Shape Your Life (SYL) is a free, trauma informed, non-contact boxing program for people who have experienced violence. SYL Toronto is the original site of the SYL program and operates as a partnership between Dr. Cathy van Ingen, Professor in Kinesiology at Brock University and Joanne Green, Executive Director with Opportunity for Advancement.


SYL uses a trauma-informed approach which takes into account the lasting effects trauma in the lives of participants. Trauma and violence-informed boxing is participant-centred and is built on knowledge about the impact of violence and trauma on people’s lives and health. We run SYL in a way that integrates this knowledge into all aspects of the boxing program in ways that foster participants’ safety, respect and empowerment.

“An amazing program that runs free non-contact boxing program for self-identified women who have experienced violence”


SYL began in 2007 through a partnership between Opportunity For Advancement, Brock University, and two community partners, the Toronto Newsgirls and The June Callwood Centre (now called Jessie’s Centre for Young Women). As we grew and refined our trauma and violence-informed approach, we began to work with several new community partners, boxing gyms and coaches.

Today, we have served over 3000 adults and over 950 youth. With the continued support of Opportunity for Advancement and Brock University, we have received numerous grants and had the support of generous donors. We have also worked with several new community partners, including MJKO Boxing (Toronto), the Toronto District School Board, Mountain Plains Family Services (Edmonton, Alberta), Pathways Family Services (Edmonton, Alberta), Pathstone Mental Health (St. Catharines, Ontario), and many others.

It is rare for a program like SYL, that is free for participants, to survive and thrive for over 15 years – and change has been part of that growth. During that time, we have rented space in women-owned gyms such as the Newsgirls and Underdogs, as well as Bloor Street Boxing. We have been able to hire new coaches who have grown with us. SYL Toronto has grown under the care of coach Melinda Watpool, who is a 5x Canadian amateur boxing champion. We have also had the privilege of working with numerous other coaches who have assisted with our weekly classes and programming. In fact, check out the Shape Me video to see one of SYL’s amazing coaches Jazz Kamal, aka Nari, who in addition to coaching boxing is also a MC, spoken word poet, and so much more. 

SYL has also been thrilled to work with one of Canada’s most highly certified boxing coaches, MJKO’s Miranda Kamal. Miranda is one of only 26 women in the world who have received (AIBA) 2 Star Boxing certification. Miranda has coached with the Canadian National Boxing Team, including at the 2022 Women’s World Boxing Championships. Coach Miranda was amazing at helping us further expand the SYL Youth program to serve youth across Canada, even coaching online through much of the COVID-19 pandemic.


In the spring of 2017, Shape Your Life launched a fully redesigned 14-week boxing program and all coaches have taken a trauma and violence informed coaching workshop designed and led by Cathy van Ingen and Joanne Green. The trauma and violence informed coaching workshop is based on over 15 years of supervising and running Shape Your Life and  researching the effects of trauma and pathways to recovery.

15Over 3000 Adults
Over 950 Youth

For info on SYL trauma and violence informed workshops – please contact cathy.vaningen@brocku.ca

Over the course of the program’s life, SYL has received generous funding from municipal, provincial and federal government agencies, SYL fundraisers and many wonderful individual donors.

From 2016-2019, Brock University received funding for Shape Your Life from the Public Health Agency of Canada’s “Supporting Victims of Violence and Protecting Children: The Health Perspective” investment.

In 2019, a Shape Your Life Youth program was started by Dr. Cathy van Ingen at Brock University with funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada (2019-2021). SYL Youth operates programs in Toronto, the Niagara Region, and Edmonton. During some of the COVID-19 pandemic, the SYL Youth program moved online and provided free classes to youth with internet access across Canada and beyond. However, like most of you, we prefer running and coaching SYL Youth in person! 

We thank everyone for their continued support.