once spent an entire year in a solitary confinement prison cell which led to him finding a passion for fitness. 

Looking to foster resiliency and innovative thinking at this time? Check out John’s top tips for transformation through a crisis:

Don’t be scared to fail

At a time when COVID-19 is affecting us all, we often need to try new things in order to continue thriving. That can be a scary challenge, but John believes it’s only our mindset that will stop us.

John made a decision while serving time in prison that he was going to transform his life through sport. That singular focus helped propel him forward, even when it was challenging and difficult.

Dream big, be bold and embrace challenges

The way that John builds his confidence is to reflect on the preciousness of his life. That allows him to get to the very core of his existence, and to make bold decisions:

When I made the decision to change my life and use sport as the vehicle to do that, I had a clear objective and believed there were no limits to what I could achieve even though at the time lots of people doubted me.

Embracing challenges is about having enough confidence to go outside of our comfort zone, even when we have absolutely no idea if we will sink or swim. 

As business leaders, we can learn a lot from the perceived mistakes we make, but if we never try at all, we’ll never know just how capable and resilient we can be.

Help others grow and work as a team

In chaotic times, it’s even more important that your teams work closely together.

John McAvoy got Rolex watches, nice cars, even smashed World Records – but he realised that his real measure of success was the difference he made in the world, and using his story to inspire others. 

True legacy isn’t money, cars, houses, watches, world records –  it’s helping others to grow and realise their own potential in life.

A prison officer helped him change his direction towards something positive by showing him that his rowing efforts at the gym were actually at gold medal level. John’s endurance levels were ground-breaking, and with the help of the prison officer, his performance garnered worldwide attention.

It took real suffering and a confined situation to help John to change, but it eventually kicked him into action. He started to create a life that was about inspiring others, passing on the legacy of his prison officer.

So what can businesses learn through John’s extraordinary story?

Develop a growth mindset through times of adversity

When the chips are down, there’s nothing else to do but transform. COVID-19 has impacted our health, our relationships, our businesses, and the economy. 

Now, more than ever, it’s important we embrace the present moment and figure out how we can adapt to a changing situation.

So how can businesses grow through adversity?

It’s all about their perception of the situation, and their ability to set big goals, even when all looks hopeless.

John was in a high-security prison, with just one place to visit – the inmate gym. He had an extremely limited amount of resources at his disposal – but the resources he had, he used them to maximum effect.

There’s a great lesson for businesses here. Do what you can with what you have – even if what you have is small. Encourage innovative thinking with your operations, and don’t play it safe.

Set goals so audacious they will shock everyone and stay committed to the results.

John McAvoy’s singular point of focus – his physical training – allowed his mind to ignore constraining external conditions, and focus on the end result.

You don’t need a huge amount of resources. Discipline, focus, and willingness to stay the distance is what matters.  John decided to create a huge goal to break world records – because all of his training led him to believe it was possible. 

What could be possible for your business that you’ve overlooked?

SafetyCulture Virtual Summit 2020

Missed out on SafetyCulture Virtual Summit 2020? Register to watch the replay here. If you’ve already signed up, recap your favorite sessions below

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