It’s Wednesday evening at Gloria’s Gym in Monroeville. A group of women is gathered in a circle, bouncing back and forth on the balls of their feet. Their arms and hands are in a traditional boxer’s stance, close to their face, ready to block a hit.
There have only been a handful of group classes at the newly opened gym, but already the group of women has formed a bond. They’re welcoming to newbies and are encouraging to each other. If someone gets tired, they cheer each other on to keep moving until the buzzer sounds.
The drills are shorter than a typical round of boxing, but they help the rookie boxers gain stamina, says Gloria Sztukowski, a trainer, and member of the Golden Gloves Hall of Fame of Pennsylvania. She founded the gym along with Jimmy Cvetic, a retired Allegheny County police officer, poet, children’s advocate, boxing trainer and something of a local legend.
Both Sztukowski and Cvetic have decades of boxing experience between them and have trained hundreds of fighters. Among Cvetic’s better-known protegés are former lightweight world champ Paul Spadafora and former No. 1 super-lightweight contender, Monty Meza-Clay. Over the years, Cvetic has opened a dozen gyms around the city, but he and Sztukowski believed women needed their own space to train.
“Women don’t need to be empowered. Women are already empowered. They have so much strength,” Sztukowski says. “They just need to be given opportunities. We wanted to create a space just for them.”
At the Wednesday class, Sztukowski tells the women about her first visit to a boxing gym. She recounts how intimidated she felt walking in, and says her apprehension wasn’t abated when many of the men in the room began teasing her.
Gloria’s Gym is a stark contrast to those kinds of boys’-club gyms. For one, it’s much cleaner, joke Sztukowski and Cvetic. But the two have also put ample resources into ensuring the gym is equipped with a top-of-the-line ring, gloves and punching bags.
“We really wanted women to feel welcome,” says Cvetic.
And while the nicer atmosphere certainly helps, the big draw at Gloria’s is the gym’s namesake. Clad in a black T-shirt and sweats, with a black band around her forehead, the woman is a motivating coach straight out of your favorite boxing movie.
Each class starts with a footwork warm-up. Next, the women wrap their hands for punching drills, before gloving up to tear into one of the gym’s punching bags.
The sessions aren’t geared toward those wanting to get into professional boxing. Sztukowski teaches the basics and traditional punches, but classes also incorporate elements of different fitness classes, including high-intensity interval training and CrossFit.
Right now there’s no set cost for women to train at the gym. Sztukowski says she’s been talking to participants to determine a reasonable cost when the facility holds its grand opening in January.
“Women have so much to deal with between their jobs and their families,” Sztukowski says. “We want this to be a place where they can blow off steam. We want them to come with their daughters.”