Twice a week, members of Northwestern University Boxing Club meet at Evanston Boxing Club, 823 Emerson St., leaving behind the confines of campus, for at least few hours, to practice, condition, spar and work on boxing technique. Located several blocks from Northwestern, the trek to the gym is short, but it feels like a different world once you step inside.
The walls of the gym give off an all-American feel, painted in sections of red, white and blue, and decked out with colorful posters, including one announcing a 1974 match between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali on closed circuit television, with another advertising an event called Fight Club Chicago from 2005. Inside the gym is a flurry of activity, as some people hit punching bags, a few others cycle away on stationary bikes, run laps in a side room or spar in the ring. Though the group is made up of NU students, they work out alongside Evanston residents.
NU Boxing Club was founded in 2006 by Dan Harpaz, a Weinberg senior who led the group until Rav Khazai, a Weinberg junior, took over the group’s leadership as president last year. To participate in the group’s activities, members pay $100 in quarterly dues, and another $100 for boxing equipment.
When NU Boxing Club was founded three years ago, the group had more of a recreational and fitness emphasis, said Khazai.
“Initially when I started, the focus of the groups wasn’t so much competition and sparring, it was more on getting a workout,” he said. “There was technique thrown in, and the workout had a boxing focus, but it wasn’t competition-oriented. When I took over, I kind of wanted to changed that,”
To make the transition toward competitive boxing, the team separated into two groups during practices during Fall Quarter, one with a recreational focus, and the other concentrating on fighting. During Winter Quarter, NU Boxing eliminated the recreational squad.
“Because of what we wanted for the team, we decided it was best to drop the rec squad,” Khazai said. “There still is a lot of interest, but it’s hard to split focus between those two goals”
Recently, members of NU Boxing Club faced off against Evanston and Wilmette locals February 6 for the White Collar Amateur Tour at EBC.
Weinberg sophomore Vince Chou participated in the tournament, where he was matched up against a police officer.
“When I saw him the day of the match, he didn’t seem too big or anything, and I thought, ‘Oh this should’ve been OK,’ but it actually turned out to be a pretty big opponent,” Chou recalled.
The police officer put up a solid fight against Chou.
“I got beat pretty bad,” Chou said. “I’m still going. It was really good experience actually. That adrenaline rush was a new experience for me.”
Khazai himself started boxing in his freshman year at NU, though he had already demonstrated an interest in combative sports beforehand as a wrestler in high school, as well as participating in Brazilian jujitsu.
As Khazai describes it, NU Boxing Club incorporates elements of both team and individual sports, pushing members to challenge themselves personally while still providing a network of support.
“Even though a match is individual, we like to think of ourselves as a team,” he said of NU Boxing Club’s participation in the February boxing tournament. “We sat together, we cheered for each other, called each other the NU boxing team. We weren’t just a bunch of individuals, we were a team competing.”
While NU Boxing Club considers itself a collective entity, Khazai said that it is up to each individual to register and train for particular matches, such as the Chicago Golden Gloves Tournament, held this year in March and April.
NU Boxing Club currently has 10 members — three women and seven men — and plans to recruit more this quarter. During fall recruitment, seven freshmen made the team from about 80 that showed up for tryouts. This number has dwindled from the 16 members the group had in the fall, Khazai said, as a number of members have left for various reasons, after sustaining injuries, student jobs taking up extra time and senior members graduating early.
One member is Communication freshman Jennifer Madison, who originally came to tryouts to accompany a friend who was trying out for the team. Beyond a few kickboxing classes, she had never tried the sport before.
“I really like how close-knit the team is, because there’s not very many of us, and just how dedicated everyone is, because people put all they have in it,” Madison said.
While it took her some time getting used to participating in a male-dominated sport, Madison said she’s enjoyed the experience thus far.
“Not many girls are doing it, and [I was] being thrown into this whole different environment where I had to learn everything. It could be a little bit intimidating. I guess that was the biggest obstacle I had to get over when I started,” she said. “It’s been nice being more comfortable with that after being with the team for a while.”
Like Madison, Chou said that through building his boxing experience, especially from matches such as the White Collar Amateur Tour, participating in the sport has proven to be a rewarding activity.
“At first it’s kind of scary to have people throw punches at you, and it also hurts quite a bit in the beginning, but you get used to it,” Chou said. “I think its really fun and it’s good at that level where you just kind of do it all the time. It’s kind of relaxing at the end of the day after a lot of work. You just go there and spar a little bit and walk out happy.”