By Mark Colley
Boxing is not included in the Special Olympics. It’s not a sport at the Paralympics. But at a basement gym tucked in a corner of Ottawa’s Little Italy, boxing is for everyone.
Boxing Without Barriers, founded by Chantal Deketele, offers non-contact boxing for people with disabilities. Deketele started it when she saw the lack of accessible opportunities in the sport.
“It’s not a sport that has really ever been available to this demographic of people,” Deketele notes. “It’s a sport that, like a lot of sports, gives a huge amount of life skills and all these fundamentals. It’s important that it’s available to everybody.”
Now, Boxing Without Barriers is opening its doors to the community for its first-ever show on Saturday at Beaver Boxing Club. Set to begin at 6:30 p.m., the showcase will give athletes the opportunity to get in the ring and enjoy the spotlight in front of family and friends.
“Everyone wants the spotlight and a chance to get in the ring,” Deketele highlights. “It’s a big deal to get in the ring for the first time. It’s a privilege that you earn after you’ve been training and working hard for a while. This is a chance for our boxers to have the spotlight that they don’t typically have shined just on them.”
Changing the face of boxing
Deketele launched Boxing Without Barriers in 2019 after working in athletics and recreation programming for people with disabilities for more than a decade. A boxer herself, she saw the lack of accessibility opportunities in the sport and launched Boxing Without Barriers after a handful of successful pilot sessions.
The program meets on Sunday mornings and is meant for all ages and all disabilities, whether physical or intellectual.
“We want to make boxing for everybody, because it is for everybody,” Deketele explains.
Boxing Without Barriers has received lots of support from Beaver Boxing, which hosts the program, she adds. Founded in 1943, Beaver Boxing is one of the oldest clubs in Canada.
“It’s really nice to have the support of a really credible institution like them to help us kind of continue to expand boxing, which has really never been available for people with disabilities,” Deketele indicates.
The impact she’s seen the program make on athletes is huge. She’s heard stories from parents of their kids who are nervous to get needles. They tell themselves, “Okay, I’m a boxer. I can handle it.”
“It’s not a mainstream sport, so the ability to say that I’m a boxer is a pretty cool thing,” Deketele says. “I want us to be able to have this group have the ability to say that, too, and I’ve heard from parents how empowering that’s been for their kids.”
Deketele estimates the program has reached between 100 and 150 boxers since 2019. In addition to the Sunday morning sessions, Boxing Without Barriers also takes the show on the road with demonstrations at schools and community organizations.
On Saturday, the boxers will get the chance to show off their skills.
“They’re so excited to have the chance for them to show what they know and share it with everybody,” Deketele signals.
– with files from Dan Plouffe
This article is part of the Ottawa Sports Pages’ weekly Inclusion in Sport series. Read more about local sport inclusion initiatives at: OttawaSportsPages.ca/Ottawa-Sports-Pages-Inclusion-In-Sport-Series/.
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