Gabe Adler is a 6-year-old with cancer. Richard Plowden is five-time-world-champion martial artist.
Together, the two are changing the way kids fight cancer.
“Kids believe in the power of martial arts and the power of the black belt,” Plowden said at Beaumont Children’s Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich. “We teach them kicks and punches, but the main thing is martial arts therapy and meditation and breathing techniques to help them through their diagnoses.”
Plowden, a sixth-degree black belt, is the chief martial arts therapist for Kids Kicking Cancer, a non-profit organization founded by Elimelech Goldberg, a rabbi who, himself, holds a first-degree black belt in the Korean art of Choi Kwang Do.
Rabbi “G,” as he is known by patients, founded Kids Kicking Cancer in 1999, 20 years after losing his own daughter, Sara, to leukemia.
“I explained to this little boy [that], in the martial arts, you learn that pain is a message. You don’t have to listen,” Goldberg said, referring to a young cancer patient who had to be held down during treatment.
“So you can breathe in this amazing energy, this chi, and push out the pain. ’Watch me,’ [I told the boy]. And, five minutes later, this boy was doing a simple tai chi breathing technique,” Goldberg said. “Twenty minutes later, they pulled out the needle and the boy looked up at the nurse and said, ‘Did you do it yet?’ and that’s when Kids Kicking Cancer was born.”
Goldberg’s organization is now operating in nearly one dozen cities around the world and has helped more than 5,000 kids breathe, kick and punch their way to overcoming the pain and anxiety that goes along with having cancer.
Luca Aversa was diagnosed with cancer when he was just 4 months old. Today, at the age of 7, he’s used his martial arts training to go from having to be held down for treatments to managing his treatments all on his own.
“He has informed me on several occasions that he is a big boy. He is a martial artist and he will do it all by himself,” said Lucas’s mom, Kate Aversa. “He is able to breathe through pain when he comes out of surgery.”
Another Kids Kicking Cancer patient, Amber Madigan, 12, used the mental toughness she gained through her martial arts training to surprise even her most veteran nurses.
“They noticed that she started to do the breathing on her own,” said Amber’s mom, Michele Madigan. “[She] started calming herself down and she [the nurse] said she’s been in there for 20 years and she has never seen anyone take the power in their own hands.”
Patients in the Kids Kicking Cancer program learn to use the three “P’s” – power, peace and purpose – to handle their treatment.
“Here’s a process they believe in, martial arts,” Goldberg said. “Here’s a time in their lives when they’re anything but powerful. And we explain to them: You can be powerful. You are powerful. And you’re teaching: You’re very, very powerful.”