IT’S hard to believe how far Theo Spinks has come since doctors told his family that he was suffering from a rare disease that meant he couldn’t take part in any form of contact sport.

Five years on from that devastating diagnosis, the tenacious nine-year-old has been crowned as a British champion in Thai Boxing.

“He’s defied the odds every step of the way and we couldn’t be prouder,” says Theo’s mum, Emily, at the family home in Darlington.

The “nightmare” began when Theo was four and he was on a family caravan holiday in Scarborough with Emily, dad Paul, and younger brother Charlie.

“He just wanted to be carried all the time and we just thought he was being lazy,” recalls Emily. “Then he woke up one morning and could barely walk.”

An initial visit to Scarborough General Hospital was followed by tests at Darlington Memorial Hospital led to a diagnosis of the incurable Perthes Disease – a rare childhood condition that leads to the ball of the hip wasting away.

Paul is a former Thai boxer and it was his dream that his sons might follow in his footsteps, but a hospital consultant that would be out of the question for Theo.

“It was heartbreaking news at the time, but a care plan was put in place and we just had to get on with it,” says Emily.

Theo had to go back to see the consultant after three months, then six months, and then a year. Each time he went to the hospital, his improvement surprised the specialists.

At first, Theo’s sporting activities were restricted to swimming but, when he was five, he’d progressed to the point where his consultant gave him the go-ahead to join the Darlington Boxing and Martial Arts Academy at The Northern Echo Arena.

The improvement continued and Theo had his first competitive fight when he was six. He lost his first three bouts but refused to give up and won his fourth in May 2017 after moving to the Phoenix Club in Shildon.

Earlier this year, having moved on again to train at the TWINS Academy in Trimdon, he won consecutive open tournaments before having his first international fight in Cyprus, beating the country’s number one.

Within a week, he was back home, winning the World Traditional Kickboxing Association British title for his age group, held at Bishop Auckland.

“It’s just incredible,” says Emily. “From thinking he wouldn’t be able to do normal childhood things, he’s now a British champion. He’s just got great heart and keeps on going.”

Theo, a pupil at Whinfield Primary School, has a growing reputation and is known on the circuit as Spiderboy because he comes into the ring wearing a Spiderman mask. He may still need an operation but, in the meantime, he’s also started playing football at the Paul Bielby Academy.

“My ambition is to become European champion and world champion – I want to be unstoppable,” says the boy who was told he could never take part in contact sports.

MEANWHILE, the no-holds-barred fight to get into 10 Downing Street goes on, and I hear that Boris Johnson was out on his feet after a hard day’s campaigning by the time he popped into The Northern Echo’s Darlington HQ last week.

Nevertheless, it was good to see the Prime Minister including a local newspaper in his schedule. We were a bit spoilt in the heady days when we were Tony Blair’s local paper but it’s always nice to see leading politicians putting the regional press in the spotlight.

He even pledged support for local papers, saying they were “vital to democracy”. He’s right, of course, but will that particular promise amount to anything meaningful?

Or was it just a bit of spin left over from his earlier visit to washing machine manufacturer Ebac at Newton Aycliffe?

BORIS Johnson has pledged to end “the continuing creep of the nanny state” – which brings me to an enjoyable speaking engagement at Croft-on-Tees last week.

It was an honour to be the first guest speaker in Croft’s sparkling new village hall – the result of a magnificent community fundraising effort – and special thanks to Heather McDonagh for making me laugh with the most unlikely story I’ve heard all year…

Heather’s sister kept a nanny goat at Croft and once a year it had to be taken across Darlington to Haughton to be “serviced” by a billy goat.

The nanny goat was transported in a Citroen hatchback, with Heather sitting alongside it in the back. Understandably, Heather was a bit concerned that the animal’s horns might tear the vehicle’s roof lining – so she covered them with a light green bobble hat.

“When we stopped at some traffic lights, some boy racer’s pulled up, trying to be clever, but the driver stalled when he looked inside the car next to him to see a goat wearing a bobble hat in the passenger seat,” she said.