Gower College Swansea Sports lecturer Duane Saunders recently delivered an inspiring talk to Birchgrove Comprehensive pupils as part of the Kick Start Programme.
“We are extremely lucky to have Duane on board with Kick Start,” says Enterprise Officer Lucy Turtle. “His journey has taken him from studying at Gower College Swansea to playing football in America and Spain to being involved in UEFA Champions League and World Cup qualifiers as part of their medical teams. Still in his twenties, Duane has been fortunate to see and do so much. Lecturing at the college is just the current chapter in a book filled with stories and experiences that have seen him travel the world with football.”
Among the pupils who enjoyed the talk was Corey, who said: “I was able to ask Duane about living in California, playing in Spain, who was the best player he played against and with and what it was like training at Swansea FC. Duane made me realize that, if I put 100% effort in, then doors will open and, before I know it, I will achieve things I didn’t think possible.”
“Nothing upsets me more than seeing young people no longer dreaming and simply going through the motions,” says Duane. “They are often torn between what is expected of them and what they want to do. A quote that used to be in my head growing up was ‘do what you love and love what you do’. At ages 16-19, the world is there to be explored and your canvas is clean for you to write your own story.”
During the talk, Duane emphasized the importance of treating everyone with respect and spoke about the many influential and inspirational individuals who guided him along the way, such as Roberto Martinez.
Aged just 22, Duane ruptured his knee ligaments and, after surgery proved ineffective, he was advised to retire from full time football.
“It was a very tough time” he recalled. “I remember not even being able to watch football but setbacks occur in life and how you deal with them will effectively shape your character.”
Since retiring, he has been involved with medical teams in Champions League and World Cup qualifiers and, this summer, he will coordinate the medical team of Guyana’s national football squad in the Caribbean Cup.
“One thing that life teaches you is that playing it safe will inevitably produce safe results - everything you want to achieve is probably outside of your comfort zone,” says Duane. “Sometimes you have to believe in your ability even when nobody else does.”
The Kick Start Programme is a new initiative developed by Gower College Swansea and aimed at Key Stage 4 students from across Swansea who enrol at college to complete a BTEC in Vocational Studies. This course enables them to study a range of different pathways and gives them the opportunity to discover an area of interest that they could pursue on leaving school.
“Duane is a great ambassador for the Kick Start Programme at Gower College Swansea,” says Lucy. “We are now working together to organise a trip for the students to play football with Duane and gain a taste of the sports course available at the college.”