Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Wheelchair boxing: think it's a 'freak show?' Mind stepping a little closer...

I hope I’m not the first female wheelchair boxer; otherwise who will I have to box? Just getting in the class was a fight. For the last several weeks, I have been reading the rec centre pages trying to find an activity I could do. The non-contact boxing training seemed like a real possibility. The problem: it was at the YMCA/YWCA who won’t let me take any class without a doctor’s note. Getting a doctor’s note for Boxing while having multiple heart conditions, including some still undiagnosed is hard. Trust me, it took more than one doctor and a lot of waiting room time to get that note. Then it turns out I still can’t take the class until a) The director of the Y agrees, b) The athletic director agrees and c) The instructor agrees.

While waiting I went to a gym where they had a heavy bag, asked a female boxer to show me some moves and practiced. Last Friday I got the call. “Elizabeth, we have all talked and decided...you can take the class. Are you going to want to start this Monday?”

“Yes!” I shouted down the phone followed by pretending to be cool, “I mean, uh...let me think about it.”

My instructor Ian Johnson has taught two people in wheelchairs before. His class is structured around boxing rounds: three minutes of activity and one minute of cool down. We do warms up for two rounds, then sit ups and push ups (I have two mats and roll from face up to face down to do the push ups and vice versa). I was feeling pretty good keeping up with everyone doing the first 10 push-ups until I realized we were doing ever increasingly difficult sets. Oops, or rather...Ow! But that’s why I took the class, right? Then it is on to heavy bag, speed bag, shadow and partner boxing. Ian Johnson has been fighting a few decades and during exercises will tell fight stories.

I have been trying to find a history of wheelchair boxing but there doesn’t seem to be one. Knockout Events, who featured amateur college fight nights in 2004 was “denounced for hosting wheelchair boxing events; a criticism Shaw said is unwarranted. "These guys are athletes just like you are, just like I am, and they just want to box," he said. "They called us." Knockout Events’ webpage has died and they seem out of business.

In Ontario, Jason Battiste the Canadian Super Middle Weight Champion just this year has started a wheelchair boxing program which includes a form of wheelchair footwork (cool as I can’t figure out how to do any – I just lock my brakes and slug away). A few weeks ago on May 8th, 2007 his boxers staged an exhibition amateur fight night. That’s all I could find...that was positive.

In a previous blog about “appropriate activities” for women in athletics in the Olympics, boxing was the one sport that officials have always pushed back and still has no set date as even as exhibition sport. For the boxing world, promoter Bob Arum sums up views: "Men see it as a sideshow and women hate it.” As for wheelchair boxing, it is a best a joke, as seen by this “limited edition” t-shirt with wheelchair boxing images which advertises:
“Folks will drop their jaws when they see this on the back of your shirt! They'll tap you on the shoulder and ask "Do they actually have wheelchair BOXING???"
Then there is the mention in the online book “Stupid Wheelchair Games”, Wheelchair Boxing is number eight: “You Attempt To Fight Back Confined To A WheelChair As Some Fat Ass Beats You To A Bloody Pulp.” Or wheelchair boxing is a non-existent politically correct annoyance to harm boxing in general, as alluded in the 2006 interview with Bob Shannon and his boxing gym in Manchester, UK. “Recent legislation has stipulated that all public buildings of this type must be made accessible for wheelchair users and this includes the gym. Cost wise this legislation is a nightmare as it means making the basement gym wheelchair friendly; depending on your perspective it is either PC BS gone insane or the local council are prophetically anticipating the rapid rise of wheelchair boxing.” The paper laments the (able bodied) youths who will run riot in youth clubs while being unable to access the discipline of boxing during this politically correct gym overhaul. I lament that neither the gym manager nor the reporter considers the training of less than able bodied boxers as anything but a sad joke.

Linda said the instructor kept yelling at me “Less power!” which I certainly don’t remember. I look forward to become more accurate, faster, and having a few combinations. The roundhouse hook which requires the power to come as you step into in it just looks like I am flailing my arm (no stepping in) but Ian Johnson said he will teach me the shovel hook next week to make up for it. This week I cheated a little by ending the combination by using my elbow against the bag to simulate wacking someone on the side of the head (like in the video below) until Ian Johnson told me that was STILL very illegal. Darn!


The last couple days, when I tell guys I’m doing wheelchair boxing they go, “That’s nice.” Or “That’s great” in a “ah, look at the plucky crippled girl” voice. Then I show them the pictures.

“Geez, you're hitting the shit out of that bag!” They say in a completely different “oh, don’t get her pissed within arm range” voice. Today at the video store I said once I get some more training down I’m going to be looking for someone to fight. One guy immediately said, “I’d pay a dollar to see that.” Another guy piped up, “Me too!”

I know this isn’t a long term career unless the doctors find some way to stabilize my condition, but if you thought Elizabeth Revenge McClung was going to go from fencing Epee to collecting stamps just because I'm in a wheelchair with heart and neurological degeneration, you were thinking optimistically (even with my arm/hand tremors, the heavy bag is pretty big, I can usually find it). My first choice was kickboxing, but I just couldn’t figure out how to make it work. Boxing seems to do just fine. (Fight! Fight!)

As Linda said, “Of everyone in the class, you certainly had the most.....enthusiam.”

17 comments:

kathz said...

I'm afraid I hate boxing - for anyone at all. I don't like people being punched in the face. I'm pleased you've got an instructor, however, and so long as you're just hitting the punchbag, that's fine by me. And I hope you enjoy it and do well. It's good to see you're still fighting - sort of, anyway.

Good luck!

Elizabeth McClung said...

Well, I have no desire to have a broken nose - that's for sure. And I don't think I would ever fight someone without headgear but since the right side of my body is covered with permanant scars from fencing; I can hardly say this would be my first bloodsport. Since I've never hit anyone directly, I guess it would something a person would have to learn: sparring.

Cheers

kathz said...

I think I just couldn't do it, though logically there's no reason why not, if it's consensual and enjoyable to the participants. I don't know how protective headgear is these days. I bet the practice is terrific for fitness, however. And I'll follow your progress with interest (and trepidation).

Philip. said...

Bloody brilliant!

I'm so glad you took the time and effort to persuade all the doctors that you could take up the sport.

tornwordo said...

It looks like good exercise. I'm not really a fan of watching people hit each other in the face, but the punching bag is a tremendous workout.

GayProf said...

This is great! Like the others, boxing probably isn't a sport that makes me all smiles (what with the face-punching and ear biting). Still, I am glad that the greater medical committee that suddenly appeared allowed you to take the class.

KateJ said...

I hate real boxing too, but working out with a punchbag is I'm sure very satisfying... "take that, Blair!" Wham! "And that, Bush!" Biff! Bam!
I still reckon archery would be a good sport for you... you really could wreak some revenge too! All that upper body strength from the boxing etc will mean you can use a really powerful bow, and probably be able to kill people at 50 paces or more (as opposed to my 20 paces). I hasten to add that I only shoot at targets, by the way.

Wheelchair Dancer said...

Oh YES~


WCD

Elizabeth McClung said...

Thank for the encouragement - thanks gayprof, I didn't know I could ear bite - that's why I'll be the one with headgear.

The process of finding an identity within a wheelchair is one for me in which no social construct can stand in the way of what I need. The social idea of what is feminine would stop me from extending my health; tear it down. The idea of boxing, once which I theoretically opposed, would stand in the way of my health and motivation; tear it down.

I will speak plainly; if I do not reverse or suspend my circulatory problems, gangrene, necrosis (dead blackened skin or muscle) or clotting issues await; of four cases I have spoken to, two have partial or complete limb amputations. If I can motivate myself into an action which will delay this, regardless of pain or effect; I will tear down any idea in my head that will stop me. Which, if that includes someone who agrees to beat on me for three minutes in an amateur boxing round so that I FEEL like a fighter, that is certainly not something I would fear.

I would ask that regardless of how much you are against boxing, be for ME having worked very hard (Linda said, you summerized weeks of struggle getting into the class in few lines) to do something that I KNOW is possible maybe only for a few months. And then I will have to try and find something else. I cannot "train" as 1 hour costs me two days. I do not enter this as a beacon of pluck, or blind courage; but cold calculation, that whatever the odds, it is better to struggle, even to despair than simply await its arrival. There will be no "what if" or "If only I had.." - pain, yes; regret, yes. But onward. And today, that's with a punch.

kathz said...

I'm definitely on your side (so long as I'm allowed to look away when blows land)

KateJ said...

Well that's the best argument in favour of boxing I ever heard. Go for it. Whatever it takes.

Anonymous said...

good gods, you are absolutely hot in those pictures. =)

Ruth said...

This is so cool - I applaud you :)

Sara said...

I absolutely love the title of this post.

Rock on.

Penelope said...

Sounds fabulous! I've been doing wheelchair taekwondo a little bit for a little over a year (there's a taekwondo organization that even has divisions for people with disabilities in competition, it's wonderful!). I hadn't thought of boxing, but at NYC Pride last week I was giving stuff by a women's boxing organization. Maybe I'll e-mail them...

Anonymous said...

Hi Beth, I also would like to start to box. I suffered a ruptured quadricep a month ago and I cannot put weight on it for another 4 weeks. So at the time being I am on crutches or wheelchair. do you have any pointers on how to start? I saw your videos and i think you are awesome! I saw you punching sideways and straight, what is the best way to start and for how long should the workouts be?

Greetings from Aruba

Elizabeth McClung said...

Dear Aruba: Get a wheelchair you can lock the brakes on, then do a basic - jab, jab, jab. Jab-cross,

After you have done sit ups as a warm up if possible - the main thing is getting a) warmed up and warmed down BEFORE you every hit a heavy bag, or doing serious shadow boxing. and b) getting the abdominal endurance, and lung endurance. Rolling very close to the heavy bag and doing a 'speed' minute where you try to punch the bag only 5 inches away or so as many times as you can with both hands for a minute - aim for 100 or so. Then as you develop, in later weeks you can do two of those, and some simple combinations for a minute like jab, jab, cross, hook (keep the hook where the elbow is raised and the other hand is still at the chin). Doing the speed bag will hurt but is good as it makes you keep your arms up. I do everything in 3 minute sections or 1 minute, to replicate having a round, so three minutes of my arms up with elbows at eye hieght doing speed bag, no matter how slow, will work a whole bunch of muscles.

I hope this helps - at the start I usually do 45-50 minutes. Now I do 90 minutes if I can, 3 minutes on and 1 minute off. But mix up the 'hard' stuff like heavy bag, with 'light' like shadow boxing.