In the ring and on the stage

Valentine Lyashenko is a boxer, and also a trainer, coach, massage therapist, and jujitsu and mixed martial arts fighter. Of late, he's lent his expertise to a theater performer. Photo: Masataka Suemitsu
Boxing trainer rolls with the punches for a powerful project

Valentine Lyashenko has taken the art of boxing to the stage. The multidisciplinary trainer/coach and massage therapist — who happens to have a degree in performing arts from City College — lent his talents to “The Wholehearted,” which is being performed at Abrons Arts Center until April 1.

The Kazakhstan native, who came to New York at 14, was asked to train show performer Suli Holum, who plays a championship boxer who marries her trainer, who then attempts to kill her. Although the character is fictitious, Holum’s character is based on the biographies of iconic female athletes.

The Midtown resident trains clients out of a facility in Chelsea and also travels for private sessions. His work varies from athletic-specific training to rehab, body awareness and injury prevention.

As for the future, the 32-year-old wants to continue learning new techniques to pass on to his students and hopes to one day own a gym of his own.

When did you start boxing? What made you go into the sport?

I started boxing around 20 years of age, so about 12 years ago. It was freshman year of college when I started to participate in track and field for health reasons and for athletic purposes. I also wanted to study martial arts.

Tell us about your work in MMA.

So four years ago, I segued. I studied another martial arts for a year called wing chun. That was after I had finished boxing. I did some amateur competitions and my schedule got busy and I could not commit to the boxing team anymore. So I thought I’d try wing chun for a year and that didn’t work out for me, personally. And then I found a mixed martial arts gym where I started doing my work, because I do training and body work, or massage therapy, if you will. I was looking for a space at the time and happened to find it at this dojo. And I started studying there first before I even moved my business there, so that was my way into the mixed martial arts training. So for the last four years, I’ve been studying mixed martial arts — integrated boxing, kickboxing and grappling arts along with wrestling. And I’ve done some jujitsu competitions to build up on that.

Tell us about a standout moment from a competition.

Winning my first boxing match after having lost two. That was quite an experience. It toughens you up when you’re there and you’ve experienced the worst of it. You become a little immune to adversity in the ring or in life. It really crosses over into your life. At that time, I didn’t expect to win, even though I knew I probably did. It was an unbelievable thing. It was the best feeling in the world at that time. All the hard work and training came together for me. And I got out of my brain for the first time. I’m always the hardest critic of myself and always trying to be perfect. And just realizing that life isn’t about perfection, but just trying to do better each time.

Who has been a memorable client you’ve helped?

An older gentleman who was 85 at the time. Big real estate guy, met him through another client of mine. He was looking for a trainer and he, himself, boxed most of his life. His father was a professional boxer. He used training and therapy as a way of getting away from all the stress he was experiencing as that big real estate person and business owner. He knew that the only way to stay physically and mentally capable was to keep training and doing therapy. So we did two hours at a time sometimes, four to five to six times a week to address flexibility, mobility and strength. He had multiple injuries before we met, knee reconstruction, arthritis and had strokes. The one thing he loved was to box. We would go up to 10 rounds sometimes, exchanging body shots. Nothing in the head, of course, because of the injury risk. But people say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but you absolutely can.

How did your involvement in “The Wholehearted” come about?

George Russell is my mentor. He’s a chiropractor and body worker. And he knew Suli and introduced me to her because he knew that I had boxing, training and body-work experience. And he was looking for someone to work with her and help her develop the choreography for the show.

Summarize the show’s plot for us.

The show is about the journey of a female boxer, Dee Crosby. It’s been interpreted, of course, by Suli and the production team. It’s about her lifespan and what she goes through as a female boxer, being in a relationship with an abusive husband/coach. And finding her own way through that world of intensity, aggression and a lot of adversity.

What did your training with Suli entail? Did she have any prior experience?

Well, she’s a mover, which is a big plus. She’s a dancer and performer, so it helps. She obviously was not a boxer to begin with. And we worked at least two to three hours a week for a while when she was developing that first, raw material for the show. We trained in boxing technique and, of course, the boxing choreography, as we went along with the script. I sat in on rehearsals and observed and we did a lot of feedback exchange.