Gwendoline Margaret Spurll

Writing

Put up Your Dukes

Azmat is stiff today.  He holds his boxing gloves up at the sides of his face with difficulty, and his steps are small.  Jeremy calls out “Defend your face,” and as Jeremy's glove  comes up towards Azmat's head,  Azmat's arm shoots out to block the punch.  

“You didn't know you could move that fast,” says Jeremy, laughing.  “Now we will work on doing that voluntarily.”

Jeremy Rubin is an assistant coach at the Tristar Gym in Montreal,  where some of the best boxers and mixed martial artists in the world, including ultimate fighting champion(ufc) George St. Pierre, train. On this day Jeremy is working with a group of Parkinson's Disease and stroke patients.  Jeremy works us no less hard than he works the potential champions, but with a different aim.    The Parkinson's patients are at risk of losing their mobility, and are training to keep themselves moving.  They know that if you don't use it you lose it, and have seen the downhill courses of their friends who have turned that corner.  

Jeremy, 38, is a certified coach with the federation de boxe de quebec in combat sports.  He started out in judo, then learned kick boxing, taekwondo, and jiu-jitsu.  He boxed as an amateur, and  works at the Tristar Gym, coaching and promoting amateur boxing.  He has previously worked with patients with spastic quadriplegia, and enjoys putting together routines that  challenge the abilities of his clients.  The current boxing program is run in collaboration with the Cummings Centre's adapted exercise programs.  Jeremy plans to feature some of his Parkinson's and stroke clients in his next competition evening.  

Jeremy's Facebook avatar is his baby.  He calls me for the interview  on a Sunday afternoon when the baby is down for his nap.  Jeremy is not a big man. He is muscular without being musclebound, with curly ginger hair and a moustache, young and fresh looking. He invites you to hit him as hard as you can.  No, not below the belt.  His wife wants another baby out of him.   In current boxing practice genital targeting is illegal.  I ask about athletic protectors.  These are usually used in competition.  You have to be very careful with the protectors as amputations have resulted.  Jeremy informs us that some women have fibreglass cages made for the upper torso. My first time in the ring I felt my breasts moving up and down with a different resonant frequency than the rest of my body.  It was distracting to me even if no-one else noticed, and I made a trip to Sears to buy the tightest sports brassiere I could find.    

The boxing program runs for an hour and a half on Monday mornings.  We arrive at the gym, change our shoes, and put on our boxing gloves.  We all wear our special “Fear the Fighter” T shirts.  We do some footwork, balancing back and forth in boxing stance, with the left foot forward, right foot back and the feet widely based for balance; then some shadow boxing. Then we practice the choreography of the day.  There are six numbered punches, including the jab (straight punch), hook (fist coming across from the side towards the midline), and uppercut (hitting from under and up) on right and left, and we practice  combinations of them with the relevant footwork on each other or on Jeremy or Ian, his assistant.  Then some time with the punching bags.  “Come on, give me fifty punches, no don't stop now...” We do planks or crunches while we pass a medicine ball (weighted rubber ball) back and forth across the line of trainees.  You work hard in order not to let the team down.  

Then into the ring for more drills.  By the time we finish my hair is dripping wet with sweat, and my clothing is soaked.  I am all in.  

Studies on the benefit of boxing for Parkinson's patients have shown improved movement with boxing training, but no more than with regular physical training.  However the studies did not look at the emotional benefit from the sport.  The first time I was there, Jeremy had me hitting his body, and at a certain point he said “You really want to hurt me, don't you?”  He was recognizing my anger, focussed now in my fists.  When my husband picked me up from that session I had a huge grin on my face.  I had been able to let some of the anger out.  

I have learned the hard way not to move in anger, because when I am angry I become careless and I tend to fall and hurt myself.  Boxing creates a safe place where I can channel my  anger and use it to learn to move better.  Jeremy creates the safe place to do this.