Pacific Northwest | May 15, 2005Pacific Northwest MagazineMay 15, home Home delivery

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Workouts With PUNCH
Boxing offers it all, from getting strong to finding calm


Long before the movie 'Million Dollar Baby' brought female boxing into the limelight, Carla Wilcox was coaching and sparring with students. Wilcox, a professional flyweight, teaches classes at her Seattle Boxing Studio on Capitol Hill.
Long before the movie "Million Dollar Baby" brought female boxing into the limelight, Carla Wilcox was coaching and sparring with students. Wilcox, a professional flyweight, teaches classes at her Seattle Boxing Studio on Capitol Hill.

Whether the sound of gloved fists hitting punching bags is symphony or cacophony . . . well, that depends on your appreciation of The Sweet Science. But when boxing coach Carla Wilcox directs, the 20 students arranged about her Capitol Hill basement studio respond with fervor and fists. "Double!" BAPBAP "Four punches!" BAPBAPBAPBAP "Single!" BAP.

They will pummel away like this for two to three minutes until a high-pitched bell sounds and allows them to pause and let their arms go limp. After 30 seconds, the bell sounds again, and they are back at it.

Wilcox, a professional flyweight, takes turns sparring with members of the class. She holds big mitts called focus pads that she uses to sweep over a student's head and receive punches. As she does, she shouts tips, like keep the left up, don't forget the legs, but also the punch combinations.

Her gym, the Seattle Boxing Studio, near the corner of Broadway and East Pike, is a little hard to find. There is no sign out front, only the address number, 1432, on a green door. You have to push the doorbell and get buzzed in. Even then, you have to wander down unmarked stairs and at the bottom slide open a heavy steel door. Wilcox wants it that way. When she's training someone or leading class, she is all business.

Workouts From Boxing's Greatest Champs

Take it from the champs

"Workouts From Boxing's Greatest Champs" (Ulysses Press, $14.95) gives a glimpse of how the big boys prepare for a fight. Author and prizefighter Gary Todd has compiled training plans, from shadowboxing to jumping rope, from the likes of Muhammad Ali, Roy Jones Jr. and Christy Martin.

The book also quizzes fighters about roadwork and rest. Todd's focus is on getting ready for a bout, one of the most taxing things in competitive athletics. But his book also illustrates methods that may help you get strong, lose weight, find better balance.

Before she lets anybody in a class, she works with him or her one-on-one. She wants to make sure each person is in some sort of shape, somewhat grounded in fundamentals and there for the right reason. During the Saturday class I watched, she took turns in the ring with fighters ranging from a 17-year-old with a pop in his gloves to a big, older man who is using boxing to shed weight to middle-aged moms.

One of the students who climbed in the ring with her was Kellis Borek, a 46-year-old business and employment lawyer. Before she met Wilcox four years ago, Borek thought boxing was "vulgar," but now she watches Friday-night fights. She was working with a personal trainer, trying to get back into shape after the birth of her son. One day, the trainer canceled and Wilcox filled in and suggested they play around a little with boxing.

"I said to myself, 'Oh, no, I don't want to do this,' " Borek recalls. "I mean, I was someone who spent 15 years doing the Stairmaster at the WAC (Washington Athletic Club). Boxing? But I was hooked immediately. It is stimulating. You have to work on technique and do it right. It gets your heart pumping. And it works out some of the stress of my job."

It wasn't her arms that bore the brunt of that first workout. Her thighs burned the next day. As Wilcox reminds her boxing students, the sport is about the core — and legs carry most of the load. It took Borek two years to feel comfortable with her technique.

She hasn't traded real punches and may very well never do so. It's a workout and a mental challenge, and she appreciates the skill and hard work boxing takes. Forget reading or watching TV while you churn on the Stairmaster. This takes focus.

Wilcox, 36, began boxing 25 years ago and turned pro at 32. Her career is on hold as she recovers from an injury sustained in a car accident, and she says she may never step back in the ring. She's enjoying teaching.

"I wasn't a natural at it," she says. "But I could see people around me taking their skills to another level and finding the calm in the sport. I was attracted to that."

Her students spend considerable time jumping rope, shadowboxing, doing taxing endurance and core work. Then, she says, they work on their dance — foot movement, hand-eye coordination, and the mind-body connection. "It's part of the dance that they create," she says. "I show them how to move like Oscar de la Hoya, and bob low like Mike Tyson and like Ali, moving in and out."

To find out more, call 206-931-7989.

Richard Seven is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff writer. He can be reached at Dean Rutz is a Seattle Times staff photographer.