1. #1

    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    Weight Training
    Hell yeah! Hell no!

    Canada's first and only all-female boxing club in Toronto

    Lara “Needle” Thacker, 27, works the heavy bag at the Newsgirls Boxing Club on Carlaw Ave., Canada’s only women’s boxing gym. Newsgirls’ founder Savoy Howe encourages club members to have nicknames.

    Sport is a knockout

    Women punch up self-esteem and tap into inner strength at Canada's only all-female boxing gym.
    Apr 28, 2007 04:30 AM
    Barbara Turnbull

    The boxing gym looks the way one would expect, with sections for speed bags, heavy bags, stretching and skipping, and a large ring in the centre. Walls are covered with boxing photos and motivational posters. The all-encompassing noise includes multiple buzzers, shouted instructions and the thud of gloved fists slamming against solid weight.

    The pounding music behind the door says you've arrived. Women who walk through it step into a new world of possibilities.

    This is the new home of the Toronto Newsgirls Boxing Club on Carlaw Ave., Canada's first and only all-female boxing club.

    The group was founded by New Brunswick native Savoy Howe and coexisted for eight years with a men's club. When that closed a year ago, Howe seized the opportunity to realize a dream of creating a dedicated space for positive girl power. Newsgirls opened in October.

    Women's boxing is nothing new, although it has a long way to go before reaching a level anywhere close to men's. It's still not even an Olympic sport, although a growing lobby – led by Muhammad Ali's daughter Laila – was recently successful in having it included in the 2012 London Olympics.

    But Howe has carved a unique niche, according to Cathy van Ingen, a Brock University professor who teaches and researches gender and culture in sport.

    "I don't think other boxing clubs would consider it real boxing, because she encourages everybody to get in and do this," van Ingen says of Howe. "She doesn't make you train for six months before you get in the ring. You get in the ring right away. I've never seen that and I've hung out in a lot of different boxing gyms."

    Van Ingen, who is researching aggressive sport and women, is using the Newsgirls' club for three proposed studies.

    "Women get these messages over and over to be as small as you can, to fit into the smallest clothes, eat the smallest portions," she says.

    "This boxing thing is about living large, being strong."

    Women tell her problems seem simpler and that they have a better sense of their body and overall strength after picking up the sport.

    The popular evening and weekend classes at Newsgirls are infused with congeniality, encouragement, praise and admiration. Nicknames are used, often suggested by Howe after she observes newcomers for a class.

    Howe wants rookies to know they are already strong, van Ingen says.

    "She repeats that to new women when they come into the club and you can tell some have never closed their fists and held them up in front of their face before. That's what's so transformative about what Savoy does. (She teaches) there are times when you need to put your fists up and look through them at the world for a little while and how that can be really safe and necessary."

    That's been the experience of Lara Thacker, a 27-year-old secretary, who started boxing with Howe early last year.

    "This has been amazing," says Thacker, who had her first fight just last week, knocking out her opponent in the second round. "I never would have dreamed of coming to a gym so many times a week and starting to really change my diet and shaping my whole outlook on life."

    Fresh on the heels from last weekend's annual Boxing Ontario tournament, which saw 18 Newsgirls get ringside experience and the club's first official match, this week Howe was recognized by the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport with a Breakthrough Award, for pushing the limits and enhancing the participation of girls and women in sport.

    Howe believes anxieties, phobias and eating disorders develop when women suppress their aggression, as they are socialized to do.

    "When women are encouraged or allowed to let out this steam, all of a sudden they start feeling less anxiety, they feel healthier and can deal with things a bit better. I've seen enough proof over the past 14 years that this is true."

    Members agree. "I've never been in such good (physical) shape, but it's also an incredible mental challenge, which to me is the biggest appeal," says Amanda "Snakebite" Gallimore, 24.

    "Even if you don't decide to get into the ring, you are fighting everything inside you that says, `You can't do this,' or `You're tired, take a break.' With boxing, you can't.

    "If you're feeling a little winded when you're hitting the heavy bag, you've got to finish the round no matter what. If you feel like collapsing at the end, you can – as long as you finish the round."

    Renelle "Trigger" Minott, who started boxing to get rid of excess energy, says boxing gives her a mental edge and a different way of looking at the world.

    "It's got my physical conditioning up and also a balance and clarity in the way I think and deal with situations and conflict resolutions. Basically, nothing can bother me now because I just feel balanced and capable."

    What may surprise some is that the aggression stays in the gym. "Rarely do women go and beat somebody up after boxing, because they're too busy feeling good about themselves," Howe says.

    Minott, 26, says she works out frustrations on a heavy bag, rather than overreacting on the spot. "You get it out in a healthy way, then you go and think about things logically. It's like you are starting from a calm place."

    Barb "Rock" Sturrock, a 39-year-old teacher who drives in from north of Barrie, says she sometimes has to convince herself to go, but the effort is worth it every time.

    "I come away like I'm ready for whatever's going on. It's getting in touch with inside. I haven't figured it all out yet, but I will. I like whatever it is. It's all positive."

    As Gallimore puts it: "Before I started boxing, my mind and my body were two separate things. It's something that I've never experienced before. It's one of those intangible, magical things."

    Over and over, the women sing praise for the club's supportive philosophy, one that did not exist in the co-ed gym.

    "When women are in a boxing gym and men are there, women get very small," Howe says. "They kind of shrink in size, especially when men are doing their thing, showing their aggression. When there are no men there, they get to be as big as they are."

    Thacker, known as "Needle" in the gym, says there is a feeling of safety in a women's space. In a co-ed gym, "(Men) come by telling you you're not sweating hard enough or that's not how you do a push-up"

    Men can join Newsgirls' classes Sundays, noon until 2 p.m. Derek Faulconer, a 41-year-old newcomer to boxing, appreciates the non-judgmental, helpful atmosphere. "A man's gym is much more competitive. When you have strong competition as the pillar of the environment, you become an island in the sea – you're all doing your own thing, checking each other out."

    Howe, 40, began boxing in 1992, a new graduate from McMaster University with a degree in theatre. She had just moved to Toronto to try and live as an out-of-the-closet lesbian.

    "At that time, it felt pretty unsafe for gay people...and I knew I needed some form of self-defence. One day, I saw an image in the newspaper of a woman wearing boxing gloves...and a bell went off."

    She joined the Toronto Newsboys Boxing Club, changing in the broom closet, and got hooked on the speed bag. For several months, the men either ignored her or tried to scare her off, one hitting her so hard she did stay away for two weeks. But in a story mirroring the Oscar-winning movie Million Dollar Baby, one coach finally decided to show her a few techniques.

    Howe immediately impressed him with her right hook and style and had a debut fight that same year in Toronto's second female bout sanctioned by Boxing Ontario.

    For the next eight years she taught competitive and recreational boxing, quickly gathering 150 members, made up of women of all sizes, shapes, backgrounds and ages. The youngest member is 14, the oldest in her 50s.

    Money isn't a motive for Howe. "I'm just above the poverty line, but I'm eating."

    With an official provincial win for the Toronto Newsgirls, it's full steam ahead. "It's like they got the key to the clubhouse," says van Ingen, "and it's their own clubhouse this time."

    See torontonewsgirls.com for more information.


  2. #2
    leere_form's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    Hell yeah! Hell no!
    it's unfortunate that women are apparently made to feel so unwelcome in co-ed gyms, but anyone learning to box is still a good thing.

    i think most guys are just ignorant of how to treat the women they train with. the only woman who comes to our bjj class is pretty new, so i'm being more careful with her based on that and also because she's smaller and weaker.

    which is exactly what i do for new male students who are smaller and weaker.

    and if she came onto the mat the first day big, strong, and aggressive i'd choke the **** out of her, just like i would anyone else. so i feel like i'm pretty much doing everything i can to preserve egalitarianism out on the mat.

    anyway that's my relatively ignorant opinion. any girls out there have good advice for making co-ed gyms friendlier to women...?

  3. #3

    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    I request to be banned
    Hell yeah! Hell no!
    "I don't think other boxing clubs would consider it real boxing, because she encourages everybody to get in and do this," van Ingen says of Howe. "She doesn't make you train for six months before you get in the ring. You get in the ring right away. I've never seen that and I've hung out in a lot of different boxing gyms."
    So she doesn't make you learn any techniques, you just get to jump into a ring and star wind-milling around?

    "When women are in a boxing gym and men are there, women get very small," Howe says. "They kind of shrink in size, especially when men are doing their thing, showing their aggression. When there are no men there, they get to be as big as they are."
    I think this might be subconscious if anything. At my gym, everyone goes at their own pace, and if we partner up there is usually enough girls for them to get a female partner, or at least someone who isn't twice their size. There are also women only classes.

    I have only been to one gym (the one where I am at), and the instructors are always looking out for the women's interest (they are a big part of the dojo's bread and butter). I imagine there are some meat head boxing gyms out there, but I can't help but wonder if the gym owner just doesn't like men training in the same gym, and uses the typical "displays of male physical power make women feel violated" poltically correct crap as an excuse.


Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts

Log in

Log in