Hitting Hard for Autism
by Warren Rosenberg, MetroSports Magazine September 23, 2022
Professional boxer, Melissa St. Vil, the 135 pound North American Boxing Organization champion and former World Boxing Council Silver Super Featherweight champion scored another victory in her quest to bring attention to those with autism and other special needs. She is a proponent of changing public opinion about autism and has been quoted as saying, “I just wanted to show the world the beauty of autism and how amazing and smart somebody on the spectrum can be(1)”.
Above: Melissa St. Vil featured in the March-April 2017 issue of MetroSports Magazine. photo credit: Warren Rosenberg
Below: (Left) Boxer and trainer, Rafael Vazquez, with his daughter Kaylene. (Center and Right) Melissa St. Vil with Kaylene
Melissa won a unanimous decision against Calista Silgado on September 16th in her hometown of Brooklyn, NY. The 39 year old St. Vil is currently ranked #1 among American female boxers and #6 in the world by Box Rec. Her fight to change public opinion about autism has included a 2021 appearance on NBC’s American Ninja Warrior. Following her appearance, she posted on her social media pages, “the best part of being on American Ninja Warrior was representing for people on the spectrum & representing for people battling cancer. You all are the real CHAMPIONS & I'm in your corner”. Melissa trained for this fight under the guidance of coach Kevin Marston at the NYC Cops and Kids Boxing Gym in Flatbush Brooklyn.
Her introduction to learning about people with autism came through her working with Rafael Vazquez, a boxer who compiled a record of 16-3-0 and last fought in 2016. Vazquez’s daughter, Kaylene, was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder at the age of 4 months. When his wife passed away from cancer, Rafael had to retire from professional boxing to care for his daughter. At the time he was helping to train Brooklyn boxer Melissa St. Vil and on the first occasion she met Kaylene, she fell in love with her.
As Melissa told MetroSports Magazine, “that was the beginning for me of learning about people being on the spectrum and, by being around Kaylene, I learned more about how she sees the world.” On her social media pages she has posted, “it's about representing for all the amazing people like Kaylene living on the spectrum & to look at their capabilities and not just the disability. I believe in her & I go hard for her so I thank God for bringing her to me.” In fact, in her win this past week, Kaylene’s name was on the Champ's boxing gloves which were created by Rival Boxing Gear.
Above: Melissa St. Vil training under the watchful eye of coach Kevin Marston.
We asked the Champ if she has plans to box again and she revealed that, “I’m not sure if this will be my last fight but I definitely want to be involved in helping with the Special Olympics and working on different projects on giving back, not only to people with special needs, but to children who grew up in abusive households, like myself. I would definitely fight in a charity event.” A percentage of the proceeds of ticket sales from the September 16th fight were donated to charity.
Above: Melissa and some of her fans.
Below: "Nate the Great" receiving a pair of special Rival Boxing Gear Autism puzzle pieces gloves from Melissa.
All images, unless otherwise notes, courtesy of Melissa St. Vil