“Never seen anything like it”: Disabled BC fighters take on non-disabled fighters

After Leo Sammarelli pierced four bullets and paralyzed him from the waist down with a well-aimed shot in 2017, the boxer and Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighter is now attracting attention as he faces able-bodied fighters in a mixed martial arts tournament.

“I think they’ve never seen anything like this or they never thought that it would be possible for someone like me to compete and hold their own against some of these opponents,” Sammarelli said of the reaction from the crowd and some of his competitors.

Sammarelli faced off against two able-bodied fighters in the all-on-all grappling tournament in early October.

“It’s pretty rare, we’ve never seen it in BC,” Sammarelli coach Meego Ward-Yassin said. “I’ve never heard of it, and I can easily say I’ve never seen it in Canada.”

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Sammarelli lost both matches, but considers it a win for being able to compete on the mat at this level – he even received a standing ovation from the crowd.

“We all got emotional, I get choked up now just thinking about it,” Ward-Yassin said.

“It felt good right now, it felt like I had made an impact,” Sammarelli said.

“I think that’s the biggest victory I got that day…showing people that no matter what happened to you, that shouldn’t stop you.”

Sammarelli was an aspiring professional boxer when a well-aimed shot in 2017 resulted in one of the bullets piercing his vertebrae, leaving him paralyzed. RCMP called the attack a case of “misidentity”.

A North Vancouver native, he decided to continue his passion by taking up an adaptive form of boxing. The mixed martial artist founded a nonprofit organization called Westcoast Wheelchair Adaptive Boxing to help other adaptive athletes hone their craft.

Without using his legs, Sammarelli continued to push his physical limits by scaling the Grouse Grind on his hands in 2020.

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Now he and his trainer are working to develop an adaptive form of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu that would allow fighters with disabilities to compete against non-disabled fighters in tournaments.

“I wouldn’t say it was difficult, it was challenging and I had to get creative,” Ward-Yassin said.

“We had to rely on his holds and his torso because that’s the only thing he has.”

Ward-Yassin’s gym, HERO Athletics, is now opening its doors to all athletes with disabilities and is offering training stipends for fighters with adjustment needs.

In the meantime, Sammarelli’s next challenge is to achieve a historic win in his next competition against able-bodied fighters – and inspire other adaptive athletes to achieve the same goal.

“It’s rare to find people like me, but there are people out there,” Sammarelli said. “There are some people hiding there, you don’t really see them, but there are some people out there.”

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

https://globalnews.ca/news/9190523/fighter-paralyzed-competes-against-non-disabled-fighters/ “Never seen anything like it”: Disabled BC fighters take on non-disabled fighters


Hung is a Interreviewed U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Hung joined Interreviewed in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing: hung@interreviewed.com.

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