Courage To Come Back: Physical Rehabilitation award recipient was knocked down but keeps on punching

He was an award-winning athlete and a Canadian boxing champion until, one day, someone tried to take it all away. Today, he is still fighting — and still punching. 

Our series of Courage To Come Back profiles continues with a look at Leo Sammarelli of North Vancouver, the recipient of the award in the Physical Rehabilitation category.

March 13, 2017, was the day everything changed for Leo. The 22-year-old was getting out of his car on his way to boxing practice when someone pulled out a gun and shot him four times. 

“Twice in the abdomen, one in the side, and one in the back,” he said. “And immediately I was paralyzed from that. I dropped to the ground and, obviously, things happened from there.”

What happened from there was a long and difficult rehabilitation. Leo basically had to learn how to do even the simplest of daily tasks over again.

“You know, just like a baby learns how to walk again? You got to learn how to do the simple things in life like going to the washroom. How do I take a shower? How do I get driving again? So, it was like starting from zero and really adapting.”

Leo looks at it now as a new beginning.

“It’s a second life. It’s like you’re reborn in a different body in many ways,” he said.

Around six months after his injury, his eyes were opened to a new athletic career when the nationwide Paralympian Search stopped at the Richmond Olympic Oval.

“It just goes to show you there’s a way to do anything. These guys are wheeling miles with no legs. Some guys are hopping on one leg, some people are swimming with two arms, no legs. It’s at the highest level too. It’s amazing and truly inspiring.”

Today, Leo is a member of the Canadian Para-Nordic ski team. However, boxing remains his passion. As the founder of West Coast Wheelchair Adaptive Boxing, he coaches athletes in person and over Zoom. 

He tells his students, being knocked down isn’t what matters, it’s how you get up again.

“That’s what boxing is, it’s adapting to the situation when you’re in the ring,” he said. “And you can take that and run with it in life whether it’s business or whatever it is – whatever they can do with the tools I give them and learn from it and run with it, as far as they can.”

“You know, you’re going to fail so many times, you’ve just got to keep fighting.”

He hopes his Courage To Come Back award inspires others to keep punching and to get up when they’ve been knocked down.

“You’ve just got to open the door and go right through it. And that takes courage. I just want to let them know that they can do anything possible.”

CityNews is a proud sponsor of the 2024 Coast Mental Health Courage To Come Back awards, which are being handed out Thursday, May 23rd at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

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