89-year-old P.E.I. man takes up boxing to recover from stroke

An 89-year-old Charlottetown man, who had a stroke a year ago, is now lacing up boxing gloves and sparring to help improve his co-ordination and strength.

A year ago, Herman Sewuster could barely lift his arms

The look on Herman Sewuster's face shows how much the 89-year-old stroke survivor enjoys his sparring sessions with trainer Jason Mosher. (Pat Martel/CBC)

Sitting in his walker, 89-year-old Herman Sewuster puts on his boxing gloves, looks up and smiles.

Then he starts punching away at his trainer's mid-section.

Sewuster has come a long way since his stroke a year ago, when he lost strength in the left side of his body and could barely lift his arms.

Now he "boxes" twice a week at Naturally Fit Total FX with trainer Jason Mosher.

Sometimes we're laughing, he's smiling so hard, his teeth are falling out.— Jason Mosher

The stroke affected Sewuster's speech, but not his laugh. With every punch, he laughs out loud.

"See that smile on his face, man?" Mosher said. "Sometimes we're laughing, he's smiling so hard, his teeth are falling out."

Mosher has helped other stroke survivors regain strength and co-ordination. He welcomed the opportunity to help Sewester.

Sewuster does some warm-up exercises before lacing on the gloves and sparring with Mosher. (Pat Martel/CBC)

"He still has lots of life left that he wanted to live. And he was struggling," Mosher said.

"The first day he came in, you could really tell there wasn't a whole lot of fight left in him. He was pretty discouraged with the physical struggle."

Was strong and independent

The stroke was tough for someone like Sewuster, who was strong and independent, according to his daughter, Wilma Arsenault.

"My mom passed away a little over 12 years ago, and Dad was on his own and he was doing good," she said. 

"So to lose all independence, driver's licence, home, it's gotta to be a big blow."

Mosher says Sewuster has made significant progress since he started working out at the gym. (Pat Martel/CBC)

The gym is conveniently located across the parking lot from the seniors home. Twice a week, with help from nursing staff, Sewuster wheels his walker to the gym for an hour of exercise.

But first, some warm ups. Sewuster sits on a bench and slowly pulls weights up and down.

"We're not doing anything that's gonna cause any damage." Mosher said. "We're working within the scope of the client. So if they can squeeze and hold on to something, and move their arm, why couldn't we attempt to strengthen that?"

Big improvement

Mosher said his sparring partner has made significant progress.

"To see him not in pain and to be able to have dexterity back into his hand, and strength," Mosher said..

"When we started, he couldn't hold a two-pound weight. Now he's doing back rolls with 20 pounds."

Sewuster's seniors home is conveniently located across the parking lot from the gym. Twice a week, nursing staff help Sewuster get to his workouts. (Pat Martel/CBC)

Sewuster's daughter has also seen a big improvement.

"He can get in and out of a vehicle. If it wasn't for the gym and what he does here, he'd be probably in a wheel chair. Jason and him have a bond, it's amazing to see."

When asked about that bond, Sewuster smiles again. "He's a good man. Yeah, he's good," he said.

But when it's time to spar, Sewuster doesn't hold anything back.

"He's a bit of a low blower, though," Mosher said. "He likes trying to hit below the belt. Don't be fooled by the pretty smile."

Mosher jokes that Sewuster sometimes hits below the belt. 'Don't be fooled by the pretty smile,' he says. (Pat Martel/CBC)

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Pat Martel has worked with CBC P.E.I. for three decades, mostly with Island Morning where he was a writer-broadcaster and producer. He joined the web team recently to share his passion for great video. Pat also runs an adult coed soccer league in Stratford. He retired in Oct. 2019.