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Boxing Ring Aids in Stroke Recovery

By Tom Tarapacki:

When Nick Giangreco suffered a debilitating stroke as a high school freshman , few people expected to see him stepping into a boxing ring a few years later. However, the determined young man has not only regained a lot of the physical ability that he lost, but has graduated from high school and is preparing to attend college in Rochester. 

Nick was a 14-year-old freshman when he suffered a stroke while on the sidelines at a St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute freshman football game in 2006. He was taken to a hospital where he remained for three months. While there, he spent some of that time on a ventilator and in an induced coma. Although he didn’t have any cognitive damage, he had some serious physical limitations. 

Nick had to undergo extensive therapy at ECMC to regain his ability to swallow, eat, walk and talk.  It took over a year, but Nick eventually was able to do many of the things he had taken for granted in the past.  However, he still had a long way to go, especially since he had very limited movement in his left arm and leg. For Nick, who had always been very active in sports, it was difficult to accept.

One of the methods that Nick used to further his recovery is boxing training with Paul Barlog at Terrie’s Workout Center on Hertel Ave. in Buffalo. Paul is a trainer at Terrie’s, as well as vice president and chief operating officer of Diversified Services, a multi-office practice offering professional care to area hospitals, nursing homes, and day treatment centers.

Paul has been conducting one-on-one boxing classes at Terrie’s,  providing punching and kicking drills, jumping rope, plyometric muscle workouts and other training activities. The workouts may or may not involve sparring with a trainer or other participants.  They do provide an excellent all-around workout, burning 350 to 500 calories an hour for the average person. However, boxing also promotes coordination and balance, teaches self-defense skills and offers a good outlet for aggression.

Paul first met Nick at Diversified, when the teenager was involved in hospital and outpatient therapy for about a year. “He was really getting tired of that kind of traditional therapy,” recalled Paul.  “Being a young guy, he was having difficulty getting motivated. I thought that some of the movement in boxing would be helpful. We started doing some of it loosely in the office, and he responded so well to it that we decided to suggest the gym.” With the support of his parents, Paul and Sharon, Nick started a boxing program with Paul at Terrie’s Workout Center.

Paul pointed out that Nick’s workout at the gym was not based on therapy. “There is no treatment plan, no doctor’s order. The gym is just a place for him to come to exercise. But given my background, we can tailor it to his physical limitations.” They have worked out about once a week over the past two years, and Paul also devised a program that Nick does at home.

Nick was always involved in sports, and regrets that he still can’t do things like play pick-up basketball with his friends. However, the boxing training allows him to remain active in sports and improve his physical abilities.

The same tenacity that Nick applied to his physical training he also applied to his studies. He took three Advanced Placement courses and a fourth college-level course in his senior year at St. Joe’s, and recently graduated. He’s planning to attend the University of Rochester in the fall, with a dual major of neural science and philosophy.

Nick is not back to where he was before the stroke, but he is regaining a great deal of his ability back. For example, he can drive a car with the aid of a device that allows him to use one hand.

Paul said that Nick will continue his boxing program at college in Rochester. “He has a pretty good idea of what he needs to do on his own,” said Paul.  Nick will also have the opportunity to train at the school, and “they can always call me and I can give them some direction and give them some idea of what Nick’s been doing with me.”

Over the last two years Paul has seen Nick make great strides. “His balance is better, his volitional movement in his affected left arm is better, and he’s certainly more articulate,” Paul observed.  Still, Paul doesn’t give the boxing program all of the credit. “His overall conditioning, the maturation process and everything else has blended in to more him more functional,” he pointed out. However, he does take a great deal of pride in his role in helping Nick Giangreco make a remarkable comeback from the stroke he suffered just over three years ago. 

Written by Buffalo Rising

Buffalo Rising

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