Nova Scotia

An accident made him a paraplegic, but he never lost his fighting spirit

Two years ago, Mitch Comeau started taking boxing lessons. He's since fought in two exhibition wheelchair boxing matches and he wants the sport to grow in popularity.

'I want to create awareness that wheelchair boxing can be a sport,' says Mitch Comeau

Comeau's training sessions begin with using some punch mitts and later proceeds to sparring sessions. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

Mitch Comeau trains two times a week with a boxing coach, but that isn't necessarily what makes him a fighter.

The 31-year-old Halifax resident is believed to be the only wheelchair boxer in Nova Scotia.

"I want people to know that they can do it," said Comeau. "That's what I want. I want to create awareness that wheelchair boxing can be a sport and that, hopefully, it will be a Paralympic sport."

Comeau became a paraplegic after being injured in a 2008 workplace accident in Alberta. He fell on the foundation of a heavy water treatment plant that was being constructed and then spent six months in hospital.

While Comeau did some karate during his childhood in Meteghan, N.S., the lack of a nearby boxing gym prevented him from ever taking up the sport. However, his interest in the sweet science never waned, despite no longer having the use of his legs.

Mitch Comeau became a paraplegic after a construction accident in 2008 in Alberta. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

Two years ago, Comeau decided it was time to box and he was put in touch with Aaron Kinch, a former professional boxer who can relate to the struggles Comeau faces.

Known as the Body Snatcher in the ring, Kinch's fighting career was cut short in 2008 when he broke his back in a freak workplace accident when lifting a case of beer. A stroke and brain hemorrhage followed in 2014.

Today, Kinch, 39, has pain in his back and right leg at all times.

Comeau wraps his hands before he begins his training session. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

"I was telling my friends I don't remember what it feels like to not be in pain," he said.

Kinch, who often uses a cane to get around, said he will one day be unable to move around without the use of a wheelchair.

Kinch runs the Westville Boxing Club in Pictou County, a free boxing gym for kids. He drives to Halifax twice a week, a 90-minute ride both ways, to train Comeau.

He says Comeau works harder than any of his other fighters.

"He's a real student of the game. He wants to learn everything about it. When he's not learning from me, he's learning from YouTube, which I have to correct some of," said Kinch with a laugh.

Comeau lands a body shot on Kinch as the pair spar. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

The pair usually train at Comeau's residence in Clayton Park where they do pad work and then spar in wheelchairs. The wheelchairs are lined up facing each other and are nearly side by side.

When CBC News caught up with the duo, they were training at the City of Lakes Boxing Club in Dartmouth.

On two occasions, they've held exhibition matches against each other at fight cards in Glace Bay and Dartmouth.

After these matches, Kinch spun Comeau around to see the roaring crowds. Moments like these reinforce why Kinch trains Comeau.

"The smile on his face, that's why," said Kinch.

How Comeau trains in his apartment

On the days where he trains by himself, Comeau uses a heavy bag and a speed bag in his apartment. He said boxing is great for his shoulders and torso.

"It's very good for morale," he said. "You feel more confident in yourself."

Aaron Kinch travels twice a week to train Comeau. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

Boxing is just the latest challenge Comeau is tackling head on.

After he broke his back, he returned to school. Previously, he only had a Grade 9 education. Today, he's a second-year commerce student at Mount Saint Vincent University who hopes to work in marketing once his studies are done.

Both Kinch and Comeau would like to see more wheelchair boxers in the province, in part because that could provide Comeau some opposition.

How boxing helps get rid of pain

Besides the satisfaction Kinch gets from training Comeau, it's beneficial for Kinch's health. While Kinch hobbles around outside of the ring, when he straps on his gloves and works with Comeau, he's a new man.

"People take drugs to stop the pain ... but endorphins, when you get them going, the pain's not gone, but it's going, you know what I mean," said Kinch. "And you got so much blood flowing, so it just feels so much better. And you punch and stuff, so how can you go wrong?"

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