Charity issues

Aspire Wrestling: No gimmicks when it comes to mental health!

Aspire Wrestling in Derwent/Chaddesden is  a “unique place that changes everyone’s life for the better” says Paul Malen,  professional wrestler and the club’s full-time trainer.

Established in April 2016 by Rob Shade, Aspire Wrestling is based at St Mark’s Community Centre on Cornwall Road. The Centre was refurbished with the help of Derby Homes and uses wrestling as its centrepiece activity supporting its development as a Community hub.

Wrestling for many might be a stage-managed sport, acted out by people with cartoon names, throwing each other around in a square ring, to a crowd who are booing and cheering in equal measure.  And, fundamentally, that’s what it is.

So why is Aspire Wrestling unique?

Its particular focus is working with people with a variety of non-physical conditions – autism, mental health problems, depression, anxiety, learning disabilities etc and using the process of training, working together and performing, to positive effect.

Josh , 14, one of the younger members says:

“I’m autistic, and I’ve got a learning disability….I used to get into fights, and had problems with anger, and this place has shown me how to control that – it’s also given me more experience talking to the people here, giving me advice on dealing with a situation . I have my good days, and bad days, although most of them are good.  I know I’m somewhere where I like , and am more interested in what I do. ….so it calms me down from what’s happened during the day.”

Veronica, who is transgender, comments on the character she adopts:

“I like to be a role model…the LGBT hero. I come out with the flag and beat bigots up. Similar to me but more heroic. For me wrestling is like a coping mechanism”

Josh, 27 who’s stage name is Ronon, observes:

“Wrestling at Aspire is like a slow transformation – you build up muscles, or you lose a bit of weight, then gradually you feel more confident in some day-to-day situations that you didn’t before – that’s the wrestling – you’ve not realised that….it’s slowly happened. It’s very positive.”

How does this come about?

Wrestling is choreographed , creative, entertainment, with real physical consequences…sometimes it hurts!

Josh (Ronon) says:

“People say, wrestling is fake, but then I’ll say – you watch a film, or soaps on TV – it’s more like live pantomime in a way, and the crowd is a big part of it. If they don’t get into it then what’s the point….it’s for them that we’re doing it.

It’s also creative…”

But in delivering that entertainment, it relies heavily on fitness, but also about trust, and confidence building.

“Unlike a sport, the person you are fighting “against” is someone you’re actually working with and you have to trust each other to get the job done, to make it believable, and to entertain the crowd”

That mutual trust, team work, and like-minded approach at Aspire creates a welcoming atmosphere, and safe space for people.

Josh,14, finds it helps him in other ways:

“Wrestling’s not just  throwing people around the ring, to me it’s like a therapy, as well. You’re meeting with some very nice people…so it helps me a lot, personally.”

Paul Malen, has seen many traditional wrestling clubs in his 11 years on the circuit. They are pressured regimes, much more competitive,  and tougher. This is why he, personally, finds Aspire refreshing on a number of levels. Paul will readily accept that, as a professional, he was selfish, and superficial ; when he came to Aspire it taught him very quickly about humility.

“…. from the high life to, then, teaching kids who have their own problems; it’s about learning patience which I’ve never been good at . It makes you feel good to teach people, and see them coming along and developing and enjoying themselves….and most importantly, coming into their own personalities

Realising their strengths , and realising their weaknesses and staying away from things that they’re not confident in doing but really pushing them towards what they want to do., and what they are able to do.

Everyone is supportive of each other….that is why I am keen to be part of this”

Josh’s Mum, Kagz, aptly summarises why Aspire is a special place for many of the wrestlers:

“Before wrestling, Josh spent most his life at home, due to being bullied etc throughout his school life and not finding something of interest to him. He had been a WWE fan for over 4 years but nothing local for him to try until year last April when Aspire began.  He goes twice per week for training and now on Tuesday for the promo classes. He also volunteers at the centre during the school holidays cleaning, posting flyers etc.

That’s the only time he leaves the house and I can’t thank Aspire enough on how much it has helped and changed my lad’s life for the better. It’s even helped him educationally at school, his grades have improved for the past year thanks to them too

They’re like a 2nd family for him and myself.”

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