Home About Us Media Kit Subscriptions Links Forum

View All Articles

Download PDF










Camps & Sports


Children’s Corner

Collected Features


Cover Stories

Distance Learning


Famous Interviews


Medical Update

Metro Beat

Movies & Theater


Music, Art & Dance

Special Education

Spotlight On Schools

Teachers of the Month


















MARCH 2005

Debunking the Stereotype
of the Female Boxer:
A Visit to Gleason’s Gym

By Gillian Granoff

Women Learn Valuable Lessons
In and Out of the Ring

As I arrive at Gleason’s gym in Brooklyn to interview breakout female boxing star Alicia Ashley, I anticipate meeting a mythic superhero. Ashley began her career following in her choreographer father’s dance steps as a member of Alvin Ailey. After taking up boxing, she quickly moved up the ranks from amateur status to professional after securing a Golden Gloves Championship title and a 16-2 record. One day, while recovering from a knee injury, Ashley’s brother Devon, a professional kickboxer and black belt in Tai Kwan Do, suggested she accompany him to a kickboxing class. It was clear to him that she was a natural. Devon deduced that her skilled footwork, agility and balance from years as a dancer could prove advantageous in the realm of kickboxing. But Ashley quickly realized that she needed to improve her upper body skills. “I took boxing to become a better kickboxer,” explains Ashley.

She took to the sport so quickly that she was immediately placed on the pro map at her first bout; and on January 29th,1999 she made her professional boxing debut. She surprised even herself with a six-round split decision victory over the highly favored English World Champion kickboxer Lisa Howarth. Her unlikely domination of this more experienced boxer, eventually became the highlight of her career.

Gleason’s Gym, which has recently garnered public attention thanks to the Academy Award winning Million Dollar Baby, retains an aura of authenticity with its sweat-stains, pungent smell, and layers of dust and grit.

As I timidly approach the ring, I find Ashley engrossed in a heavy sparring match with the first in a long line of amateur female boxers. “Alicia’s getting ready for a big fight. She needs to get through six more rounds just to get ready,” comments Angel Rivera, another trainer at Gleason’s. Ashley must lighten down from her already small 125 pound frame down to 118 lbs in order to qualify for the right weight category,” he explains.

As she dances around the ring, she is light on her feet and moves with the grace and subtle strength of a ballet dancer in a pas de deux. “A paper once compared Ashley with a gazelle, penning her ‘Muhammed Ali in a skirt whose movements, at times become a symphony of coordination and harmony.’”

Her graceful movements and petite stature notwithstanding, this girl is no nonsense. What she lacks in size, she more than compensates for in agility, technique and skill. To her peers, this 5’5” powerhouse is known as “South Paw” and her strategy is to defeat her opponents with cunning, not brawn.

I glance back over to the ring and see that Ashley is already on to her next contender, a petite framed 106 pound fighter with blond hair. A bystander confides to me, “She’s here every morning by 6 am. That’s dedication and discipline.”  When she’s not training for her upcoming fight, she divides her time between working as a social worker, placing mentally ill adults in treatment centers, and taking night classes in sociology towards her Ph.D. “She’s really strong,” Rivera comments. As I glance around the room, I begin to notice the incredible range of age, body types, and experience levels of the women. The gym is filled with many women, each with her own story. In a neighboring ring, a cheerful looking woman with blond hair in her mid-forties catches my attention. She introduces herself as Karen Gollup, a 46-year-old elementary education teacher at PS 114 in the Bronx. Karen’s interest in the sport was inspired by a visit to the gym with her boyfriend, “He’s been doing it for years and one day I decided to come along and check it out. I got hit by the bug.”  Her sparring partner, Sara, is an attorney. Karen loves boxing for the challenge, a way to relieve stress. “It’s the opposite of her personality. I’m reserved, I’m not aggressive and this is a good way for me to do something I’ve never done before.” She credits boxing with helping her to focus in the classroom.

Ashley compares the skills needed to win a boxing match with those required in a game of chess. To defeat your opponents you must adapt your strategy to each new situation. “When I fight someone, I fight just that person. I don’t look at their tapes to see how they fight. I fight every person differently. It’s like life,” Ashley says. “You have to adapt your skills to each situation and approach each situation differently.” This versatility and spontaneity is what has enabled Ashley to overtake opponents with twice her power and experience. Her talents have also brought her opportunities outside the industry, including a gig as a stunt double and roles in three feature films including, Girl Fight and the soon to be released Sundance Film Festival hit, Strangers with Candy Although Ashley admits that initially the draw of the spotlight attracted her to boxing, what ultimately transformed her into a real boxer and a success was her desire.

As we continue to talk, Ashley notices Karen and Sara sparring in the ring behind and shouts protectively,  “Put your hands up!” As the round winds down, Ashley wipes the sweat off Karen’s brow. All women are equals here. Despite the mix of gender, race, ages, and skill levels of the boxers, there is an unmistakable sense of equal opportunity at Gleason’s. No one is judged on her looks or ability as a boxer and there is no social hierarchy. Professional boxers spar alongside movie actresses and schoolteachers, kids with parents, models, with ex convicts on parole.

“This is a Gladiator gym where nobody cares what you’re doing or what you’re wearing. The majority of the women don’t come in with makeup on. It’s not about being cute; you sweat, you shower and you go.” The camaraderie and respect these women have for each other seems a contradiction to a sport that is by definition is based on violence. It is obvious that the skills and discipline Ashley and other women acquire in the ring: learning to defend themselves and overcome their fear, have given them a sense of confidence and pride well beyond the boxing ring.#



Show email




Education Update, Inc.
All material is copyrighted and may not be printed without express consent of the publisher. © 2009.