Northeast Portland Neighborhoods

Professional boxer Molly ‘Fearless’ McConnell opens gym in Lloyd District

Molly McConnell

Molly McConnell

Molly “Fearless” McConnell has accumulated more honors than any other Oregon boxer of the past two decades, but she isn’t resting on all the winners’ belts and Golden Gloves accolades. She has moved on to teach the science and techniques of boxing in her own gym, called McConnell’s Boxing Academy, 707 N.E. Broadway.

She’s winning praise, too, from her students, who range in age from 8 to middle age, including a growing number of women in their 20s and 30s.

Toni Royston, who travels from her Canby office job twice a week for a fitness class called cardio boxing, said, “Molly makes it super comfortable to come. She’s awesome.”

Royston worked up an honest sweat – not a ladylike glow – while trading punches into a long, black bag with Margaret Oscilia, an environmental engineer who lives down the street from the second-floor academy with big, light-filled windows.

Oscilia had been taking boxing classes for a couple years at another facility but arrived at the McConnell Academy for the cardio fitness class, which includes exercises for arms, legs and core muscles, which give power to a boxer and non-boxer.

McConnell opened her academy in a former dance studio in January, creating a boxing ring in one corner then hanging bags for power and speed punches around a mirrored wall. A few students followed her from the gyms where she had been teaching in recent years.

Since launching her slate of classes in April, she gradually has acquired more students for non-contact boxing skills, beginning youth boxing for ages 8 to 16 and training for adults interested in sparring. She also teaches private classes for individuals or small groups. Open gym hours are offered four days a week at the academy, which is open Tuesday through Saturday.

McConnell, who was involved in sports while growing up in the Seattle area, wanted to get into a physical activity and take off a few pounds after graduating from Lewis & Clark College, where she studied psychology and world religions. She tried tae kwon do, but didn’t find it satisfying. Then she walked by the old Grand Avenue boxing gym and saw a sign for a women’s boxing class.

“After a couple classes, I was hooked,” she said.

She began training seriously and by 2003, she was the top-ranked amateur welterweight in the country. In 2004, she turned professional. Her honors include the welterweight world championships from the Global Boxing Union and the Women’s International Boxing Federation, which some consider the “crown jewel” for women boxers.

McConnell has developed her academy curriculum to offer fitness-based classes, with boxing workouts that build muscle and endurance but require no contact, and step-by-step boxing skills for those interested in sparring. But she doesn’t want to throw anyone into the ring who isn’t ready both physically and intellectually.

“I love the fact that boxing is equal parts of both sides of the brain,” she said. “There’s a technical, strategic aspect to it.” Then practice, she said, guides how the boxer responds in the ring. “It’s like chess, in a way,” she continued. “For every move, there’s a counter move. That’s why the training is so important.”

One of her students who has already had two bouts is Minu Oh, a web developer and mother of a 5-year-old daughter. She sees boxing as a virtual art form.

“It requires mental acuity, intimate relationship with my body, and connection to my heart,” Oh said by e-mail while visiting family in Korea. “I see boxing as something to work toward every day, a part of life, an avenue to hone my craft like an artist, to toil endless hours for glimpses of transcendence.”

Many of McConnell’s students, including Chelsea McNeil, mention stress relief as a benefit of the classes. One of her 4-year-old twin daughters is severely disabled, McNeil  said, and has undergone several surgeries this year.

“This is my outlet,” McNeil said, taking a break from punching a bag near her sister, Shelby McNeil, who said she loves the cardio  boxing class.

The workout, Shelby McNeil said, “has made us feel so good.”

For more information: McConnell’s Boxing Academy, 707 N.E. Broadway, (971) 266-1151, moc.l1409648929iamg@1409648929gnixo1409648929bslle1409648929nnoCc1409648929M1409648929, www.mollyfights.com.

– Janet Goetze, For the Hollywood Star News

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