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Moncton boxing club hopes to encourage more females to join

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With members of all ages, sizes and genders taking over the gym at FISTS Boxing Club, it’s about more than just learning how to throw the perfect punch.

For many of the members, it’s about gaining confidence.

“When I was 12 to 14, you’re not really comfortable in your skin,” said two-time Canadian National Champion Alyssa Pellerin-Boudreau. “Honestly, as a girl, your body changes and you don’t know where to put yourself so boxing brought that confidence in being OK in your body and say, ‘You can be strong and it’s actually nice and fun to be strong.’”

Training is also about pushing personal boundaries.

“I like it a lot,” said 15-year-old Claudia Maniraguha, who joined the club last year. “I expected it to be hard, but it’s a lot more cardio than I expected.”

Another key theme of boxing is helping pave the road for others.

“It is the first time women have been allowed to compete in boxing at the Canada Games, so it’s real exciting for all the women from every province and all women in boxing,” said 16-year-old Lily Brown, who has been boxing since she was only 9-years-old.

Entering uncharted territories, Brown is hoping for a win as one of the first females to compete in the ring in P.E.I. in just a few weeks.

“I think it’s just important to show that anyone can do it,” she said. “Just because you’re a woman doesn’t mean you have to do more dainty sports or even just not do sports at all.”

Brown admits she’s a little nervous to be taking on such a significant competition so close to home with familiar fans in the stand, but she’s trained for this.

“Honestly, when I’m in there, you don’t really think. It’s all left down to what your body remembers. It’s all muscle memory,” she said. “When I do think in there, it’s remembering how to breath correctly and move. Remember to throw your combinations and move.”

“It’s good discipline, it’s a good workout. It really tells you a lot about yourself, especially when you’re getting ready to do the sparing,” said coach Jeremy Orr. “That’s another level, and competition is a different level altogether.”

He says, overall, boxing just helps bring out the best in people and FISTS has always focused on more than just the sport.

“It’s always been about kids that have trouble, that’s what FISTS stands for, its ‘First In Stopping Tough Streets, and it’s a real home for kids to come and just make connections with the people and get that discipline,” he said.

Although Brown has competed in the past, finding other women to fight against isn’t always easy.

“There’s not a lot of females in the sport, which I never really understood why,” said Maniraguha. “I guess it’s always been seen as a guys’ sport because it’s fighting so it’s more manly, I guess, but I think girls should be doing it too because I don’t see a difference.”

Maniraguha has been begging her mom for two years to join the sport. Now it’s an activity they do together.

“I would recommend this sport because it makes you feel a lot more confident, just knowing that you’re capable of defending yourself, plus it’s a good workout… honestly it’s just a good sport,” she said.

Although she plans to pursue medicine when she’s older, Maniraguha is hopeful boxing is something she can stick with as well, with plans to compete in just a few months.

“If I’m in boxing, then I’m not thinking of anything negative at all, because I’m completely distracted,” she said.

However, now it’s about finding someone who she can compete against. It’s a problem that Pellerin-Boudreau ran into when she competed as well.

“I’d say that’s pretty much where the difficulty was in training,” she said. “You’re always training with guys and not girls and it’s different. Fighting a guy is different because they’re most likely more heavier then you, faster than you and then when you go to fight a girl that’s actually your height, it’s different. You’re not going to use the same techniques as much.”

Pellerin-Boudreau eventually went on to win two Canadian National Championships in 2005 and 2007.

“Jump in, don’t be afraid,” she said, offering advice to upcoming boxers. “Everyone is here to train and be accepted.”

However, getting more females involved is something that FISTS is hoping to change.

Classes run Monday, Wednesday and Fridays from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m., along with special sparing classes every second Saturday.

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