Our Members - Their Stories

MDANZ members share their personal stories of living with a Muscular Dystrophy condition. 

Boxing away perceptions and challenges

18 March 2021
Melanie Louden

Olivia Shivas says trying something new can be scary and exciting at the same time, and there are often additional levels of nerves when you have a disability. But, she says, you should give it a go anyway. By Melanie Louden.

Olivia attends boxing classes three or four times a week. Photo: Ben Hotchin.

Olivia Shivas speaks from personal experience when she encourages MDANZ members to “challenge what other people perceive about you”. 

“Don’t let other people’s negative stereotypes and perceptions of disability hold you back.” 

Olivia has been a wheelchair-user her whole life and says trying something new is scary and exciting at the same time. 

“There’s an additional level of nerves when you have a disability – especially when you’re doing something you don’t see normalised in the media, or in the community,  as people with disabilities being capable of doing.”

Olivia, who has central core disease, drove past a boxing gym one day and thought ‘I wonder if I could do that?’.

“There was a sign that you get free gloves when you sign up. I’m always up for free stuff!”

She bravely called and texted the gym in advance so there were no surprises for her, or the personal trainer, when she arrived.

The 27-year-old Aucklander wanted to start boxing by doing one-on-one personal training sessions to figure out if she could actually do it and to gain confidence before joining classes with non-disabled people.

However, personal training sessions are expensive, so Olivia applied to the Bradley Jenkin Memorial Fund to seek financial support.

“I knew the money would be used in a good way for me to get fit and, hopefully one day, to inspire other disabled people to do the same.”

The funding she received contributed to 12 weekly training sessions. After a few months of one-on-one boxing sessions with a personal trainer, Olivia gained the confidence to join a class with non-disabled people.

“I found, if you want to try something new, your confidence might not come straightaway. Take small steps, metaphorically if you’re a wheelchair-user like myself, and do what you’re comfortable with first to reach that goal.

“The main thing is don’t stop or give up. Progress at a pace you are comfortable with,” says the former MDANZ National Council Rangatahi Youth Representative.

Olivia says going to her first class with all non-disabled people was probably “one of the scariest things I’ve done in my life”.

 “But there have been so many benefits - keeping fit and active, as well as maintaining good mental health.” 

She has lost weight, things are easier for her to do now – such as climbing in and out of her wheelchair from the floor, and she’s able to stay independent. 

“Everyone at the gym is so warm and inclusive and makes sure that I can be involved as much as possible. Yes, I might have to do some things a bit differently, but I feel just as much a part of the gym as anyone else.”

Olivia, who works as a digital news producer at Stuff.co.nz, says boxing in a wheelchair is similar to boxing when you’re standing up.

“I still throw jabs, hooks and uppercuts, and learn the same boxing sequences. But when I’m boxing with a partner I’ll have my arms up higher and they need to crouch down a little bit so we are a similar height, but that just means my arms get an extra workout.”

Sometimes Olivia’s knees get in the way when she uses the punching bag, so she adjusts the distance and angle of her chair.

A big part of boxing is the footwork – moving back and forth from your partner or the bag – not just boxing with gloves. 

“I can’t move around and box at the same time, so we have to be a bit creative.”

Olivia, who enjoys going out for brunch and dinner with friends, cooking and baking, reading, and is involved with her church, now attends three or four gym classes a week. 

“This would not have happened without funding from the Bradley Jenkin Memorial Fund to try something I would not have otherwise have spent money on. I probably wouldn’t have taken the opportunity to give boxing a go.”

One of her best friends, a fellow wheelchair-user, has also now picked up the sport.

"It’s exciting that my experience has positively influenced her. She’s the only other wheelchair boxer I know, so it’s good to have someone else to encourage and talk to about the challenges and how we resolve them.”

Olivia says boxing has changed her life – and it’s not just about becoming fit and active.

“Boxing has improved my self-confidence, knowing that I’m more capable of doing things than I, and others, thought were possible when you have a disability.

“I didn’t join a class with non-disabled people at the start because I was self-conscious and nervous – not only about being capable of being able to box and throw a punch, but of other people’s opinions of me: ‘What is a girl in a wheelchair doing here?’.

“Despite being a wheelchair-user my whole life and achieving a lot of great things, I still get insecure and compare myself. Everybody does, whether they live with a disability or not.

“But once you get over those initial nerves, it’s fun and empowering trying new things.”

The Bradley Jenkin Memorial Fund
The Bradley Jenkin Memorial Fund is designed to help MDANZ members with a neuromuscular condition receive funding for access opportunities and specialised resources that enable them to achieve freedom. The fund has helped members purchase specialised sports equipment, participate in sporting events, it has contributed towards the cost of obtaining a mobility dog, provided mobility equipment, and assisted with career development such as university and course fees. 

* This story was originally published in the Autumn 2021 edition of In Touch magazine. 

For more information please contact: 
Melanie Louden 
Communications and Marketing Advisor 
Muscular Dystrophy Association of New Zealand 
027 509 8774 
[email protected]