Ron Zwolak

Gym: Merritt Athletic Club, Fort Avenue, 921 E. Fort Ave.; 410-576-2004; Rate: $60-$70 (hour) Style: Obsessive and inspirational Workout philosophy: "You don't have to aspire to be a fighter. You just have to aspire." Favorite move: Pushups Indulgence: Milk and cookies Ron Zwolak started boxing when he was 4 years old. Growing up in Suitland, a somewhat rough part of Prince George's County, he was a little boy with health problems and a speech impediment. His mother knew he'd be vulnerable to kids' taunts, and she signed him up for a self-defense class. "She said, 'This kid's going to get picked on,' " Zwolak says. "It became my sport, my love, my pastime and my career." His background in martial arts is deep and varied. In addition to boxing -- at the semipro level for a while -- he's been a kickboxer and junior medalist in tae kwon do. He started teaching classes at gyms at 16, a lot of Tae Bo classes when those were popular. With his earnings, he put himself through Bowie State University. He left his home state for a while to work in Manhattan, at Radu Physical Culture gym, under owner Radu Teodorescu, who became famous in the early '90s for training model Cindy Crawford. At Radu, he became crooner Tony Bennett's personal trainer and worked with actor Matthew Broderick and some of the Radio City Rockettes. Zwolak moved back to Maryland from New York to help his sister care for his ailing mom. He's been at the Merritt Athletic Club in Locust Point for about a year and has become the gym's fighting guru. In the gym's boxing space, rap music plays and someone has been hired to spray graffiti on the walls. The vibe is urban, albeit in a synthetic way, but it works for Zwolak, with his close-cropped hair, the shimmering studs in each ear and his streetwise manner of speaking that's reminiscent of Eminem. One afternoon, the 29-year-old is running a training session with two regulars who like to work out together: Courtney Feldham, a young schoolteacher on her lunch break, and Wit Hauprich, an independent television producer who at 54 is Zwolak's oldest boxing client. Zwolak has given them, and all of his green boxers, nicknames. She's Gummi Bear. He's Milky Way. When they "graduate," he'll swap the candy monikers for something tougher. Zwolak knows most of his clients have no desire to ever step into the ring. Most don't even want to spar with anyone. But they are looking for something different, something they can commit to that will allow them to grow. "You walk away with a feeling of accomplishment," he says. "You play football. You play basketball. Nobody 'plays' boxing. That's because it's a lifestyle."
Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun
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