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Adaptive Boxing: How hooks and jabs are helping people fight past disabilities

adaptive boxing
Posted at 10:55 AM, Jul 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-28 13:23:09-04

Every punch Donahue Fields throws is part of the fight against what life has thrown at him.

“I see the world differently; the world sees me differently," he said.

For nearly two decades, Fields lived without a wheelchair, without knowing how quickly everything can change.

"When I was 19, I was coming out of a store one night. It was 2 in the morning. A group of guys was fighting on the corner,” Fields recalled. "That’s when I hear, ‘pow pow pow’ coming from my left, and I look and all I see is this muzzle flashes.”

He says he ran like everyone else, but he fell to the ground.

"I thought I tripped, but come to find out, I was hit, but I didn’t feel it. I didn’t know," he said. “I tried to get up, but my legs didn’t move. I thought it was the fear, so I tried to psyche myself, like, ‘No, just get up and run and run and move,’ but they would not move; they just would not.”

He went from standing at 6-foot-5 to living each day from a different perspective.

“Every day, I would tell myself I can’t live like this anymore. It's just too much," he said.

A stray bullet hit his spinal cord and his legs had to be amputated. Then, within months, he says his dog was shot and killed right in front of him.

“I’m out of here, you know, so I tried to pop a whole bottle of OxyContin, and next thing you know, I woke up in an ER ICU with a tube down my throat," he recalled.

But in boxing, he found an outlet and new outlook.

“Boxing, punching, is all about technique," he said. "Some people see power; some people see speed. But in the mix of all that the fine details is the proper technique the proper way to do it.”

Fields’ sport is officially known as adaptive boxing.

"Over here they’re like, ‘Oh my God, you shouldn’t do that. You’re disabled, you’re not why are you doing that you’re broken already you’re fragile already,’" Fields said of people who don't approve of him taking part in the sport.

“So, if someone comes at you in disbelief, you prove them wrong, but mostly, I'm going to say, I'm going to prove myself first and then I'm going to prove them wrong,” said Tyrell Eddy.

Since birth, cerebral palsy has limited Eddy’s ability to walk, but the limits stop there.

“I was always a physical person,” he said. “Just having that extra outlet just created a whole another opportunity for me.”

While boxing is a sport, fighting can be a necessary life skill.

“We are, sorry to say, in a vulnerable position, no matter what we do," Eddy said. "Everything is against us, so we have to be able to adapt faster than anyone else regardless.”

When the Paralympics take place in August in Tokyo after the Olympic games, adaptive boxing will not be included.

Fields hopes that will change for future games, but for him, adaptive boxing's impact is less about what a punch does to an opponent and more about the impact it can have on the life of the person who is throwing it.

“Don’t let that chair define you because the world does a great job of doing that itself,” Fields said. “When they see you, they see chair, chair, chair. We’re more than that.”