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.”