AN EX-professional boxer who rose to prominence in the late 1970s and 80s then later became stranded in his native Jamaica has made a public appeal for help after falling on hard times.
Vernon Vanriel was a contemporary of black British greats such as Maurice Hope, Lloyd Hunnigan, Kirkland Laing, Bunny Sterling and Lennox Lewis and is widely regarded as the first of his sporting peers, to fill venues with hundreds of black boxing fans.
He hung up his gloves in 1985 but in 2005 returned to Jamaica, with the intention of settling down with his partner and training aspiring Commonwealth boxing champions. Vanriel says he planned to travel back and forth between Jamaica and the UK.
However life has been tough since his return. His relationship didn’t work out, he was robbed of assets which he’d planned to start his business with, and, with no close family members around to call on, he quickly ended up living on the streets of Jamaica after one week. This was compounded by severe mental illness.
Vernon says that he tried to return to the UK around 2007 but was not granted leave to re-enter the country he’d lived in for 43 years. Instead, he was told to apply for a visitor’s visa.
Eight and a half years would pass before Vanriel eventually secured a roof over his head.
Speaking to The Voice in Savanna-La-Mar, Jamaica, Vanriel said: “Things have not gone right almost from the start. I am out here on my own. At one stage, I slept in Savanna-La-Mar hospital, I’ve slept on graves, tombstones, derelict buildings. You just don’t know!”
It’s only within the last two years that he has managed to find accommodation, through a friend. However during his years in Jamaica, Vanriel’s health has suffered.
He has been seen by doctors several times over the last 11 years, for progressive weight loss, weakness and pain. Despite multiple investigations, a diagnosis remains unclear.
Due to his illness, the former boxer hasn’t been able to secure and maintain work and says he is in constant fear for his life. He said: “I’m worried in case something goes wrong during the night. It’s the nights and the mornings that I keep getting these pains – it wakes me up.
“It was shortly after moving here that I noticed that I was sweating a great deal and my left foot was giving me lots of pain. Ever since then I’ve been losing weight and have grossly deteriorated physically. It is soul destroying, when I look in the mirror and see what I’ve come to.”
Vanriel also lives with bipolar disorder – a diagnosis he received in the UK, around the time of his retirement. Over the last 13 years, Vanriel’s sole source of income has come from his sister Lynette, who lives in north London.
Vanriel is a father-of-three. He has two daughters and a son; none of whom ‘want to know’ him. He said: “Lynette helps when she can and I honestly don’t know where I would be without her.
“When she sends money, though, a lot of the time it goes straight back to the people I have to borrow from, so it goes nowhere.”
The ex pro-boxer had previously been taking antidepressants but, for over a decade, this condition hasn’t been effectively managed.
“I was an inpatient at St Ann’s Psychiatric hospital in the UK on 13 different occasions. That’s when I fell off of the boxing scene altogether.”
Now, he is appealing to the public for monetary donations towards securing travel to England, where he might be able to get the medical attention he requires.
He said: “I honestly don’t know how I have been surviving this long. When I think about my past, it makes me happy and that’s what I live on. I’ve nothing else.”