Homeless man finds new purpose as wheelchair boxing instructor

Monday, December 23, 2019
Homeless man finds new purpose as wheelchair boxing instructor
Danielle Leigh reports on the homeless man turned wheelchair boxing instructor.

One year ago, 7 On Your Side Investigates helped a man who had lost everything he owned after employees at the homeless shelter where he was staying threw out his stuff while he fought for his life in the hospital.

As part of an Eyewitness News investigation, we discovered the Red Lion shelter in Brooklyn had violated city policy by trashing Sam Willis' belongings -- and the Department of Homeless Services promised to make it right by compensating Willis for the items he'd lost.

"If it wasn't for the Channel 7 news team and you Miss Danielle Leigh, nothing would have happened," Willis said. "They would have shrugged their shoulders and let it go, but knowing you helped me."

Willis described the help he received as a second chance, one he did not want to waste.

One year later, we caught up with Willis. And he has followed through on that promise.

Willis has a fresh haircut, new clothes, and he's working to move into an apartment of his own.

The former boxer has also found his own way to pay it forward, as he is now volunteering his time teaching wheelchair boxing at a weekly workshop in Harlem at 5th Avenue Wellness and Fitness.

"More than anything, I love teaching. It feels great," Willis said. "When I teach people, it changes them too. You can see the difference after a while. I'm giving them confidence in themselves."

Willis' students say they love the challenge and beyond the workouts, they love the messages they get from Willis about life.

"Don't ever limit yourself, and you will be surprised what you can do," said Valerie Joseph, who was born with a spinal disability that left her reliant on a wheelchair.

"Everything is universal through boxing," said Idhiambo Mitchell, who trains with Willis and also organized the workshop. "It helped me through my disability. So I thought about doing that with other people as well. (Willis) said, 'You know what, I think I can help you. Let's see what we can do together.'"

Willis said he tries to pass on to his students the lessons he's learned this past year about perseverance.

"I have been at the bottom before, and I raised myself back up," Willis said. "If you don't see results in a month, give it another month, give it a month and a half, and eventually you are going to see it. It always gets better."


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