Salmon Arm’s Bulldogs Boxing will be showcasing the skills of wheelchair boxers during the upcoming Hit 2 Fit charity boxing event – and they are looking for avenues to make boxing more accessible to disabled athletes in Canada through an international partnership.
Adaptive boxing, which includes wheelchair boxing, blind boxing and boxing for those with head or neurological trauma, is becoming increasingly popular as accessibility for disabled athletes rises to the forefront in sporting communities.
While still in the early stages in Canada, Bulldogs’ coach Peggy Maerz has been in talks with the Adaptive Boxing Organization (ABO) in the U.K. to spread the movement.
“When we said we want to be inclusive, this is it, this is what we were talking about,” Maerz says.
Bulldogs Boxing in Salmon Arm has made a push to offer a diverse range of classes for seniors, boxers with Parkinson’s disease, autism or Asperger’s syndrome. After coming across a video of Maerz talking about how boxing helped her overcome struggles with PTSD, ABO founder Colin Wood reached out to Maerz and it was obvious they were on the same wavelength.
“You can see what Peggy is trying to do is from the heart, and that is what interests me,” Wood says. “I love what she is doing and I would like to open up a door for her to work with us.”
Wood has an extensive background as a rugby player and coach, and has been advocating for more inclusivity in the sports world for 15 years after beginning to lose his eyesight.
“I was diagnosed to be going blind, and basically since then I have been on a journey of inclusion of sport. It’s something that made me realize we haven’t got a proper professional tier of disabled athletes within many sports, like rugby or boxing,” he says.
Part of the difficulty behind sanctioning these inclusive sports is safety, something Maerz and Wood both agree is a key focus for any athlete, not just those with disabilites.
“Just because we want to be inclusive doesn’t mean we throw the rules to the wind,” Maerz says. “I can work with a guy like Colin because he is not prepared to chuck his integrity out just to press the issue.”
In fact, to counter some safety concerns, Wood and the ABO have been developing specialized wheelchairs for boxers.
“I have designed a new chair you can move with no hands, and electronics within it that are going to actually do a lot of good. There is nothing out on the market like this, we hope this tech puts a big boost into allowing disabled people to box and show these guys can compete among the best,” he says.
While initially setting out to just put on a demonstration fight for a Salmon Arm audience, Maerz has scaled up her ambitions and hopes to work with the ABO to set up a similar body in Canada.
“If we can show we can do this, and we don’t have to reinvent the wheel for amateur sport because these are good solid safety rules, then we can press it forward in the amateur world,” she says. “The goal from the beginning was always about adaptive boxing and bringing them into the ring, I just didn’t know what it looked like. I figured I would just get the ball rolling, I didn’t think it would happen in my time… but now it’s here, so get ready for it.”
During the Hit 2 Fit charity event, May 4 in Salmon Arm, Wood and the ABO will be putting on demo fights between members, including Wood who will square off with UK-based Chris Middleton.