Occupational Therapist Charles Delve is doing something remarkable; helping people suffering from Parkinson’s Disease increase mobility, strength and balance through boxing.
With his organisation, Box Positive, gaining momentum every day and recently receiving backing and support from the MTK Foundation, Delve has told the story of how he arrived at a position of fusing sport and therapy to help those in need…
I took up boxing myself at the age of 14 and immediately fell in love with the sport. I was attracted to it being a physical chess match and soon developed a style that combined counter-punching with speed and strength.
As a young person, it gave me a sense of empowerment and belief. My work at school improved. I felt I had ability and purpose. It inspired me to take on greater challenges at school and later on in my working life.
I quickly improved at Droitwich Boxing Club and was boxing for England by 17. I went on to win the Junior ABAs, the GB U19 title, the British Universities title and the Midlands Senior ABA title. It was the year I won the latter – 2010 – that I sparred both Nathan Cleverly and Tony Bellew.
Unfortunately, over-training led to an injury but I was already coaching with Chris Andrews from Droitwich. Coaching boxing helped me to empathise with young people. That continued through work at community centres – boxing gives people a positive outlet through the discipline of the sport.
My skills as a boxing analyst have been transferable to a clinical setting in which I’m looking at a patient’s physical problems, which I can see particularly when they adopt a boxing stance. I take the same strength-based approach as when I’m coaching.
I worked as an Occupational Therapy Assistant for people with neurological conditions while studying to be an Occupational Therapist. I was able to clinically reason why boxing could be used as an intervention for various conditions. I’ve always been inspired to use my passion to help others.
The movements for people with neurological conditions are cognitively complex. While learning boxing technique, the person has to think and dual-task – thinking about what their lower body’s doing at the same time as using hands and upper body. It’s an activity that requires a lot of mental focus.
While studying, I discovered Rock Steady Boxing in America and read about the extraordinary effects it was having on people with Parkinson’s. Then I discovered there was Counter Punch in New Zealand they’d been running sessions at a gym I’d been working at while travelling, coincidentally.
I got in touch with Lisa Gombinsky Roach, who’s in charge of Counter Punch, and she inspired me to become the first UK-qualified Counter Punch Parkinson’s coach. I learned lots about Parkinson’s and how this project was targeted at multiple areas of the condition. I’m now combining my clinical and boxing expertise for a great cause.
At the start of any venture, there is a lot of hard work, sacrifices and costs. MTK Global has contributed towards gym hire, gloves to be used at the sessions, fuel costs and potential training days. That generosity and the financial backing will help spread the word that people can fight back against the condition.
I like to refer to the people as ‘boxers’ so they can lose the identity of feeling like patients. There’s lots of fun at our sessions and people often forget about their Parkinson’s when they’re on the bags or on the pads. It really is remarkable to see them power away. One guy says he can now cut through food when he couldn’t previously. Strength, balance and coordination are improved in many.
I hope in future, I can contribute to larger research studies and get Box Positive on the map with health care. Lisa is coming over and we’re going to get more coaches qualified. This is the start of something very big.