How Underdogs Boxing Club Is Supporting My Mental Health

I never thought I would take up boxing as a sport.

When I imagined boxing, I thought of pain, violence, and getting hit.

I had misconceptions about what boxing was and if there was room for me in a sport like this. Even with training in Muay Thai for years, the stereotypes and messaging surrounding boxing had stuck.

I never thought I would take up boxing as a sport. Or that boxing would be exactly the therapy I needed.

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I joined Underdogs Boxing Club in October of 2017 when the club first opened it's doors.  

When I heard that a women-led boxing club would be opening in the Niagara region to teach technical boxing skills, in an inclusive environment, without any contact, my misconceptions about the sport started to fade. I knew I had to get involved.

This space has been exactly what I've been looking and hoping for: somewhere for the underdogs, somewhere that's safe, and somewhere with a focus and vision for empowerment, resiliency, and building a body-mind connection. 

Founder, President, and Head Coach Laura Ip approaches her coaching style with encouragement, compassion, her years of experience, and fun. In the first week of Underdogs being open I attended 5 classes in a row. That's how hooked I was.

If you're worried (like I was) about doing something wrong, "looking silly," not being athletic enough, or not having boxing experience, rest assured that Underdogs and the club's coaching style will be an incredible fit to support where you are on your emotional, mental, and physical journey. 

What I love about Underdogs and Laura's coaching style is that progress seems so possible when encouragement is at the forefront. 

In addition to the membership classes, Underdogs Boxing Club is also home to the Shape Your Life program. For ten years Shape Your Life has been helping women and feminine-identifying survivors of physical trauma in Toronto work through their experiences by helping participants reclaim control of their bodies and reconnect their bodies & minds. Now with a home in Niagara at Underdogs, the Shape Your Life program provides a space for women in our community to work through their experiences of violence in a trauma-informed, women-led, and inclusive environment. 

What Underdogs offers me and its members is a space to be grounded in the Right Now. When you're focusing on form, landing each punch, remembering each combination, and moving your feet and hands simultaneously (and the bag is swinging, and your arms hurt...) there isn't any room to think about your to-do list, what happened at work, or what you're anxious about. 

When I'm working on the heavy bag I feel more connected to my body than I ever have before. I become more aware of who I am. More aware of how connected my body and mind are. And more assured in my own resiliency and ability to overcome past trauma. 

What surprised me most about boxing is how empowered I felt almost immediately. Even the first few awkwardly-thrown, not-quite-correct form, light and tentative punches were my first steps toward this exciting, at-times surprising, non-linear path to freedom. 

After two months of enjoying classes as a member and being involved with Underdogs as a Director on the Board, Laura asked me to join the team as her Assistant Coach. With teaching and supporting others as my passion and direction with my own work, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to be involved in this way. Coaching our members and witnessing their progress is one of the biggest joys in my week.

One thing I know for sure: We are all stronger and more capable than we know. 

Your first class is free with a donation of a non-perishable food item to Gillian's Place. We show you how to wrap your hands, we have gloves you can borrow, and coach you proper boxing technique. We laugh, we punch, we sweat. We're a community. 

And we’re celebrating ONE YEAR on October 1st! Click here to read more about how you can be a part of our second year offering discounted memberships to people experiencing poverty, affordable youth and family programming, and providing a welcoming and inclusive space for everyone.

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Laura Liz Hughes

Laura Hughes is a Niagara-based community educator, poet, and motivational speaker delivering equity and arts-based programming to youth, educators, and organizations on leadership and team-building, addressing & ending sexual violence, supporting students' mental health and wellness, building and supporting girls’ and women’s resiliency, teaching inclusive sexual health education, and creating consent culture. Her Master’s of Education research focused on queering sex education to centre queer, non-binary, and trans youth in Ontario’s Health and Physical Education Curriculum and in classrooms across the province. She is a trained counsellor for sexual violence survivors and advocate for creating space for our stories and experiences to be shared. Laura has facilitated over 60 workshops across Southern Ontario to elementary, secondary, college and university students and is currently booking for Fall 2017 - Spring 2018.