Members, coach talk about sense of community fostered through practices
Three days a week, approximately 100 members of the UC Davis Boxing Club gather upstairs in the ARC pavilion to practice. Each practice spans two hours and involves a combination of warm-up drills, boxing instruction, hard drills and sparring, ending in a sweaty mess. Members’ level of experience ranges from years of boxing experience to those who have never participated in a sport before.
The boxing club was founded 12 years ago by a UC Davis graduate student who happened to be an amateur boxer and who later brought on the former coach, Hector Lopez. The club competes under the same rules as regular amateur boxing as part of the National Collegiate Boxing Association Western Division. In previous years, the club has produced several national champions in a variety of weight classes and in both the male and female categories.
Second-year biomedical engineering major Liz Metzger had years of experience under her belt when she decided to join the club. Metzger had been fighting since the age of three, practicing karate for 11 years and krav maga for three. When Metzger came to UC Davis, she sought out a similar environment and decided to join the boxing club during the winter quarter of her freshman year.
Third-year economics major Mansoor Ahmadi joined for similar reasons. A wrestler since middle school, Ahmadi has always had an affinity for contact sports. When he heard about the boxing club after transferring to UC Davis as a junior, he decided to join. So far, he’s loved his experience.
“I like it because it’s like a skill, it’s like art,” Ahmadi said. “You’re learning something new. For me, it’s self investment: I’m investing in myself, I’m learning something. I think for me it helps me with school too — it keeps my mind clear. I’m always more focused when I’m doing exercise.”
Despite only starting a quarter ago, Ahmadi is committed to working towards competing. Although his busy schedule means that competing this year is not an option, he hopes to be able to compete starting in December.
“I like competing in the things that I do,” Ahmadi said. “I feel like that’s how you can make yourself better.”
Metzger is also in the training stage as she works towards competing at a local amateur boxing gym in May. Despite her strong background, she spent a quarter and a half working on basics before she began to work with Coach Joel Stern toward competing. And throughout the process, Metzger feels she has found a strong community among the team.
“I love my team — obviously I love these people so much,” Metzger said. “Everyone’s just been really nice and it’s the same environment that I’ve always had with competitive fighters who are very friendly. You can’t be mean and then let people punch you, you know it doesn’t work out. So, everyone’s really nice and everyone’s really dedicated to what they’re doing.”
Not everyone decides to compete though, according to third-year electrical engineering major and club president Elliott Napier. Becoming a competitive boxer at the amateur or collegiate level is a huge commitment, he says, and it requires a lot of discipline on the part of the students themselves. Currently only nine students are working towards competing, with most of them hoping to compete in the fall.
“You need to put in some serious training if you’re going to go into a fight, because the other guy in there is basically trying to take you out for six minutes,” Napier said. “So, you have to be serious about the sport if you want to compete.”
The club operates on a framework that allows members to choose their level of commitment. Those who want to compete can do so if they want, but plenty of members join the club just to learn more about boxing while getting in a good workout and choose to never compete or take part in sparring during practices.
Stern works hard to make sure this dynamic is maintained. As a seasoned boxer with four years of coaching the club under his belt, Stern understands that not every student comes into the club wanting to be a competitive boxer.
“I understand that not everyone’s going to be a fighter because that’s a very particular person, and it’s an extremely difficult thing,” Stern said. “But I wanted to give everyone here an opportunity to do something that you don’t ordinarily do in life. From day one, I talk about how everyone here is a boxer, and we respect everyone. We’re here to learn about boxing — this isn’t a fighting place, this is a place to get in good shape, test yourself, learn about yourself and help everyone else improve.”
Stern also dedicates time outside of practice to work with students who want to compete. He began working at UC Davis nine years ago, starting as an assistant coach and later taking over as the official coach for the club.
“It’s been one of the great experiences of my life working with the students and developing them,” Stern said. “Not just [as] successful boxers, but through the process of being a boxer, you really learn a lot about yourself and you strengthen yourself, you know, for the rest of the challenges in life. Getting the students through that process and having success and then seeing them go on and have success in their life has been really rewarding.”
For many students, it’s that sense of community fostered by team members that keeps them motivated and makes the experience so rewarding. During practice, team members shout words of encouragement to each other to help keep spirits up. They work with each other to ensure that even when club members have off days they can still make progress at their own pace.
“There’s the most sense of community out of any club I’ve been in, which I thought was strange, because I thought it was a bunch of people that are trying to punch each other in the face three times a week,” Napier said. “But, there’s a weird kind of friendship that you build off of that. Some of my best friends here are all from the boxing club.”
The Boxing Club practices Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 5-7 p.m. in the ARC Pavilion.
Written by: Priya Reddy — firstname.lastname@example.org