Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Fighting to bring out his best Gloves are on against autism

Boxer, 12, grows inside, outside the ring -- and teaches his coaches a thing or two as well

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Colton Tomchuk is a 12-year-old boy with the heart of a champion.

Within the confines of the Pan Am Boxing Club, he works the speed bag, the heavy bag, skips rope, runs stairs and shadow boxes, as though he had just stepped out of a Rocky movie. He also takes piano lessons, likes country music and hates it when anyone sings off key.

Last weekend at the Manitoba Amateur Boxing Association's Golden Gloves card at Orioles Community Centre, he dropped his coach Roland Vandal four times in an exhibition bout, and each time he walked over and helped him up off the mat.

"When he gets going, he knows he has to keep on going, and let her rip," said his dad Tim. "He knew he had to fight hard to knock him down, and he did it."

Tim said he was proud of his son, and that it was an emotional moment. You see, Colton is autistic.

"Basically he has a hard time understanding or speaking the language," said his mom Kim. "He doesn't understand things like, 'I want to play with you. How do I talk to you.' He makes all these weird sounds, and he might smack somebody to get their attention."

Still, when Colton's uncle Stan offered to take him to the boxing gym a little more than a year ago, his parents agreed. "I told his dad, and we talked about it," Kim said. "We said that we don't set levels for him. If he wants to succeed, then he'll succeed. It's athletic and it is helping to build his confidence up, and it is like a family here to him. They accept him.

"My other son has a black belt in taekwondo, and I am from the north end," she went on. "I'm a tough girl, so I didn't have concerns with that (injury). I was just happy that someone was willing to take him on."

"We both weighed the good and the bad, and what risk there was, but the positive just was unlimited," offered Tim. "It gives him goals to achieve, that he can actually achieve and learn from that, and then move on to the next challenge."

Colton has a difficult time communicating verbally, but when he is in the gym, there is plenty of communication, thanks to his patient staff of coaches Vandal, Juliana D'Andreamatteo, Aaron Rayter, Adam Czuchniki and Mike Monaco.

When asked how it felt to knock Vandal down four times, his eyes lit up and he let out a volley of cheers.

Not all sport clubs have been as accommodating to Colton. "We had an issue with swimming," said Kim. "He loved swimming and he did very well, but the club rejected him because they didn't want to train him any further. He knows what's going on, just because he doesn't speak it out, he still knows. This (boxing), has got him to be even more social now. He'll walk up to the toughest guy and say, I want to fight you. He hasn't had a real fight with a real child yet, just an exhibition."

"Medically he is cleared to spar, and he's registered with Manitoba Amateur Boxing Association," said Vandal, "so I guess depending on if it is the right situation, it (a fight) could be a doable thing. He has a lot of confidence, he's eager and raring to go."

While Colton appears to be fitting right in with his boxing crowd, they too are learning from their pupil. "In the beginning I didn't know what to expect," said Vandal. "But he has taught me a lot about myself. He has taught me that I need a lot of patience, tolerance, everybody learns at different levels, and to speak to someone where they are at, not where we think they should be at. It makes me feel great to see him succeed."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 28, 2010 C4

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