The women boxers of Gleason’s Gym – a photo essay

Tim Knox visited New Yorks famous Gleasons Gym to photograph some of the six female world champions who train there and find out about what motivates them and some of their fellow female regulars at the establishment

In 1982, Bruce Silverglade, in his 30s at the time, went into partnership with Ira Becker, the second owner of Gleason’s gym. Ira was in his 70s.

Silverglade says: “I came from an age where elders were to be respected. I had a great deal of respect for Ira and basically left the main decisions up to him. During this time, there was a lot of filming at the gym and a lot of the women on the crews wanted to try boxing training. More and more women were asking and Ira refused to allow the women to train.”


  • Bruce Silverglade, owner of the gym and wife Jo Ellen Van Ouwerkerk, who is a surrealist artist in New York.

Finally things changed in 1983 – when Silverglade suggested to Ira that women’s money would go into the Gleason’s bank account just as easily as men’s – and women have been a part of Gleason’s Gym ever since.

“Ira allowed me to close the gym early two nights per week to allow the women to train. This was the only way to accommodate women in our Manhattan space; it had one shower and changing room. Upon the move to Brooklyn in 1987, the women’s program at Gleason’s Gym had proved so popular that they received their own locker rooms. We now train in excess of 400 ladies. A large percentage of our female membership has no desire to compete on an amateur or professional level. Boxing training gives an incredible workout, even for those who never strike another and are never hit in return! During your training at Gleason’s Gym you will use a combination of exercises to build cardiovascular fitness, strength, quickness and agility. Mental stimulation is provided by exposure to new techniques, which in turn, offer stress release, teach you how to overcome fatigue, and give you the exhilaration and toughness of combat. Boxers develop a lean low fat physique, not unlike a dancer or long-distance runner.”


  • Inside the gym at Water Street, Brooklyn.

Women are now a growing phenomenon in USA boxing and can compete in sanctioned amateur competition within the US and internationally. There are currently thousands of women boxers registered with USA Boxing. The popularity of women’s boxing has increased dramatically since its inception in 1993 (when USA Boxing, the governing body of amateur boxing in the US, officially lifted its ban on women’s boxing in October 1993). Not only are the numbers of women growing rapidly in the US, there is a dramatic increase in female boxing numbers around the world.

The women fighters give better fights and much bigger followings. But the promoters do not put them on in main events. The promoters are traditionalists and are stuck in their old ways. The women are drawn to here because of the environment – Bruce Silverglade, owner of Gleason’s Gym

Carolyn DiCarlo, below – sparring with Michael Burke, designed the new gym. “It’s a community at Gleason’s.” DiCarlo says, “I think because the sport itself has heart. I tried to convey that through the layout of the gym plan. You walk right into the middle of it all when you walk into the gym on your way to the lockers. Suddenly you’re right in the heart of it. Heavy bags are swinging at you, you’re dodging jump ropes. It’s all a part of it. Even the meandering plan of the offices of the trainers is about the hangout community places carved in the nooks.”



Before boxing she considered it a violent and debasing sport. “I now see it as a dance, an integration of mind, body, spirit. You can’t be in your head so you have no choice but to integrate and be in the moment. Otherwise you get hit. You develop a solid core, wicked reflexes and can face your fears. I am 59 now and feel in as good shape or better than when I was 25, and with better reflexes. As a woman, the gym for me is a haven. From the minute I walk into the gym I leave the stresses of the day outside on the curb. After boxing now for close to seven years I still get butterflies in my stomach while I’m walking in, whether it’s to spar or just train I still get nervous. What’s empowering for me is to get to feel those feelings and know exactly what to do with them, to walk straight into the fear and show up anyway. Boxing has trained me to be brave. By feeling scared but still knowing how to react by letting go of the fear and being completely present in the moment. It’s a whole different mental space to learn to feel calm in the face of potential harm. In life, much like in the ring, it’s all about showing up, and as my coach Darryl always says: ‘It’s not always about hitting, it’s about not getting hit.’ I apply that to my life every day.”


  • Ronica Jeffrey is the International Women’s Boxing Federation world super-featherweight champion.

It was very hard to get a picture of Ronica hitting anything. Her rhythm was constantly changing, making it impossible to judge when she would hit the bag next. With each flurry of punches there would be no syncopated beat. When I said this to her, her coach laughed and said that is why she is a world champion – Tim Knox, photographer


Ronica Jeffrey came to the gym originally to lose weight. “I was young at the time and couldn’t afford a regular gym, so I came to Gleason’s through a friend of mine. Now the reasons are different, it fills a void in my life that I didn’t even know was missing, or I could say that it created a different type of love for me. It has changed me as an individual; I think it has shown me a lot of things about my self, certain characteristics I didn’t know I had, and I’m able to give that to other girls, to people that don’t understand what it is all about. The feeling, what boxing is all about. A lot of people misunderstand it and make it a brutal thing but I think it is something that is very passionate, something that you have to be smart to do. It takes a lot out of you and makes you figure out which direction you are going to go. You are either going to bite down and do what you have to do or are you going to run away? It gives you that choice and whichever one you decide that’s the one that’s going to make you or breaks you.”





Heather Hardy, above, holds the WBC international female super-bantamweight title. “I was going through a divorce and living with my sister and working a whole bunch of jobs. One day they opened up a small karate school in my neighbourhood. My sister said she was tired of hearing me work and bitch, so she got me a gift certificate. So I went and in three weeks I had my first fight and I won. I lost a kickboxing match to a girl who beat me with a jab. I trained so hard and couldn’t understand how I lost a fight but I didn’t get beat up.”

Hardy continues: “Being a fighter and being a woman, I see being a fighter as being a natural extension of myself. It’s just who I am. I train a lot of women. They come for the community to be around other strong women and to feed off that energy. Boxing has really turned into something different from the times of Mike Tyson, when it was about thugs, an aggressive sport where you had to be so tough. Boxing gyms were intimidating but now there’s a new wave of boxing fitness studios. The thing with boxing and any martial arts, is that people expect you to be so confident on the street because you know how to fight and can beat anybody up who tries to bother you. They say: ‘I would hate to be the one who steals your wallet.’ The thing with boxing and martial arts is that it doesn’t give you the confidence that you know how to beat someone up, it gives you the confidence that you can withstand anything that someone throws at you. It’s not so much that I’m so strong I can beat you up but that I’m so strong I’m not going to let you beat me.”


  • Keisher “Fire” McLeod, current WIBA world champion and four-times Golden Gloves champion, poses in the gym and, below, is helped with her training by her partner Tayshawn Autry.

Keisher “Fire” McLeod was recruited while training in a boxing gym for an acting role. “I needed to bulk up in the arms,” McLeod said. “The gym was also full of cute guys. The trainers wanted to know if I have ever competed before. They told me that they would make me a champion in a year. After I won my first championship, I was hooked. It becomes such a family that you never want to leave. It is an intense sport and before that I was very angry, confrontational and bitter from the acting industry, and it made me calm. My talent was being appreciated in the ring: it is not about how you look but what you put into the ring. One of you is going to get hurt if you don’t have the skills.”

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