Over the course of the Shape Your Life program, participants adopt a boxing name. Today I met with Shredder who has been attending SYL for a year. She says SYL is about the positive energy and supportive group: “You do the best you can, you learn to box, and you discover you can do a whole of things you didn’t think you could do and it’s not easy, but it’s good and you go at your own pace. And you walk out of [the gym] knowing a little better who you are, than when you walked in.”

 She explains that some therapy groups didn’t always feel supportive. “I always felt like whoever was running [these groups] was trying to pigeon hole everybody or diagnosis or whatever. And you get a lot of jargon coming at you. Here [at SYL] it’s just the opposite: you are who you are, we’re glad you came, and we get it, so you can be yourself. And that was huge for me.” She explains how important it is to have a space that emphasizes acceptance, and inclusivity. She later reflects that this plays a role in building trust: “Self-acceptance is a huge piece of it and I think, it’s always a struggle, being confident in the fact that other people accept you, that’s a tricky piece and it works really well here.”

Her comment highlights how difficult it is to find social settings and sport programs that are trauma aware but also how important this is to people. At SYL, Shredder said that there is “total acceptance, I’ve had to walk out twice because of flashbacks and everyone is fine with it. It’s not a fake thing, it’s real, it’s not pretending like nothing happened, it’s not like that, they’re accepting.” SYL emphasizes the significance of creating a welcoming, non-judgmental inclusive space. Shredder says it make you feel “that you have a right to something. This is our space, it’s just for us right now.”  

Having engaged with a wide range of sports, Shredder explains that boxing offers something different. She loves learning about the sport and working on her technique. The process of learning new techniques has refined her mindset and sharpened her focus: “I really have to make myself focus, and then it’s so satisfying, it takes you out of your head, you have to be right here, right now, you can’t be thinking of anything else.”

Getting out of your head is a common theme in the gym; she explains that technical drills have played a role in training her brain to reevaluate threats and develop a sense of safety. “standing there and pounding the bag, gives you an opportunity to take out your angst, It’s a very personal thing…To feel your body coming back together, is quite exciting. It effects how safe I feel out there, things aren’t as threatening.”

Boxing at SYL “trains your brain from being passive to being proactive, ready to stand up for yourself.”

Shredder shared that boxing training at SYL helped with several things, you learn to accept mistakes as part of learning, which also exercises your sense of humour. Learning involves struggle and not getting it the first time round. She points out that trauma can create a really harsh internal voice that can be unforgiving about not getting things right. She explains that Coach Mel “shows me something, it takes me two weeks to process it, and then I come and I can do it. It’s great to be able to do it, if I practice, eventually I can get there, it’s humbling but empowering at the same time.”

She explains that she has witnessed other participants’ growth as well: “There’s one person, who used to come in an always had a scowl on her face, first couple of months, and now she’s the happiest person in the group, it’s wonderful to see, absolutely wonderful. We had the opportunity to stick with it, to get to know each other…. Part of it is going through it all and struggling with it all, mentally too …The thing that bonds you, that pulls you together is surviving [the training] together, it makes you a unit. SYL has let me connect with that part of me, which is really important, and just socially, this is a fabulous group of people. This is home for me.”

Shredder is 64 and training like a champ every Sunday and regularly during the week with SYL coaches Mel and Jazz.