Toronto

Zeus Sequeira's journey from quadriplegia to serious boxing contender

Complications at birth has meant challenges for most of Zeus Sequeira's childhood. But he's overcome those challenges and and he's looking for more as he trains to be a boxer and prepares for his first licensed bout.

He was told he would barely be able to walk, but he's holding his own going full rounds in the ring

Asphyxiation during childbirth resulted in brain damage for Zeus Sequeira. Doctors said he wouldn't have much mobility below the neck. But after surgeries, rehabilitation and perseverance, he's not only walking, but boxing. (Ivan Arsovski/CBC)

Zeus Sequeira fought his entire life to get to this point.

The 31-year-old is in training for his first amateur fight, although he has already overcome more obstacles than most other contenders who step into the ring.

"I've always sort of had that mindset of a fighter," says Sequeira, taking a break from training at the United Boxing Club on Bloor Street. 

Boxing is one of the most demanding contact sports and was an unlikely choice for Sequeira, who was born in India with quadriplegic cerebral palsy. He wasn't able to stand until he was three-years-old.

"When my mom was seven months pregnant with me, she felt that something was wrong and then an ultrasound revealed that the umbilical cord was around my neck" explains Sequeira.

"Due to asphyxiation, I had some brain damage and doctors said that I wouldn't have much mobility below the neck."

Zeus Sequeira taking a break from training at United Boxing Club on Bloor Street West. He's hoping to be match fit for his first licensed bout in the next few months. (Ivan Arsovski/CBC)

Growing up, he was often reminded that he was different. 

"I remember when I was in the third grade, one of the teachers said that if the students misbehaved, God would make them like me. You know, like I was a punishment or something," said Sequeira.

A series of major operations when he was 15-years-old — including muscle and skeletal reconstruction to his legs and feet — allowed him to stand up straight for the first time.

"And ironically, I realized I was taller than my father. I didn't know that for most of my life," he said.

Sequeira, his trainer and sparring partner prepare for an upcoming fight. He trains twice a day, five days a week. (Ivan Arsovski/CBC)

Inspired by the Rocky film series that showed the underdog beating bigger, stronger opponents, Sequeira started boxing in 2017, about two years after he emigrated to Canada.

He says he likes the challenge of going toe to toe with someone, testing strength and skills, and the training and conditioning required — not just physically, but mentally. 

He recently got a medical clearance for a licence to fight for real.

"It felt like it was a huge victory because I had an initial diagnosis saying that I wouldn't be able to stand and I wouldn't have any mobility below the neck. And now I'm licensed to fight."

Ilias El Bouazaoui says Sequeira has the heart and drive to be a fighter and has put in the work to earn his chance to box for real. (Ivan Arsovski/CBC)

Sequeira is doing it so others will have a fighting chance like he did. He's hoping to raise $10,000 for Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital.

"We needed a little bit of help to get the funds for my surgery and we were lucky enough to be able to get that help. And I was lucky enough to be able to get the surgery and that's why I'm raising money."

Sequeira works the heavy bag. A series of major operations when he was 15-years-old, including muscle and skeletal reconstruction on his legs and feet, allowed him to stand up straight for the first time in his life. (Ivan Arsovski/CBC)

Paige Cunningham, senior manager of community partnerships at the Holland Bloorview Foundation, said she is thankful Sequeira is raising much needed funds for kids and families at the hospital.

"He's such a strong individual who has so much bravery, dedication and commitment and he's definitely a role model and an inspiration to all of the kids here who may have had to overcome obstacles like he has," said Cunningham.

Gordan Thomas owns United Boxing Club where Sequeira trains. He says Sequeira's journey shows how far commitment and determination can get you. (Ivan Arsovski/CBC)

Sequeira's trainer Ilias El Bouazaoui says he's earned his shot at a real fight, which could happen within the next few months. 

"He's a fighter inside and out. And when you have this courage and you're willing to give so much, the results are there," said El Bouazaoui.

Gordan Thomas owns United Boxing Club where Sequeira trains twice a day, five times a week. 

"He has a very intriguing story and he has something to fight for. So, you know, I think only good can come from that and it can inspire a lot of people as well."

As for words of inspiration, Sequeira has more than a few. 

"If you have a vision for yourself, make a beginning, no matter how small it is and be ready to face the fear," he says "If you decide every single day that this is what you want to do — just make a beginning."

About the Author

Philip Lee-Shanok

Senior Reporter, CBC Toronto

From small town Ontario to Washington D.C., Philip has covered stories big and small. An award-winning reporter with more than two decades of experience in Ontario and Alberta, he's now a Senior Reporter for CBC Toronto on television, radio and online. He is also a National Reporter for The World This Weekend on Radio One. Follow him on Twitter @CBCPLS.

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