In the center of the famous Gleason’s Gym in Dumbo, Keisher “Fire” McLeod- Wells is throwing expert blows at a punching bag steadied by her husband, Flaco Wells.
For “Fire,” who has won 12 amateur championship titles, including the New York Golden Gloves and two world titles, boxing has been a way of life since a trainer discovered her in 2002. Back then, she was boxing to stay toned for her modeling and acting career.
She met her husband Flaco through a friend two years later, and the couple would often spar together. “Naturally, he was stronger than me,” she said. “But he knew how much I could take. Sometimes when I was mad—I could go all out.” Flaco shook his head. “She punched me in the ribs once and put me to the floor.” Unfortunately, Flaco did have to give up the sport after a car accident last year. “It was more fun for me,” added Fire, who made and won her professional debut this past week. As some amateur couples start jumping in the ring to spar on one another, relationship and fitness experts are saying it may be a good way to get a great workout and keep the sparks flying.
“A lot of people think romance is about candlelit dinners,” said Rachel Sussman, a relationship expert based in New York City. “But if you really want to keep a relationship alive, you want to either teach each other new things or have new experiences together. So I’d encourage a couple to try something like boxing.”
Sarah Brokaw, a couples therapist in Manhattan and California who also boxes, says boxing can be a way for women to show their physical strength in heterosexual relationships.
“Is it for every couple? No,” Brokaw said. “But if you’re in a healthy relationship, it allows the man to look at his partner through a different lens. Even if we’re in a progressive society, there are still lots of myths that men have about women and women have about men. Ironically, it can be an aphrodisiac for men to see this in women.”
At Aerospace High Performance Center in the Meatpacking district, co-founder Leila Fazel says she does see couples joining the gym and getting in the ring together.
“It’s always the women throwing the punches and the men being more cautious at first, but then after a while they sort of find a rhythm,” Fazel said. “I think it brings out parts of people’s personality the partner wouldn’t normally be exposed to.” Beyond the couples’ boxing, John E. Oden, author of White Collar Boxing: One’s Man’s Journey from the Office to the Ring says that anyone who starts training may, like him, be helped both mentally and physically.
“I’ve picked up courage, confidence, and discipline,” said Oden, who is now working on a book about life lessons he has learned in the ring. “In business, it’s then taught me commitment, focus, and preparation. All these things that I do for boxing, I now do for business as well.” Bruce Silverglade, president and owner of Gleason’s Gym since 1983, says boxing is a tremendous release to “get frustrations out.” Additionally, Silverglade says the reason droves of people don’t come out to box is because it is so difficult. “We have people who come into boxing from other gyms—they’re runners or other athletes,” Silverglade said. “Within three minutes, we can get them exhausted.”
Silverglade added that even if some couples, like Fire and Flaco, have taken jabs at one another in the ring for practice, most couples do come in separately to train.
Leyla Leidecker met her husband Yuri Foreman, an undefeated junior middleweight boxer, at Gleason’s seven years ago. While the couple comes to Gleason’s every day to train, they do not get in the ring together.
“We are at very different levels of boxing,” said Leidecker, a filmmaker who produced and directed a 2008 film about The Golden Gloves.
“He’s a professional, well-known boxer. I am a retired amateur boxer.” “We did spar a couple times,” Foreman said. “But then, we’re not so into sparring with each other.”