Meet Rod Douglas: Wheelchair To Walking For Ex-Boxing Pro At Our Gym

Rod Douglas has been at the highest levels in boxing. But one of his biggest lows came after experiencing a life-threatening stroke last year which follows his recovery from a brain injury shortly after a 1989 title fight. 

But making a remarkable effort from wheelchair to walking again since using our Ability Bow gym, Rod tells his story as to why our service is helping to build his outer and inner strength to fight for both living and thriving.  

Pure Fighter

Rod Douglas is a fighter; in both a literal and emotional sense.  

The 54-year-old Bow-based boxer fondly recalls his incredible achievements of representing his country at the 1986 Commonwealth Games; winning gold within the middleweight category after beating Jeff Harding in Edinburgh.  

“It was second to none going to the Commonwealth Games and representing my country,” says Rod.  

“Since I appeared there, I can now often go to a shop in Bow when recognised and be treated like a God which is really humbling.” 

Olympic Giant  

Also appearing at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, Rod has certainly experienced the highs boxing can offer.  

Reaching the quarter-finals in the US within the men’s light-middleweight category, he remembers how competing countries really ‘came together’ to celebrate the tournament (where he succumbed to a defeat against Canadian fighter Shawn O’Sullivan).  

Rod says: “Competing in the Olympics was incredible.  

“Again, I was only fighting for a medal, but like me, others who competed in boxing were treated like Gods and it felt fantastic to be part of that atmosphere.  

“It really felt like we all stuck together to achieve a goal and you could always tell which competitor was a boxer due to their big frame/stature; I’ll never forget that experience.”  

Big Blow  

While Rod has enjoyed multiple highs, one of his most challenging times came just last year.  

Experiencing a life-threatening brain injury in 1989 shortly after losing a British title fight to fellow boxing legend Herol Graham, remnants of Rod’s mixed health since then, resurfaced in May 2017.  

Rod had a stroke and was rushed to hospital after his close friend Svetlana had earlier called an ambulance, which Rod says if she hadn’t, he would ‘have been dead’.  

“I’m so thankful to be here and while my friends and family were praying for me during this time, I used this strength to pull through and thereafter, my recovery including being at Ability Bow has been progressive.”  

Road To Recovery At Ability Bow  

Following his stint in hospital, Rod - whose son Rod Douglas Junior has secured two victories in bouts at the famous York Halls venue in Bethnal Green within the past year - and Svetlana, decided a change was required. 

After spending last summer in a wheelchair, Rod gradually began walking again from last Autumn, before experiencing a relapse earlier this year.  

While he had showed promise to return to greater health, both Rod and Svetlana felt greater and more consistent support was needed to develop his resilience; with Rod joining our charity gym, Ability Bow, in July this year after a referral by his GP and since returning to walking again more often.  

“Being at Ability Bow is an amazing experience,” Rod explains.  

“I could’ve been at lots of gyms to aid my recovery, but Tony (one of Ability Bow’s highly qualified advanced fitness instructors) assesses and supports me each week I attend and he’s never on my back. 

“To be able to walk again through being at Ability Bow is brilliant, as last year gave me hope I could do it and while I may not walk all the time, just doing it in itself thanks to the work here at Ability Bow is amazing.”  

Empowering Environment 

Attending weekly one-hour sessions at inner London’s only disabilities and long-term health conditions rehabilitation gym - which provides initial 12 week support for each member to develop their strength in various programmes before they become an independent member - Rod works on our gym bike for 15 minutes, before mixing exercise on a stepper with treadmill bouts. 

He says that his experience at Ability Bow - which is based on the third floor of St Paul’s Church, St Stephen’s Road beside Roman Road Market - is helping him make ‘fantastic progress’.  

“The whole team who’ve helped me here are never wrapped up in themselves and instead just do their best to empower me and give me what I need physically and mentally to stay strong,” Rod says.  

“I already have a great faith and being here helps me to keep walking longer distances, as while I do get tired, I feel so much better since my initial stroke just by attending the gym and its supportive environment.”  

Community Champion  

As well as attending our community gym - which helps 400 disabled people into exercise each year - Rod certainly knows all about giving back to his local area, Tower Hamlets.  

He was once part of the former Arches boxing gym - now known as K.O. gym - in Bethnal Green (near the famous York Halls venue), which offers total newcomers to boxing the chance to develop their skills in the ring.  

Run by esteemed Muay Thai boxing coach - and former world kickboxing champion - Bill Judd, the K.O. gym under its former Arches guise gave Rod the chance to develop his community work supporting children to box, in one of the K.O.’s other supporting branches near its Globe Road site. 

“I trained at the K.O. for a couple of times a week after I first met Bill where I was there for around four of the five years helping the kids and I never wanted to be paid a penny for what I did,” Rod says.  

“I was at the K.O. for the love of it and one day Bill showed me an empty gym and gave it to me as a present to help run for the local community.  

“It was amazing to have this experience for about four years and being able to mentor those local young people into boxing.  

“It really got me actively involved in developing the kids as boxers with their upper body or punching technique and essentially, helping them mentally to become great young people.”  

Why Rod Recommends Our Gym  

Rod definitely shows himself to be at the heart of his community. So why is Ability Bow so much within Rod’s own heart?  

“What’s great about being at Ability Bow is that it’s really part of a great little family who all support each other to do inspiring things and it’s brilliant to learn so much from people like Tony and Patrick (another of our gym’s highly qualified and advanced fitness instructors).  

“I love exercising here and training to be fitter - whether it’s working on sparring with Patrick on the boxing pads or just on my own on the bike - and it helps me feel better every day.” 

The ex-professional boxer - who also has a keen interest in swimming and chess - is also never short of a joke, including regarding his workload at the gym.  

“I’m just scared Tony’s going to give me more to do,” Rod adds.  

Find Out More  

To find out more about our gym and its range of specialist activities for people with disabilities and long-term health conditions - varying from supporting those with strokes, to people with mental health conditions:  

Visit our gym’s Activities page>> 

To donate to people like Rod and others like Albie - who lives with multiple myeloma bone marrow cancer and who’s looking to raise £1,000 as part of Team Ability Bow’s Big Fun Run fundraising pledge:  

Visit our VirginMoneyGiving page>>