A Knockout Health Club : For fun and fitness, women have taken to boxing. Gale DePaemelaere is among the faithful who say you can’t beat sparring for burning calories or making friends.

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There is no air conditioner in the Westminster Boxing Club, but no one complains.

The decor is simple: faded boxing posters, trophy cases, chairs with ripped upholstery and an American flag.

And with school out for summer, the place fills up in the afternoon, normally attracting teen-agers first, then men of all ages and a new clientele--women.

“I would never go back to my previous gym again,” said Gale DePaemelaere, one of the boxing club’s female faithful.


DePaemelaere, a 42-year-old sales representative for a food brokerage firm, grew up watching Friday night fights on television by her grandfather’s side. She didn’t become a participant in the sport until February.

To some outsiders, boxing may be considered a savage sport, but DePaemelaere said it is more like an “art form.”

Boxing workouts also burn calories.

Since she began coming to the gym, DePaemelaere said, she has lost 17 pounds. Her workout is similar to those of other boxers. She spends time on the speed bag and heavy bag. She spars in the ring (although her sparring partner doesn’t try to deck her). She does sit-ups. She jumps rope.

“Workout-wise, it’s the hardest I’ve ever done,” said DePaemelaere, who is in the gym six days a week for about two hours a visit but has no intention of boxing competitively.

If you want a workout and friendship, you’ll find both here.

Amateur and professional fighters shadow box in front of the same mirrors used by first-timers who barely know how to throw a jab.

The nonprofit gymnasium, which receives much of its support from United Way, is in a gray warehouse that’s a world apart from trendy fitness clubs where people wear headphones to tune out their surroundings.


Jesse Reid, one of the gym’s professional trainers, encouraged DePaemelaere to come to the gym after she had discovered that a few other women worked out there.

“She’s full of dynamite,” Reid said. “Everybody’s welcome. This is the greatest exercise for your body and soul. Fighters are the best-conditioned athletes in the world.”

At its busiest, the gym becomes a blend of noises. Speed bags sound like the thump, thump, thump of a helicopter. Leather gloves make loud pops when someone lands a punch.

Every three minutes, a bell sounds, signaling another round. Those who are working out--whether they are in the ring or not--tailor their routines around the three-minute intervals.

On a recent weekday, 55-year-old Dick Jones skipped rope, turning his light blue T-shirt a dark shade with sweat. A few minutes earlier, he methodically swatted a speed bag in a machine-like cadence.

Jones, of Huntington Beach, said he sometimes spars with a 54-year-old teacher from a nearby high school in Los Alamitos.


“I’ve probably been boxing on and off for 30 years,” Jones said. “I was never very good. Most of the fun is working out and watching. You’ll see better sparring here than you’ll see in an official fight.”

The reason, Jones said, is that boxers who train together will try new punch combinations that they would never test during the rigors of a sanctioned match.

Jones said that first-timers to the gym are urged to start slowly under the guidance of one of the trainers.

“If you track behind one of the pros, you’ll die,” Jones said.

Unless you’ve been in the ring, you’ll never know how physically difficult boxing can be, said DePaemelaere, who is still a big fan of the sport and goes to matches at the Irvine Marriott.

“Sometimes I hear guys in suits and ties there say, ‘He should have done this or that,’ ” DePaemelaere said. “I want to turn around and say, ‘I’d like to see you in there. I’ve seen these guys train and they work harder than you’ll ever know.’ ”