The Carolina Boxing Club is a tight-knit group that provides a space for students to grow together and an intimidation-free zone for women.
"When I get here, I feel like I'm at home," Sydney Reichardt, a third-year nursing student, said. "All of these people are so happy to be here and we all love working together. You know the dynamics of a team when you're working hard and you're sweating it out together, it just brings everyone so much closer."
Kevin Brown has been the club's head coach for the last five years and believes his gym, Battle Boxing Gym, provides a fun place for the club's 65 members to come without being pressured into fighting.
“I try to provide an atmosphere where they can come and know they're not going to get hurt, but they also know they're going to get challenged if they want to,” Brown said. “But really just a place to get away so they can breathe for a little bit and then go back and refocus on whatever it is they have to.”
As female participation in the club continues to grow, one fighter says she feels very comfortable despite still being outnumbered by the guys.
“(Coach) talks constantly about how ... he wants you to know how to defend yourself,” Sophi Jolley, a second-year nursing student, said. "I've been a member of several gyms and this gym ... you don’t get any type of toxic masculinity, you don't get looked down on just because maybe you lift a little bit less than the guys.”
The club prides itself on its inclusivity and supportive culture and isn’t afraid to step up for its girls when needed, members say. Reichardt says Brown is willing to remove anyone who may cause issues with his fighters.
“Coach particularly fields these guys who try to come in the boxing club to make sure that no one is going to mess with his girl fighters. He always says, ‘I'm going to take care of my girls, I'm going to watch out for my girls,'” Reichardt said. “Which for me is really great because I don't have to feel like I'm having to like watch out for myself.”
The club is planning a female-only self-defense class that will take place in the coming months. Jolley and Reichardt spearheaded the idea after discussing it with another female member of the gym who is a Columbia police officer.
“We wanted to be able to bring them in and spread awareness for sexual assault prevention," Reichardt said. "Coach is going to clear out the gym for us, so it'll be just girls, and we'll get to really learn and practice moves that can help us and keep us safe on a college campus and in a bigger city.”
Brown will not attend the class, but his wife will be there to help instruct the class alongside several CPD officers. Jolley says despite the fact that the males in the club are nice, a female-only environment will allow the girls to step outside their comfort zone and maximize their confidence.
“Sometimes women, especially (those) who've been in domestic situations or sexually assaulted, just aren't going to feel as comfortable stepping outside of that bubble if there are a bunch of men present, especially with guys like this, who look super intimidating," Jolley said. "They're all super nice guys, but it can be intimidating at first."
The Carolina Boxing Club is aiming to hold the female self-defense class in late October or early November.
In the meantime, anyone interested is encouraged to attend a practice or the gym as a regular member. Practices are held at the Battle Boxing Gym weekly at 5 p.m. on Monday and Wednesday and at 3 p.m. on Friday.