Punches were flying and sweat was beading at a Cloverdale gym Friday, as Bella Taylor went through paces she was first introduced to earlier this year.
Decked out in black wraps under white gloves, her dark hair tied back, Taylor swung, blocked and ducked as trainers Jo Blesch and Frankie LaSasso took turns boxing with her on the studio floor.
Flanked by a row of punching bags on one side and a wall of mirrors on the other – not to mention a generous turnout of family members cheering from the sidelines – Taylor faced her opponents with enthusiasm, even egging them on at times.
It’s her drive that’s impressed LaSasso from the get-go.
“Bella’s really surprised me, because she’s so good,” he said of the Langley 25-year-old. “Right away, picks up the combos. (And) she throws her punches so good.”
Like everyone who walks through the doors for LaSasso’s program – dubbed Boxabilities – Taylor, who has Down syndrome, fits just one description while inside: she’s a fighter.
“Leave your problems at the door, come on in and just be a fighter,” LaSasso said. “I don’t really see what their condition is.
“We all have some sort of fight going on in our lives.”
LaSasso said he launched the Boxabilities program just before Christmas, in response to interest shown in the ‘Rock Steady Boxing’ program. Founded in Indiana in 2006, for people who are living with Parkinson’s disease, LaSasso introduced Rock Steady locally in 2017, at his former location in South Surrey. Participants reported a lessening of such symptoms as tremors, and a belief that the exercise “does help slow the progression.”
Through that, others dealing with various conditions showed interest in seeing whether boxing could help them, “and I didn’t want to turn anybody away,” LaSasso said.
One woman living with cerebral palsy who added a boxing component to her work-out regimen reported improvements in walking, LaSasso said. She told him the regimen was “the first time it’s not like therapy,” he added.
And, Semiahmoo House Society society officials have expressed interest in bringing a group of their clients out on a weekly basis, he said.
Taylor’s parents, sister and grandpa were on hand Friday for her workout, with mom Leanne capturing some of the combinations on video – in between doing water duty for Taylor – and dad, Pete, at the ready with his own camera. Hugs were also a regular part of Taylor’s work-out breaks.
Leanne said she’s “never” seen any other activity have such a positive effect on her daughter, who also enjoys playing basketball, soccer and going bowling – but has always been rather timid around others. When it came to boxing, however, that wasn’t the case, she said.
“She just loved it the instant she started it,” said Leanne. “She’s a natural.”
Smiles, laughter and jokes from Taylor are commonplace when the gloves are on, she said.
“It’s just very nice for our hearts to see that,” said Leanne. “This has just brought her out of her shell. That’s amazing.”
Pete noted that his daughter “doesn’t come out of her shell very often.”
“That’s why we’re so excited,” he said.
Friday’s hour-long workout wrapped up with Taylor jumping at the chance to take on LaSasso in the ring.
“Wanna box me? You sure you’re not scared?” LaSasso quipped, the question evoking a shake of the head and zero hesitation from Taylor.
Afterward, still warm from the experience, Taylor had a simple explanation for why she enjoys the workouts.
“It’s fun,” she said, describing boxing as “my number-one top favourite” activity.
Blesch, she said with a smile, is the better of her two opponents.