The scene outside Bulldog Alley on a Tuesday evening is laid-back: Students mingle near Chick-fil-A or Crop Chop, lingering around the tables with open books. Step inside the multipurpose studio, however, and one immediately feels a figurative and literal change in temperature. Students jump rope, juke, and spar to the tune of hip-hop and Latin music, working up a sweat while remaining genial with one another. This is the paradox that is Georgetown Club Boxing: intense, yet easygoing.
“We’re both a competitive and a social team,” said Camille Hankel (COL ’18), captain of the team. “On the competitive level, the goal is to win nationals. It always is. On a broader level, the goal is to have an environment where people are welcome, engaged, and excited about boxing.”
Analena DeKlotz (COL ’21), treasurer of the club, described her preconceived notions of a boxer completely changing upon joining the organization.
“Totally shattered,” DeKlotz said of her previous image of a typical boxer. “There are people from everywhere, every school, every background, every discipline in there.”
Since its founding in 2007, Georgetown Club Boxing has grown from a handful of sparrers into an organization that boasts more than 40 members. Of those 40 members, said Henkel, 10 are routine participants in competitive events while an additional 15 to 20 are aspiring competitors. Volunteer John Garry coaches the team, which practices four days a week in addition to conditioning sessions. Georgetown Boxing typically competes in several local events leading up to a national competition run by the United States Intercollegiate Boxing Association (USIBA). Since the NCAA abolished varsity boxing in 1960 following an athlete’s death, student-led clubs have assumed the mantle of the sport.
While club boxing has filled the void of a former Division I activity, key differences remain between the team and an ordinary varsity squad. Namely, there are no cuts on Georgetown Boxing.
“The club level is somewhat rising to replace the varsity level,” Henkel said. “[But] we are very inclusive: We don’t have tryouts, because most people come in without any boxing experience.”
Georgetown Boxing’s wide umbrella belies the team’s competitiveness, as the club recently captured three title belts from the USIBA National Championships in Champaign, Illinois. The event’s format presents a unique physical challenge, as boxers routinely fight in back-to-back matches, as opposed to smaller tournaments where the fights are more staggered. Furthermore, the national tournament features strict weight classes, whereas normally, tournaments pit fighters against others who match their weight more loosely.
Club members describe boxing as altogether satisfying and grueling, as a tight-knit community that works together to make weight and stay in shape. Yet this process can be daunting and even stressful, especially around competition time.
“This was more of a struggle right before nationals,” Karleigh Gause (SFS ’20) said. “I had to cut 10 pounds. I had to make sure I was only eating fruits and vegetables, eggs, low-carb, high-protein diet. It’s definitely made me more aware of how I need to regulate my intake of food.”
Gause’s first two fights were at nationals. Even as a three- sport athlete in high school, nothing could prepare her for the gravity of the moment inside the ring.
“I was nervous. I hadn’t experienced that sort of pressure before. I had been in individual sports before, but the individual sports I had done didn’t single you out as much,” Gause said.
“Your mind kind of just goes blank.”
But Gause remembers her coach’s clear directive from the sidelines: “Just go for it and let your hands fly.”
Besides preparing for nationals, Georgetown Boxing’s other major undertaking each year is hosting the Home Showcase, an event that features a number of teams, including Georgetown, competing on Healy Lawn. While planning the event is taxing, Henkel says, the team and its individual members benefit from advertising themselves in front of the whole school.
“It’s a huge ordeal, logistically, to host your own tournament,” Henkel said. “There’s a lot of money involved in renting a ring, hiring officials, a lot of day-of coordination, inviting teams. We host that event in fall, and it’s the sixth or seventh year we’ve done that. It’s great to have it on your home turf where you can have the crowds cheering for you. I had my first-ever win at the Home Showcase in my sophomore year, right on Healy Lawn with my friends cheering me on.”
As teammates boost each other’s spirits, friendships form. DeKlotz calls boxing an integral part of her freshman experience, as she quickly found a group of people she could call friends.
“It really made a lot of my freshman year,” DeKlotz said. “When you first get to college, you’re obviously looking for a friend group and activities that you want to join and get interested in. There’s a lot of pressure to join a lot of clubs and find friends really quickly. Even though I had friends on my floor, and in my classes, I hadn’t found a group I clicked with until I joined Boxing.”
Her favorite part of the day is going to practice, when she interacts with a supportive community that, together, has the shared experience of strenuous conditioning and the pursuit of a common goal.
“There’s no other way, no closer way, to bond with a group of people than to sweat it out,” DeKlotz said. “These people have seen me after two-hour workouts, just disgusting, and nobody’s showered yet, and we all go to Leo’s to eat together. It’s just the best bonding experience you can have.”
DeKlotz also points to the hands-on instruction from Garry and the team leaders, who jointly dedicate the first few weeks of the year to introducing the sport to the newcomers.
“I was blown away by how much instruction I got from the leaders,” DeKlotz said. “They teach you all the technical terms, just how to intuitively recognize as well as what they’re called.”
DeKlotz rattles off a selection, without hesitation: dodge, weave, slip, return. She uses each of those in sparring sessions, where one person holds up pads and calls out combinations for the other to use. The person with the pads can alternate between offense and defense, causing the other fighter to react instinctively and learn by doing.
“For some people, there are some combinations that are just stronger than others,” DeKlotz said. “You learn that by trial and error, like ‘Oh, throw this combination!’ or ‘Oh, that didn’t feel right, but I really feel like I stick that last punch when I do this one!’ You learn more about yourself along the way.”
Now a senior, Henkel has had plenty of time to reflect on her journey. As a two-sport athlete, Henkel’s boxing experience has given her a practical way to stay in shape for her other endeavor, Club Tennis. But her takeaways from the activity go far beyond increased endurance.
“It’s, it’s given me a community,” Henkel said. “These are people I spend more time with than my house-mates. On a personal level, it really gives me a purpose. It gives an ebb-and-flow to my semester and my life, and there’s an awesome excitement that comes with that.”
Between the ropes, Georgetown Boxing has pulled no punches. But outside the ring, its fighters are more than just sparring partners to each other: They are confidants. DeKlotz cannot fathom the journey ending anytime soon.
“I think I’ll stay here for a long time,” she said, with a smile.
Photo Credit: Georgetown Club Boxing
Design Credit: Delaney Corcoran/The Georgetown Voice