Five Years After Accident, Balletto Continues to Inspire

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It’s been 5-years since his tragic accident. But Gary Balletto continues to inspire. 

Anyone who needs a serious attitude adjustment should spend an hour or so with Gary “Tiger” Balletto–the former professional boxer.

In the ring, he racked up an impressive 31-3-2 record. He appeared on season two of the ESPN television show “The Contender”, which gave him national exposure.

But his ability to overcome adversity outside of the ring that’s made Balletto a hero to so many Rhode Islanders.

Tomorrow marks the fifth anniversary of his tragic accident. On June 30th of 2013 Gary was showing his son a gymnastic move in his backyard. At that point, his boxing career had ended, but he was training to make an appearance on the television show “American Ninja Warrior”.

Then disaster struck.

A Symbol of Perseverance 

Balletto fell and struck his head on the ground. He fractured three vertebrae in his neck.

Balletto underwent a 5-hour operation and was placed in a medically induced coma. He came out of it a quadriplegic, confined to a wheelchair.

It would have been easy to lose hope. But that’s not Balletto.

On a late, sunny Monday morning this week, the 43-year-old Balletto is just arriving at Anytime Fitness in Johnston. Most folks dread Mondays, especially just before their workouts. But Balletto is all smiles. He enters the gym and greets his trainer, Joe Desjardins and the other staff.

They don’t waste much time. In fact, they get right to their workout.

Moving Forward

Balletto can lift some serious weight for someone with his disability. At one point on Monday, he was Military pressing (lifting directly over his head from his chest) 60 pounds.

“Gary is really breaking the rules of being a quadriplegic. A quadriplegic shouldn’t be able to lift weights like that. But that’s Gary so it makes sense in a way,” said Desjardins. “He’s able to lift more than some people who aren’t disabled.”

He lifts weights at Anytime Fitness 3 days per week. Balletto heads over to the YMCA in Cranston, his hometown, where he also performs workouts.  

Breaking The Rules

Balletto is focusing on becoming as strong as he possibly can. He’s trying to get the most he possibly can out of his body. And he hasn’t given up hope that he will one day walk again.

Balletto might not have the use of his legs, but he hasn’t lost his ambition. He just keeps on moving forward, he said, intent on making each day better than the one that preceded it.

This year is turning out to be a big year for Balletto. He’s looking forward to the release of his documentary, “Tiger” about his boxing career, which contains footage after his accident. It’s being produced by Rhode Islander Eric Latek.

Tiger: The Movie

“This movie is basically 16-years in the making”, said Gary.

The movie also features his efforts to start a boxer’s union. For so long, so many fighters have decried the fact that there is no union. That’s created a sport where those at the zenith of the sport, like Floyd Mayweather Jr, make $50 million pay days, but those even at the top of the sport struggle to survive.

Gary Balletto has inspired so many Rhode Islanders thanks to his perseverance in the face of a tragic accident.

So many fighters are forced to train without the benefit of health insurance.

“I’ve often said that no fighter should have to train without health insurance,” said Balletto.

Unfortunately, his efforts weren’t successful.

Making Things Better

“There’s just too many promoters to try and get everyone together and on the same page.”

Balletto even flirted with running for city council in Cranston earlier this year, but ultimately decided against a bid.

“I was registered as a Republican, but I really wanted to run as a Democrat. I have political beliefs that align with both parties, but I thought that I was a better fit with the Democrats. But I missed the deadline to disaffiliate, so I would have had to run as an independent,” said Balletto.

Political Career?

“The whole thing was being done with an eye towards running for Mayor in 2020.”

Balletto, however, said he isn’t ruling out running for office in the future.

“We’ll see,” he said.

Russell Moore
Russell J. Moore is the publisher and founder of rirelevant.com. He’s been writing about Rhode Island since 2005. You should definitely follow him on twitter @russmoore713. If you want to send him email, you can send it to russmoore713@gmail.com
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