Connections - 02.28.24

Boxing Program Serves as Developmental Therapy for Those with Down Syndrome

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Down To Box was developed to empower individuals with Down syndrome by teaching coordination, self-defense and physical fitness through boxing. Down To Box is a non-profit organization out of Wilmington, Delaware, founded in 2018 by Lauren Camp and Jonathan Gainey.

They saw a need for an engaging physical fitness program for individuals with Down syndrome and other disabilities that incorporated boxing instruction in a group atmosphere. Down To Box brings this program and curriculum to interested boxing gyms, and is dedicated to creating exercise training programs that will help teach boxing skills and enable an active and healthier lifestyle for everyone.

The organization’s vison is to provide customized curriculum to individuals with Down syndrome to help develop their fine and gross motor skills to advance their physical and mental health. The Down To Box program gives participants increased confidence levels while increasing their athletic ability. Weekly boxing programs also serve as a social group for participants, to engage with their peers and develop friendships.

One participant is Phoenix Anderson, who’s a non-speaking teen with trisomy 21. She and her mother, Marjorie, travel to the gym once a week via mass transit in Philadelphia, needing to take two separate buses to reach the gym. It’s both an investment in travel money and time, taking one hour and 36 minutes to complete their route, one way. Here, Phoenix takes a boxing class inside the Jack Costello Boxing Gym, currently the only gym in Philadelphia to offer the program.

“Honestly, the thought of her boxing was kind of scary,” Marjorie said about Phoenix, 14.  “But because it was targeted towards people with Down syndrome, we decided to check it out. When we first came here, I remember looking at Phoenix and I could see she was like, ‘What is going on?’ But (the instructors) take a lot of interest”.

It was barely two weeks into the program when she noticed a difference in Phoenix. “She’s listening and she’s looking at people,” Marjorie explained. “Every time (boxing instructor Dominique Collette) speaks, she’s listening, she’s taking it all in. This has been so awesome for her. So awesome for her focus.”

During a Down To Box program at Costello’s Gym, it would be easy to see five trainers pay close attention to a room of six students, all with Down syndrome ranging in levels of significance. The class is conducted under the watchful eye of Brian Costello, one of the owners of the gym that was founded by his grandfather, John “Jack” Costello.

The Costello family and staff always had a hand in teaching boxing to anyone interested in the sport. “We’ve had a lot of interest over the years of parents coming in and saying, ‘I have a son or a daughter who has autism, they’re not good with crowds. Is there something you guys offer?’” Costello said. “We’ve always had a demand for this even before we got involved with Down To Box, we’ve been coming in here for years during our off hours to do stuff with kids individually … we were doing our best, we knew boxing, but we didn’t really have experience working with special-needs people, and that’s why it was so great to link up with Down To Box. What they do, supports what we do.”

An initial hesitancy is expected, and Marjorie reflects on her. “People might think boxing for people with Down’s is weird, and it might sound weird, but it works,” Anderson said. “I’ve seen a change in my daughter since she started coming here and I have this place to thank for that. It’s why we keep coming and as long as they have it, we’ll be here.”

Kim Goodwin is the Director of Marketing at Arlington Heritage Group.