Contender Community

At The American Boxer, our mission is to create a vibrant community of contenders, from all walks of life. We believe that boxing—and other forms of movement—help break down barriers between people. It’s not about fighting: It’s about stepping into any ring, transforming adversity into opportunity. We’re here to share stories from all types of contenders around the world.


How a Boxing Gym Creates Community

Boxing is a sport based in trust and respect with both yourself and your competitors. From the moment you start sparring with someone, you’re immediately entering a state of mutual trust and respect. You’re trusting them to not punch too hard, to respect your boundaries and where you are in boxing right now. And yes, sometimes a rogue punch will net you a black eye in a session, but respecting your sparring partner enough to come back again is part of the process. 

Boxing gyms aren’t just places where fighters hone their craft. They’re hubs for a small but vibrant community—one that is open to anyone. Eastside Boxing Club, a not-for-profit gym located in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, has been bringing new fighters through its doors since it opened in 2012. Some are the people you would expect to see in the gym: hungry young men who want to put their stamp on the world. But they’re not alone. They’re joined by veteran boxers who’ve been in this sport long enough that they know boxing isn’t just about a desire to win against an opponent, it’s about respecting that opponent as well as yourself. There are single moms looking for a lost sense of confidence, busy thirty-somethings who feel disconnected from their bodies and from their communities. Boxing brings them together to form friendships while sweating out frustrations on the heavy bag and sparring in the ring. 

“My support crew is my colleagues: the people I train with. We spend so much time together, we push each other, and we’re in this together. We grow together, we cry together. It’s pretty special.” -Andrea Davis 

On the surface, boxing seems like it’s about winning: Who can be judged the best, or knock out an opponent. But lose a bout, and you begin to realize that it was never about that. “You're excited for the people who win, but it isn’t really about that,” says boxing coach and Pilates instructor Verena Pelletier. “I lost my first fight and I was absolutely gutted. I felt like I let down my coaches and I let down my friends. But after a few days of feeling sorry for myself, I realized that those people were still in my corner, regardless of the outcome. They were proud because I stepped into the ring, not because of any one result. That kind of support and community mean so much.”

Even in the toughest times, having that community around is what keeps these contenders in the ring. “My other brother—Shoyan—isn’t related to me, but he’s family,” says Dalis Gures. "Whenever I feel like quitting, he tells me, ’No, you can’t quit right now.’”  

And for Shoyan, mentoring Dalis has been a way of paying it forward, since he had similar struggles before finding the boxing gym: “Boxing has changed my life significantly. Growing up, I was a troubled youth. I wasn’t a bad kid, but my friends and I would get into a lot of mischief,” says Shoyan Wright. “A lot of my friends from then unfortunately are now addicts or criminals, but through boxing, I found a safe haven to channel my anger and any unresolved emotions through the gym. Being around people who have a more positive outlook on life has made a difference.”  

In the martial arts, and especially boxing, you’re quickly thrust into close contact with people, and it feels unnatural at first. Especially as an adult, when was the last time you were clinging to a stranger, foreheads pressed closely together? That’s likely to happen on day one at the boxing gym. “You have to get right in there,” says Pelletier. “At first, you’re constantly thinking that the close contact with someone doesn't feel comfortable. And then, you’re not thinking about it, because you’ve become comfortable.” And that comfort with direct contact and confrontation extends far beyond the doors of the gym: Most successful people in business have some kind of sport background that pushes them to these moments of discomfort and growth. 

“Training has changed my life in huge ways. I’ve become stronger, I stand a little bit taller, I’m a little bit calmer, and I feel like I’m a role model in my community,” says Lana Flood. People at work, my friends, anyone I talk to—it’s a fun sport and I can start a conversation about it with anyone.”

Right now, loneliness is a problem of epidemic proportions in North America. Researchhas shown that nearly a third of adults feel lonely, and this number has almost certainly increased in the last two years. But finding a sport that has a close connection, like boxing, can create instant connection and belonging.

On the surface, boxing seems like a solo sport. But in reality, every successful fighter has a strong community behind him. While Dalis may be sprinting alone in the mornings, the bulk of his training happens with sparring partners or a coach in the ring or at the gym, and when he fights, he might be in the ring alone, but he’s surrounded by a community that doubles as a family.  

“My PE teacher saw me get in a fight and told me I should try boxing, and he signed me up for East Side Boxing Club,” says Dalis. “It gave me a place to go and train when I felt sad. I started believing in myself.” Since then, he’s become one of the top young boxers in BC—but the gym isn’t just about creating champions. The focus is on empowering anyone to step into the ring and become a contender.  

"I have a great community in boxing. My whole entire life has changed, and a big part of that is because I found a community in the boxing gym,” Pelletier explains. "There’s a connection that comes from moving and sweating with other people that you can’t get any other way. And something like boxing where you’re growing with other people, becoming more confident alongside them, creates a strong bond.”  

“Outside of the gym, boxing has given me more patience and confidence to deal with challenges that are outside,” says Andrea Davis. "It’s something we talk about a lot in the gym: These tough situations that we put ourselves in when we’re sparring or wrestling, that’s going to make a difference outside managing life’s challenges.”  

It sounds counterintuitive, but something about trying to hit someone in the face can create an instant bond—as can having your most personal details shared dispassionately on the chalkboard at the gym. At first, it may not feel comfortable. But that trust and respect builds almost instantly as you realize that you’re not the only one feeling this way. And you start to push through.

“What pushes me is showing my girls what it’s like to fight. Fight in life outside of the gym and fight for myself inside of the gym. Strength comes in a lot of different ways, and the only way to become  stronger is to push through the times you want to quit the most.” -Andrea Davis 

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