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Forget Rocky, Yianni Parascos shows that life is more inspirational than fiction

Greek Australian boxer Yianni Parascos almost lost his hand to a circular saw accident three years ago, but this week, the 19-year-old will complete a remarkable recovery when he fights for his country

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Boxer Yianni Parascos with trainer Andy Bernal. Photo: Dimitri Yianoulakis

08 December 2017

Before Parascos first got into boxing he was into the sport of Graeco-Roman wrestling and also played football. But at age 13, the Bendigo-born youngster decided to take boxing seriously after he became part of former Socceroos and Sydney Olympic star Andy Bernal's boxing stable at his Canberra-based Stockade Training Centre.

Over the next three years while under Bernal's guidance, Parascos built an impressive amateur career in the youth ranks. In December 2014, the then 16-year-old won a fight in Canberra that maintained his unbeaten record and was looking forward to competing in the upcoming national championships.
A week later Parascos was involved in a gruesome accident that threatened everything he had worked for.

"I was helping my father lay down floorboards for our home renovations," he tells Neos Kosmos. "I was holding a floorboard behind my dad while he was using the circular saw. The saw jammed and kicked back which caused the blade to go right over my hand. This resulted in one of my fingers being almost completely severed, hanging only by a bit of skin, and for the rest of my hand to be cut wide open. One surgeon suggested amputation, so it was very serious."
At the time he thought he may never be able to box again. It was eight months of recovery and hospital visits before he was able to step into the ring for training again. He had many infections and several hospital stays with months of physio to get movement back in his hand, especially the finger that the surgeons saved. "Every surgeon appointment I had I was told that I would never box again." Parascos recalls.

But the now 19-year-old says he never doubted he would make a full recovery.

"Every appointment I would ask the question, the answers were always negative and after one hospital session I looked at my mother and said, 'I will box again, I just want to box.'

"It came to the point where Canberra Hospital could no longer help me, and I had to find a new physician in Sydney to help me with my wish of boxing again. At that point I was really dedicated to boxing and thought that I might be able to make a career out of it. It was my passion and my dream, so I knew that I had to prove the surgeon wrong.

"I told myself repeatedly that I would box, and I did. It felt great to have achieved one of my boxing dreams – to represent and fight for Australia."

As a strength and conditioning coach, Andy Bernal prepared the 2012 Australian Olympic Games boxing team and the former Socceroo told Neos Kosmos about Parascos' unique qualities.

"Yianni is a very special young boxer and an Australian Golden Gloves champion," he says. "He is very technical, and skilful and has beautiful flow and movement. He is also a world-class athlete. I'm very honoured and blessed to work with him. His attitude, work ethic, and determination are equal to any of the greatest athletes I've been associated with including footballers David Beckham, Tim Cahill, Tom Rogic, world-ranked Australian boxers George Kambosos Jnr, Jeff Horn, Damien Hooper, Luke Jackson, and my son-in-law UFC star Daniel Hooker."

Parascos says having Bernal as a mentor in his formative years gave him the motivation and the tools to improve as a boxer.
"When I was 13 years old, Andy told me to 'go punch a bag'," he says.

"After seeing me do this he called me a natural. I started taking classes and fell straight into it. From then on, I became dedicated to the sport and started going to competitions around Australia.

"Before boxing I also played soccer, but this was more as a hobby and social activity. I was never serious about sport until I started boxing. My parents couldn't always take me to training sessions, but my father told me if I was really serious about the sport that I should be able to make my own way there – and so I did."

Parascos says without the care of the tight-knit support network in his corner, he would have struggled to have dealt with the arduous process of recovery by himself.

"Both my close family and my coach Andy have supported me," he says. "It was through a lot of positive reinforcement, training, encouragement and in every other possible way they could help. They were always there for me.

"Andy never gave up on me and believed that I would come back. He was always there for me, giving me encouragement the whole time. Once my hand was closed of wounds, I got back into training with Andy. I was basically training with one arm and slowly gaining back my strength, fitness, and confidence. It just felt amazing to get back into it."

Along with Bernal, Parascos also has had the guidance of Greek Australian boxer George Kambosos Jr and the teenager says the number six ranked WBA boxing star has had a profound impact.

"I feel fortunate to be able to train with George as I look up to him," he says. "He has become a great friend, sparring partner, and mentor. George is valuable to my training regime as he provides a lot of insights and advice from someone further down the track in their boxing career. He's a very special fighter, a big star on his way to becoming a world champion so I'm there for him and when I turn professional I'm sure he will be there for me."

After three years of getting back to full fitness, the long road to recovery now sees Parascos with the opportunity to fight for the Australian elite men's boxing team against New Zealand. And the rising star says he is proud to wear the green and gold and in a few years, hopes to showcase his skills on the world's biggest stages.

"I feel privileged and honoured," he says. "It means that I have been recognised as one of Australia's elite in my division, and that my hard work and achievements are paying off. My short-term goals are to fight to my fullest at this week's tournament and to win it.

"My longer term goals are to continuously improve myself so I can keep representing my country in the sport that I love. Representing Australia at an Olympic Games would definitely be a dream come true and something to cherish forever. It would also help in the transition to professional boxing as was the case for the likes of Floyd Mayweather, Roy Jones, Oscar De La Hoya and Muhammad Ali."

Meanwhile Bernal believes his young charge can fulfil his dreams and ambitions. But doesn't shy away from the fact that Parascos must continue to work very hard over the next few years to reach that success, and it starts with taking on New Zealand.

"This week's fight is his first international test," he says. "So it's important for his development and experience and it will further prepare him for bigger events.

"In the next few years he will continue in the amateurs with the World Championships, and the next Olympic Games in 2020 his main goals. It's certainly going to be tough to get there but not impossible, there are no guarantees only that he will give his all in every fight!"

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