Fitness with a hook: For women, an unfamiliar ring

December 14, 1993|By Deborah Ramirez | Deborah Ramirez,Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel

A dozen eager disciples are punching the air as they dance around the gym floor.

Something new is going on in this evening boxing class in Dania, Fla. Some of the trainees are women. So is the instructor.

The world of boxing is changing.

More women are finding themselves drawn to this male-dominated sport since the U.S. Amateur Boxing Inc. lifted its ban on women. Acting on a lawsuit filed by Dallas Malloy, a 16-year-old female boxer in Washington state and the American Civil Liberties Union, the association lifted the ban in October.

And, while few women are becoming full-time fighters, the decision means women may fight in sanctioned amateur bouts throughout the country.

Some women are attracted to boxing for self-defense. Others crave the lean-and-mean bodies that come with rigorous training. A few fight for real.

"I need all the protection techniques I can get," says Kimberly Daise, 30, a Dade County prosecutor learning to box at the U.S. 1 Fitness gym in nearby Dania.

A random check in Broward County, Fla., found 10 women taking boxing lessons.

"A few years ago, most women would have thought of boxing gyms as musty, stinking places full of grunts," says Robert First, vice president of Presidential Health & Fitness Club, which oversees the Angelo Dundee Training Center in Hollywood, Fla.

As people become more sophisticated about fitness, many discover that boxing offers one of the most complete and vigorous workouts around, Mr. First says.

Training is not for the faint of heart. Novices huff and puff through exercise sets that run the equivalent of a 3-minute boxing round. Trainees rest only seconds between sets. The entire routine lasts an hour or more.

The workouts involve jogging, shadow boxing, jumping rope, punching bags, speed bags, mitt sparring and one-on-one contact. The training is meant to build coordination, endurance, speed and strength.

Amy McGrotty, 32, a lawyer, was into martial arts before deciding to seek something more challenging. She finds boxing relieves work-related stress. "Some of the girls say 'pretend the punching bag is your boss,' " Ms. McGrotty says.

Some women thrive on the challenge. Nothing quite matches the thrill of connecting a punch.

"Sometimes you throw a punch and you go, 'Wow, that sounds powerful,' and that's exciting," says Jennifer Schechtman, 40, an accountant.

Ms. Schechtman got into boxing because she wanted to lose weight. Her friend, Yolanda Quallo, 41, was bored with aerobics. The two decided to find a personal trainer who would motivate them. Someone hooked them up with Chico Rivas, a boxer and trainer at the Jewish Community Center Contenders Boxing Club in Sunrise, Fla.

Mr. Rivas remembers the first day the women showed up at his boxing club two years ago.

"At first, the guys' reaction was, 'Hey Chico, what's this -- girls in the gym?,'" says Mr. Rivas, a burly man with curly black hair. "Now these ladies have earned their respect."

Ms. Schectman and Ms. Quallo do everything the men do except one-on-one sparring.

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