How boxer Tori-Ellis Willetts overcame Commonwealth Games heartbreak to launch pro career

It's amazing to think that it's almost a year since Birmingham was transformed into a carnival of colour.

The Commonwealth Games brought medals, drama and a lifetime of memories for many.

But others couldn't face being in the same city whilst it was ongoing.

We often cover success at ITV News Central - the athletes who have achieved the impossible in their quest for glory.

But it's not often that anyone talks about the people that never even got the chance to compete, despite years of hard work.

Last year I spent a fair bit of time with boxer Tori-Ellis Willetts, an athlete from Birmingham, with quite the story.

A champion kick boxer and a member of the Army, she was all set for her finest moment - representing Team England at a home Games - all whilst dealing with arthritis.

I watched her train in Sheffield at Team GB's HQ and visited her old school and family home. I met those closest to her, who were so excited at the thought of seeing her compete. Her parents already had tickets.

And then the awful news.

Weight classifications changed, meaning Tori's weight classification of 52kg was cut. Tori maybe could have made 50kg, but the powers that be decided on someone else. In an instant, a dream died.

When we catch up a year on, it is still incredibly raw. We're alone in the gym of a school she now teaches at, but I've only asked a couple of questions before tears roll down her cheeks.

The pain still etched over her face.

Tori went on to tell me how she broke down and cried a lot as soon as she was told that she wouldn't be at the games. Things got so bad that she had to get away and ended up going to Spain for three weeks to avoid seeing or hearing anything about the events in Birmingham.

It's that feeling of defeat and failure. Years of work for nothing. Many athletes have that feeling after losing an event or match, but others never make it that far. It's likely that the hurt from the Commonwealth Games will always be with her.

But thankfully the story hasn't ended there.

2023 is turning out to be her year. After making the decision to leave Team GB and the Army, she signed a professional contract and already has one win under her belt, with another fight later this month.

A whole new career has also started for her - as a PE teacher at Chilwell Croft Academy in Birmingham. Teaching is something that she wants to do when her boxing days are behind her, so it feels like the perfect fit.

But the double life is exceptionally hard work. After a long school day, it's time to hit the bags and train hard. The feeling she had last summer may well be the force that keeps her going.

At Chilwell Croft, she's got a supportive Headteacher in Nanette Wragg and is popular among staff and pupils. Speaking to the children she teaches, it's clear they are in awe of her. A few have already been inspired to box, whilst others talk of how kind and fun she is as a teacher. The whole school will be cheering for her when she next steps in the ring.

The boxer is now a PE teacher in Birmingham, where she can focus on life outside of boxing. Credit: ITV News Central

What is really striking is how much happier Tori appears to be. Last year, it felt like she had a lot of weight on her shoulders. The pressure to perform for Team GB and make the England squad must have been immense.

Now, in her new life, boxing often takes a back seat. During the school day, getting in the ring never crosses her mind and she told me this balance is actually better for her, allowing herself to think of life away from the sport she loves. But don't mistake that for a lack of focus. Having seen her train a few times, I can absolutely say that the fire and dedication is still there.

Her boxing ambitions though remain unchanged - going pro was always the aim, albeit after medals in the Commonwealth and the Olympic Games.

Professional belts though are the main currency for boxers and Tori is targeting British and Commonwealth titles, in what would be an incredible irony.

No one does a comeback quite like a boxer.

Tori's is well underway.