Berkshire Boxing Club welcomes everyone into the ring
The lobby of the Berkshire Boxing Club is buzzing. Just before class, while we’re lacing up our shoes and wrapping our knuckles and wrists with 180-centimeter strips of cotton, the crew is talking about the recent heavyweight upset at Madison Square Garden. Andy Ruiz Jr., a relatively unknown heavyweight with short arms and a love for Snickers bars, has soundly beaten Anthony Joshua—the chiseled heavyweight champ out of the UK—claiming the four titles that were Joshua’s (WBA, IBF, WBO, IBO). Some of us boxers are proud of Ruiz, the chubby underdog, for taking down the cocky Brit. Others are incensed, almost insulted that an out-of-shape fighter could beat boxing’s Adonis. Genève Brossard, Berkshire Boxing Club’s founder and head coach, listens to the banter and chimes in.
“You know what happened? Joshua gave up. He just gave up,” she says. “That’s what I love about this sport. Anything can happen. Any. Thing.”
Brossard’s not wrong. The boxers at the Berkshire Boxing Club in Great Barrington are—to say the absolute least—a diverse group of old and young, men and women, desk jockeys and laborers, black, white, brown, big, little. What we all have in common is a love for the sport, and for the lifestyle that almost naturally follows once you start boxing even a few times a week.
“There’s a lot more than boxing going on here,” says Katarina Goldenberg, whose husband happened to find the Boxing Club on Instagram. “Everyone is so welcoming, yet we hold each other accountable in terms of our own progression. I didn’t expect to stick with it like I have. I definitely didn’t expect to be sparring regularly.”
Goldenberg joined the Club in its infant phases, nearly three years ago. At the time, it was a floating program—borrowing space from CrossFit Great Barrington, then Berkshire Pulse in Housatonic—comprised of a core dozen of slightly crazy but consistent boxers training under Brossard, herself a two-time New York Golden Gloves and an NY State Empire Games Champion. (She began boxing training at the famed Gleason’s gym in Brooklyn in 1999.)
The boxers kept showing up, some of us trained in basements when the program was “in-between” locations. Still, more came, nearly forcing Brossard, who says she really had no intentions of making this her life’s work, into seeking out a true home. And nearly all of us boxers—dragging out friends and family—turned out to paint walls, polish floors, hang equipment, lay out rubber matting, and assemble our beloved boxing ring, knowing full well that if you build it, they will come.
“It’s amazing how many people are coming out of the woodwork to be here. They’re excited about boxing,” says Brossard. “Of all the things boxing is for me, trendy isn’t one of them. To do it takes so much discipline and devotion and practice. It’s not a casual thing, and it can’t be half-assed. You have to make a real fist!”
She’s right. On a humid, miserably hot summer afternoon, the elite boxing class convenes for training. Sweat is pouring from our faces while we work quick punches, then power punches, then non-stop punches on the many heavy bags hanging by chains from a steel rig. In the ring, two boxers are sparring, their goal this round is changing height and fluid head movement. The headgear amplifies the heat. In the next room—filled with kettle bells, dumb bells, bar bells, a pull-up rig, padded benches, yoga mats, and still more sweaty bodies—the Hybrid Fitness class is practicing deadlifts and burpees. Looking around, it’s hard to imagine that less than a year ago, the space was a bedding store.
“I wasn’t surprised with how many people showed up immediately to check the place out, and join,” says Matt Scapin, who teaches Hybrid Fitness (strength and conditioning) and Olympic & Powerlifting multiple times a week at the Club. “This is a really good spot, and there’s nothing around here like it. It fits so perfectly to have the boxers lifting and doing conditioning and the lifters trying out a boxing class.”
In addition to these classes, and the boxing, the Club offers yoga and stretching classes, body movement and core strengthening, morning boot camp, road work (running) and private sessions with the trainers. Oftentimes, boxers will come into their training already soaked with sweat from a conditioning class. Or leave a heavy sparring session, slam back a recovery drink, and hit the yoga mats. There’s always work to be done.
“That’s the heart,” says Brossard. “People showing up over and over again, who are willing to be beginners for months. God, they are so brave. That’s the foundational part of this experience. People’s bravery.”