In the clearing stands a boxer - Phd study tracks recovery from brain injury

Published:23 January 2014

PhD researcher Ragnar Purje pictured with Johnny Famechon (left) and with Assoc Prof Ken Purnell (right)

Former world Featherweight champion boxer Johnny Famechon came through his career as a 1960s sporting legend relatively unscathed, only to be struck by a fast-moving car in 1991.

He was in a coma for three weeks and suffered a stroke. His acquired brain injury left him as limp as a rag doll and wheelchair bound for life.

However, in 1993, with the assistance of mutual friend Frank Quill, Ragnar Purje was able to get in touch with Johnny Famechon and his fiancée (and future wife) Glenys.

Ragnar was able to draw on his studies and training with more than two decades of Goju Karate under his belt.

He informed Johnny and Glenys that he had ideas, based around his physical education, sports sciences and Goju Karate studies, that would possibly help to stimulate Johnny's brain using movement as well as directed and self-initiated thinking as an intervention.

Over the next six years, with growing success, Ragnar visited Johnny on a regular basis – usually once a week for anything up to three hours - to extend his range of movements using a variety of different patterns involving complex movement and debriefing.

“The hope was that we could create new and additional neurological connections and boost the cognitive and physical potential of Johnny,” Ragnar said.

"Within 12 weeks of starting the movements, Johnny took his first steps out of the chair, which eventually led to Johnny and Glenys walking arm-in-arm down the aisle to be married."

More than two decades after the accident, Ragnar was still in touch with Johnny and was looking for a PhD supervisor in the area of classroom behaviour management. He was put in touch with CQUniversity's Associate Professor Ken Purnell, who was also a black belt in Kyokushin Karate.

It did not take Ken long to realise the potential of Ragnar's work with Johnny to form the basis of a much more unique research study, creating genuinely new knowledge about the use of movement as therapy for acquired brain injury.

Ragnar recently made the trek from his home at the Gold Coast to CQUniversity Rockhampton Campus to confirm his PhD topic parameters under Dr Purnell's guidance.

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Image Gallery
(Click on image thumbnail to see full-size image) PhD researcher Ragnar Purje and Assoc Prof Ken Purnell Johnny Famechon pictured during movement therapy Johnny and Ragnar Ragnar and Johnny discuss the therapy Johnny Famechon pictured during his boxing career. Image courtesy Johnny Famechon and Frank Quill from the book 'The Method'