Identity

The Boxer Who Founded New York’s First Women-Only Gym

Reese Scott on choosing faith over fear, regaining control of her own narrative, and staying in the moment.
September 11, 2018, 4:08pm
Photo courtesy of Reebok

Reese Scott wants you to know that she doesn’t teach fitness or cardio boxing—she teaches boxing. Or, in her words, “Boxing for real.” When she first walked into a boxing gym in 2003, Scott was overweight, suffering from depression and high blood pressure, and feeling dissatisfied with her position as a creative director. “I never really felt comfortable in my skin,” Scott told the New York Post in 2017. “I always felt like there was someone else inside of me, but I wasn’t sure how to find that person.” Through boxing, Scott lost weight and got fit, and she also found sanctuary. Boxing gave her courage, a sense of control over her life, and, as Self magazine reported in 2017, “helped her find what she calls her ‘fighting spirit.’”

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In 2007, Scott was tired of intimidating gyms, locker room disparities, fight mismatches, and trainers who believed that women were only interested in boxing to get in shape. So she walked away from her lucrative job in publishing and became a licensed boxing coach. In February of this year, she opened Women’s World of Boxing in East Harlem, New York, offering a place for women to learn to fight and find inspiration, motivation, and maybe even some emotional—and physical—healing in the process.

Photo courtesy of Reebok

We spoke to Scott about why a “judgment-free” culture is so important to her, how she built a new business from the ground up, and where she found the courage to quit her job and jump into the unknown.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

On not settling
When I worked in publishing, I felt like I was missing a pulse. I felt like I was a robot. I felt like every day was Groundhog Day. I would get up and go to the office and do the things I was supposed to do and do them well, but I just didn’t feel fulfilled. I even had a creative job, but there were so many walls and rules around my creativity. I knew I needed to find something that challenged me and woke me up on the inside—something that would help me feel alive and help me find strength.

On taking bold chances
The unknown is scary as hell, but nothing is as terrifying as knowing that you’re unhappy doing what you’re doing. And if you don’t like it, you’re not going to do it well. I’m the type of person that everything I do, I have to do well. I knew I could go in and design a magazine in three days, cover to cover. I said to myself, “Am I going to stay in this position where I know I can just keep making a ton of money, not being challenged? Just keep feeling numb to life and not really learning who the hell I am?” Or can I look fear in the face and say, “You know what? I’m taking this step and I’m going to have faith in this new thing that makes me feel alive and makes me feel really good.”

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On staying creative
I’ve been training women for 11 years and boxing for 14, and I’ve never gotten bored. Every client, every girl that I work with, every woman I see—she’s bringing something different. It’s like a fresh canvas. I think to myself, “OK, we’re going to create a masterpiece together, and that masterpiece is you.”

I still get to be creative as a coach, as a trainer, and now as a business owner. I work with so many people and they challenge me, because everyone learns a little differently. If a person doesn’t understand [because] I’m teaching something a certain way, I have to be creative and figure out a way to reach her. I’m trying to teach women that they can apply what they learn in the gym to their lives outside that gym door. That inspires me every single day.

"Boxing helps women discover that they’re powerful. There are so many incredible avenues of strength and I feel like we can never build it up enough."

On strength, redefined
Boxing helps women discover that they’re powerful. There are so many incredible avenues of strength and I feel like we can never build it up enough. There’s spiritual strength, physical strength, emotional strength. Being strong also means learning who you are and being who you are. Strong is being the person you want to be regardless of all the people around you who might be telling you to be somebody else. Strong is getting knocked out, getting back up and standing up tall. Strong is being fearless and unapologetic about anything you do or feel.

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On building a solid foundation
The sport of boxing is a lot of fun, but in order to get better at it, you can’t cut corners and you have to work from the ground up. You need to start with a solid technical foundation and build upon that in training. The same holds true for building a business. There are so many elements of running a business that you really need to know for yourself, and you need to exercise the fact that you’re the boss—the one writing the checks. Opening this gym has been a dream come true, but my god, let me tell you, there is a price to pay for your dreams coming true. It’s the rawness of it and the realness of it that I love, but I won’t lie—this challenge has been…challenging!

On sharing her own struggles
When I give my own background, the young girls I speak to are always surprised because they think that adults should have it all perfectly together. So I make sure I tell them that adults don’t know anything, that we’re really just winging it! When I talk to them, they appreciate that I’ve been there. I tell them that my inner fat girl is there with me all the time, and that I had to learn that I couldn’t be angry at everyone in the world because everyone else is dealing with their own shit too. I tell kids, “This is where I’ve been, this is what I’ve wanted, these were my struggles, this is what I had to do to get here, and these are the goals that I still have. And if you get to a place where you achieve some of your goals, you just set higher goals.”

On being an outcast
[The gym is] open to any and all women. Growing up, I was always the outcast. I was that one that never fit in. I know what it feels like. So for me, I really welcome groups that have a hard time finding a place of acceptance for whatever reason. They have a home here. I feel like this place is a gift that I’m supposed to give to those other people in this world to let them know that they are accepted.

On not taking work home
My goal is to teach my clients the skills in the gym that they could use in their lives outside. What’s hard for me though, is that I get emotionally attached and sometimes it’s hard for me to not to take all of their worries and stresses home with me. Women share some pretty heavy stuff and it’s hard not to carry that with me all the time. I try my best to take out my frustration on their behalf on the bag. I use the combinations and the movement as a form of expression. It’s therapy for us all. I do need to get better at “leaving it at the office” though.

On choosing now over next
Everyone always asks me what’s next and I always say I want to be present in this for now. My next is helping every woman that comes in this door. My next is when different groups that don’t have places where they feel welcome find something here. Yes, I want to open up gyms all over the place for women, but right now I’m working on building a structure and a flow right here. I need to continue to build a big community where we can help all these girls and women. And when I see that that’s right, then I can move on and build another one. Right now I feel like this is just the beginning. I’m still writing this script 24/7.

25 Strong is a new series highlighting people who have broken barriers and changed culture in 2018. Created with Reebok.