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Adaptive boxing: Fighting in the ring - on a wheelchair - to ultimately grow the sport

William Sangster, Te Rito journalism cadet

A trailblazing trainer is looking to revolutionise sports with a special adaptive boxing event and plans to expand the playing field.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

The Ryze Adaptive Boxing Experience is a first-of-its-kind event in New Zealand and is being held later today in South Auckland.

Adaptive boxing combines boxing techniques with exercises that can be modified to accommodate individuals of all fitness levels and abilities.

It focuses on improving strength, co-ordination and cardiovascular fitness; while also promoting inclusivity and adaptability.

Aiga Pouoa, 43, is a personal trainer and event runner. She said she is prepared to shake things up.

“Many have tried to bring this concept to New Zealand but to no avail. This is a testament to the dedication and resilience of our community.

“We are bringing to life a concept that’s been practised all over the world for years,” she said.

The event will feature adaptive, able and exhibition bouts and entertainment. The athletes will have access to closed captioning, lighting, ring accessibility and boxing equipment.

Pouoa, who is a paraplegic, says funding has been a barrier.

It took four years to get the event off the ground - with some people saying no to their initiative.

“There is not enough money put into adaptive sports that are outside of what organisations are used to.”

She said even the big names in boxing - known for helping communities - looked at them sideways and ignored their pleas for support.

“I was absolutely shocked. We get put in the too-hard basket before we explain what we’re trying to do, which is to build a pathway for future adaptive fighters to represent the country.”

John “Boulder Shoulders” Fiu, a Samoan adaptive boxer, agrees that the sport is underfunded.

“Funding goes to other activities but not adaptive boxing, and organisations pushed us to the side and don’t want to help us promote our sport.

The hope to build adaptive boxing in New Zealand

“This sport will [allow] a person with a disability to train and compete in the ring with all people with disabilities.”

Fiu, who has cerebral palsy and Dandy-Walker syndrome, said having the event is a dream come true for him.

“To show the world New Zealand does adaptive boxing shows - I want this adaptive boxing show to keep going because it’s a good way to promote the sport.”

Mafo’e Joshua Fuimaono, a senior advisor for Disability Voice at Oranga Tamariki, is excited to test himself against other like-minded warriors in the ring, he said.

“Just an opportunity to have a foot. hand, wheel through the door and holding more opportunities and events like this in the future,” he said.

“We can open that door the point we can then build a viable path and infrastructure - not just for ourselves now, but for future generations of potential wheelchair boxers.”

The 30-year-old, who also lives with cerebral palsy, has high hopes for the adaptive sport.

“My ideal future for the sport would be an infrastructure of solid, dedicated boxing gyms across the country that fosters potential fighters and supports current fighters.”

He described wanting to see an established adaptive boxing culture and reputation in Aotearoa and around the world, that rivals what is already seen in mainstream boxing.

“So we can have the next wheelchair David Tua, wheelchair; Adesanya, wheelchair Joseph Parker.”

The accessible, ticketed event will be held this evening at the Papatoetoe Cosmopolitan Club.

Hero Image: Adaptive boxer John "Boulder Shoulders" Fiu and his trainer Aiga Pouoa.

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