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Wed March 5, 2014
Best Sports Feature: Alabama Public Radio "Wheelchair Boxing"
This week, two unique sports teams from the University of Alabama are vying for a national championship. They’re the men’s and women’s wheelchair basketball teams, better known as the Rolling Tide. The university has a number of sports for disabled athletes and between games, these players have to stay in shape. That’s leading to a partnership between wheelchair athletes and a man known in the world of boxing as “The Bronze Bomber.”
When the University of Alabama’s wheelchair basketball players hit the court, they have to dribble and pass the ball to score points. This includes rolling their chairs up and down the court and turning on a dime. The sport takes upper body strength and that means conditioning.
This is where Skyy Boxing comes into play. The small gym in Northport has a boxing ring in the middle and the walls are covered with posters from big matches. Here we find Karolina Lingyte from the U-A’s women’s wheelchair basketball team. While working out on a heavy bag, she says it is not only a great way to stay in shape, but the gym’s atmosphere helps her as well...
“The people that are in here, the coaches and athletes who are self-motivated, and that’s what I think is most important thing to be successful is to be self-motivated and all the people who come here are here for themselves and to get better.”
Lingyte isn’t alone; Cindy Ouellet is one of Karolina’s teammates on the basketball court. The Canadian student says boxing is a great form of cross training for wheelchair athletes.
“Interval training is so good, especially for wheelchair athletes because it’s great for burning calories and getting a good sweat on.”
She says there is another reason…
“I love boxing because it’s really aggressive and I get to punch and get my angriness out a bit.”
She is also a fan of the atmosphere at Skyy Boxing, but for a different reason…
“You get children, you get people like Deontay, so you really get everything, you get sorority girls, you get baseball players, I just like it because everyone is included, it’s like a mini-home and everyone is a big family.” Ouellet says, “Everyone is going around the ring punching each other but there is no hard feelings after, it’s just training.”
The "Deontay" Cindy mentioned is Tuscaloosa native and world heavyweight contender Deontay Wilder. He took the bronze medal for boxing during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Wilder trains at Skyy Boxing and offers his advice to those who work out there…
“I work with all athletes, whether they’re wheelchair athletes, whether they’re kids, whether they’re deaf impaired, I work with all of them, this is my love.”
That help goes both ways; Karolina Lingyte is confined to a wheelchair due to an accident. She lost a leg, but her upper body strength is formidable. Wilder says she uses him as a punching bag to help him train for his upcoming fights.
“What I do is, I sit there, and let her use her technique, to wail into me every time. I push buttons, I like to push button and let her know it’s not getting to me, I may dance around, make a little move, but you know, at times it does sting, but I got to keep going.”
All of this training is under the watchful eye of Jay Deas. He’s the owner and head trainer at Skyy Boxing. He says the players working out at his gym was a collaboration with their basketball coach…
“Their coach came to me and they wanted to get an alternative workout for the wheelchair basketball players and we thought about it and came up with something beneficial to them and they came in and, they get after it.”
Deas says they did not have to change much from the typical workout…
“We do all the same things we do with the regular professional boxers or golden glove boxers, just without some of the things like jump rope, things they obviously can’t do but just about everything else, they do.”
He adds the mindset developed from boxing is just as important as the physical training for the basketball players…
“It is not an easy workout, it takes a lot out of you. You have to focus, even when you’re tired, you’ve got to put your punches in the right place,” says Deas, “same way with basketball, I’m sure if you’re in that chair the whole game, at the last few minutes of the game, it’s tough to make those shots if you’re not mentally and physically tough and prepared. Plus, it’s also a great stress relief for them.”
This brings up the question of whether wheelchair boxing might join basketball, rowing, golf and even tennis as a sport where disabled athletes can join in at the college level or the Paralympics. Cindy Ouellet says it’s a longshot, but possible…
“It may take a little while, because obviously for able bodied there aren’t that many boxers, especially female athletes, so it may take a while and someone to investigate it, maybe it’s going to be me and Karolina, we got a good start here.”
Speaking of the Paralympics, there are only five training centers for disabled athletes who want to go for the gold. One is in Birmingham, and APR's Pat Duggins will take us there tomorrow.
The Rolling tide