TUXEDO — He drives a BMW, wears designer suits and draws a six-figure salary. So, what's a yupscale guy like Chris Meyer doing in a place like the Round One Boxing Club?
Sweating, straining, breaking his nose (once) and living out his dream of being a contender.
So what if at age 34 he's too old to ever really be a prizefighter? So what if he has to shower twice after his daily 90-minute workouts? For Mr. Meyer and other recreational boxers who frequent this renovated warehouse in Prince George's County, no sport compares.
Many health-conscious men -- and women, though much fewer in number -- who've grown bored by Nautilus machines and spandex-filled health clubs are rapidly turning to the historically working-class sport of boxing for fun and exercise. And they're liking what they find: a stress-busting, weight-reducing, ego-enhancing pastime.
In the last several years, interest in boxing has growndramatically among the white-collar crowd, according to Stephen Acunto, president of the American Association for the Improvement of Boxing in Mount Vernon, N.Y. "It's a wonderful way to get hostility out. These men are in board meetings all day. They probably want to kill somebody in there. Instead, they take it out on the bag."
The object of Mr. Meyer's ire one evening was not his career as a truck salesman, but a personal relationship. "I came in mad at my girlfriend," he explains. "Fifteen minutes into hitting the bag, I wasn't anymore. Now I'm real mellow."
In the past, Mr. Meyer belonged to tonier facilities like the Beverly Hills County Club in California, but when he joined this no-frills gym he was finally able to focus on his real goal: exercising.
"The others are just pick-up places," says Mr. Meyer, who lives in Annapolis. "You just socialize and it costs a ton of money."
At Round One, $50-a-month buys unlimited use of the facilities. Workouts usually include calisthenics, weightlifting, shadowboxing and time spent punching the heavy bags and speed bags. Rap music on the boom box and yellowed fight posters on the walls provide atmosphere.
Not all health clubs in this area, however, are finding that members are eager to come out fighting at the sound of the bell.
The Downtown Athletic Club has seen no recent increase in boxing wannabes, and its punching bag is used only about three times a day, according to spokesman Chris Givvines. Other facilities like Quest Health And Fitness Center in Lutherville and Annapolis Health and Fitness Center have not seen enough interest to warrant buying equipment.
"It's a fad right now," says Dave Bruce, manager of the Annapolis club. "It could be gone in three months."
But to Bobby Glass, boxing is anything but a fad. "It's the ultimate test of wills," says the 22-year-old account associate for a Washington insurance agency. "It's an art, a sweet science."
Since taking up the sport, he says he's received new-found respect from his buddies. "I used to be far from the macho person in my gang," he says. "My friends came and watched a few of my fights. Now they feel different."
But others -- namely his parents -- are less enamored of his hobby. They are so opposed, in fact, he hasn't told them he actually spars.
Peter Schmitz can relate to that. When the 27-year-old sales representative told colleagues he liked boxing, they only had one reaction: "They all thought I was nuts."
Occasionally, the solidly built pugilist is inclined to agree. "There have been days when I've had a bloody nose or headaches and wondered why I do it myself," he admits.
Injuries are always a concern, but particularly for these men who move in worlds where a fat lip is rarely considered a badge of courage. Mr. Schmitz, who frequently spends workdays making sales calls, finds he's more cautious than some other boxers. "With my job, I just can't come in with a black eye," he says.
In addition to developing a well-toned body, a boxing workout is a good way to improve cardiovascular health, increase coordination and develop stamina, says gym owner Adrian Davis, a 46-year-old former welterweight champion.
Mr. Meyer had unsuccessfully tried everything from restrictive diets to jogging before he began boxing 12 years ago and lost 60 pounds. "Now I eat like a horse and never gain weight," he says.
For Mark Miller, boxing was a way to avoid less productive activities. "What else would I do? Go home, crack a beer and turn on the tube," says the 26-year-old engineer from Silver Spring.
Although there are no recreational women boxers at Round One, another facility -- Gleason's Gym in Brooklyn, N.Y. -- is becoming legendary for the actresses, models and businesswomen who have learned to float like butterflies and sting like bees there. In the last 3 1/2 years, 180 women have joined, according to Bruce Silverglade, co-owner.
"These are women who have to stay in shape," he explains. "They are realizing that a boxer is in tiptop athletic shape."
The idea of women boxers -- even recreational ones -- has been controversial in athletic circles. "Nowadays you can't tell a lady not to do anything, but I don't care for it," Mr. Davis says. "I just don't like seeing a lady in the ring."
Yet others wonder whether the influx of white-collar boxers will improve the sometimes shady image of the sport.
Jim Beasley thinks so. "Too many folks have the idea that boxers are the gamblers, the yelling, obnoxious type," says the executive secretary for the Golden Gloves Association of America in Albuquerque, N.M. "Now to have the sport associated with the ranks of doctors, lawyers and businessman enhances its stature."