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Rooting for the Underdog

Underdogs Boxing Club is shaking up the image of who can be a boxer.

When someone says “boxing”, what image comes to mind? Maybe Muhammad Ali or Rocky Balboa? Someone who is aggressive, violent, and hyper-masculine? In this image, far too often ideas of inclusivity, community integration, empowerment, and health rarely are take centre ring.

Working to challenge this dynamic, over the past year, from its fundraising efforts to its grand opening in October, Underdogs Boxing Club has gained popularity in St. Catharines. This not-for-profit organization is the first women-lead boxing club in Niagara, using the model of teaching “proper boxing technique, but never get[ting] hit”, and offers adult all genders classes, women and feminine-identifying only classes, as well as youth classes.

In meeting with Underdogs founder and coach, Laura Ip she highlighted that many people’s reaction to the sport is “I would love to learn how to box, but I never want to get hit or I would never step foot in a traditional boxing club because of the environment”. Ip went on to explain that creating that environment means “encouraging, motivating, without crossing the line into motivating … Feeling strong and feeling how powerful you really are. There’s not a single person who comes here who has not at some point indicated how empowering the workout is”.

Knowing the power of boxing to support person’s emotional healing, a core piece of programming taking place at Underdogs is the Shape Your Life Program – an introductory boxing course that is exclusively for women who identify as survivors of violence. Rooted in the perspective that “we believe survivors”, participants are not required to provide any “proof” of violence, and are able to access the program and necessary equipment for free. This program is currently over-subscribed, which Ip explains “it’s this strange bittersweet thing, where everyone says “oh that’s awesome”. And then I’m like “or it sucks” because if that many people need the program”.

Having recently received the Women’s Campus Safety Grant from Brock University, Underdogs can now access a monthly membership $10. Applying to both undergraduate and graduate students, all you need is an active Brock University student card. Assistant coach Laura Hughes spoke to how “financial accessibility is such an important piece” for involving students, and are hoping will be a strong motivator to get people in the door.

As a growing organization, both Ip and Hughes expressed clear interest in developing community partnerships and programming geared towards expanding the club’s mandate, keep the lights on and services running, and truly expand who can feel comfortable in a boxing environment. Programming includes everything The Empowerment Project for women and feminine-identifying youth throughout the spring and summer to booking their space for private groups through their Bachelorette Boxing and Feminist Free-For-All events.

The time to try wrapping your hands and putting on your gloves is now! Whether signing up for a student membership or making it your weekly outing with friends, you book the space for a private event, or you work with a community group looking to develop more programming opportunities – time to shake up the image of who can be a boxer.

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