Leo Sammarelli eyes Para nordic spot for 2026 Paralympic Winter Games

Canadian Paralympic Committee

December 16, 2022

Boxing champ knows he’s in a tough fight to make team


(Photo: ParaTough Cup Vancouver – Leo Sammarelli is second from right)

RICHMOND, B.C. – Leo Sammarelli is a man on many missions.

Since he became a paraplegic in 2017 under tragic circumstances, the 27-year-old continues to make sport the focus of his life. He is an athlete, a trainer, a builder, and a trailblazer.

It’s a story that hopefully will shine in the bright lights of the Paralympic Games one day, and Sammarelli’s big assignment right now is to make that happen.

His expertise is in boxing. As an able-bodied boxer, he was a blooming talent, perhaps one day good enough to go to the Olympics before his unfortunate injury. He started the sport at a young age and had an impressive amateur boxing career in B.C. He was crowned the Amateur Canadian lightweight champion in 2014 and the Golden Gloves lightweight champion in 2013.

He is also an expert in martial arts, particularly jiu-jitsu, which he credits for bringing him peace of mind. He has competed at the Canada Games in wheelchair racing, winning gold this past summer in Kitchener-Waterloo and in Para nordic skiing. In fact, it is in cross country skiing that he hopes to make his Paralympic Games debut at Milan 2026.

“My focus right now is on cross country skiing in Para nordic,” said Sammarelli last month at the ParaTough Cup in Vancouver, a fundraiser for the Paralympic Foundation of Canada held at the Richmond Olympic Oval. “I’m looking towards the next Games.”

While he competed at a World Cup in Canmore last season and has earned medals at various regional or continental events, Sammarelli knows he faces an uphill challenge to be on one of Canada’s most powerful Paralympic squads.

At the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympics, Canada won 12 of its 25 medals in Para nordic (eight in cross country skiing and four in biathlon).

“It’s going well,” said Sammarelli, a Nordiq Canada NextGen team member, about his preparations so far. “Last year was a big breakthrough by competing at the World Cup in Canmore. The dynamic of the team and the experience is making me improve fast. The amount of discipline I see from them makes me a better athlete.”

Back to Para boxing, he hopes to help push it through as a Paralympic Games sport one day. He is making a herculean effort to put his fingers on the right buttons to make his voice heard.

He has brought the first wheelchair adaptive boxing council to B.C., is on the World Adaptive Boxing Council, and is on the Boxing BC Board as director of diversity and inclusion.

“There’s not a limit on what we [people with a disability] can do, so I want to keep growing the sport of Para boxing,” said Sammerelli. “More and more gyms here in Canada, the U.S. and in Europe are opening doors to adaptive athletes.”

In 2017, Sammarelli was a victim of gun violence and suffered a life changing spinal cord injury, becoming paralyzed from the waist down. RCMP called the attack a case of “mistaken identity.”

Sammarelli works as a trainer at the Rain City Boxing Club and is the founder of Westcoast Wheelchair Adaptive Boxing.

As is well known in many high performance sport circles, boxing training can be a beneficial workout for any sport as well as an excellent cross training in the off season. Paralympic snowboarder Sandrine Hamel swears by her boxing training when at home in Quebec.

Sammarelli never forgets to praise his community for supporting him when he’s out hustling for funds for his Para boxing projects and for his own training and travels. He wants to give back particularly to those with a disability. He’s practiced many sports, and he says each one is unique.

“I always want to be more involved in the community,” he said. “That comes with growing the number of athletes, giving people with a disability an opportunity to get on the snow, in the gym to try boxing, jiu-jitsu.

“There’s nothing like throwing a few punches as well, it feels great.”

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