Over the past several years, boxing has seen a remarkable resurgence in both viewership and participation. The sport’s popularity has skyrocketed, likely in part due to the rise of “influencer boxing,” where organized fights amongst popular internet figures garner massive attention and millions in pay-per-view sales.
As boxing gains more and more fans, it is no surprise that young people have begun to seek out amateur boxing for their own enjoyment. Located one street south of McGill’s downtown campus on President Kennedy Avenue, Boxe Office has quickly become a hotspot for downtown residents, particularly McGill students. The gym was founded in July 2021, after the fitness industry endured a harsh year of lockdowns and diminished revenue. The timing, however, didn’t phase gym owner Normand Robert, a seasoned boxing coach and Taekwondo black belt who has been active in the boxing world for over four decades.
Due to the precarious timing of the Boxe Office’s opening, the gym started out with a lower volume of customers than it had hoped for. Despite the initially modest numbers, Robert recalls being optimistic about the gym’s prospects.
“I saw it as an advantage. I said to myself [that] COVID would eventually slow down,” Robert said in an interview with The McGill Tribune. “I’ll use this time to fine-tune the business, work any bugs out, and when people come back to the gym, I’ll be ready.”
Robert credits the gym’s success to his personable one-on-one approach to coaching and his decision to operate out of a small space, with enough room for only six heavy bags.
Robert believes that in order to get the most out of training, athletes must develop each technical aspect of boxing individually. As such, the gym offers six different types of one-hour classes: soft, flash, core, shadow, focus, or boom. As most of the gym’s members are new to boxing, Robert takes pride in training his new clients from the very beginning and watching them develop their skills from beginner to expert.
Many students who came to the gym as beginner-level boxers in the fall were quick to praise the gym, not only for helping them develop a new skill, but also for its impact on their lives.
“Mr. Robert motivates me to push myself, teaches me the art of boxing, and, most importantly, cultivates my ever-growing passion for the sport,” said Charlie Li, U1 Science. “I’m glad I’ve stepped into this gym. It has changed my life and made boxing an integral part of my life.”
Lauren Kennedy, U1 Music, found that boxing helps her grow her self-esteem.
“When I leave Boxe Office, I leave as a stronger and more confident person [. . ..] Robert is an extremely encouraging, patient, and talented coach,” she said. “His boxing classes are the favourite part of my day.”
Robert contends that regardless of skill or experience, his best clients are focused and eager to learn. He noted that many McGill students who come to his gym already embody these traits.
“I get a lot of McGill students,” said Robert. “They’re smart; they want to understand what I teach them and ask a lot of questions. That is something that I love.”
As the Boxe Office experience continues to grow in demand, Robert is starting to consider his plans for the gym’s future. But Robert insists that small class sizes must remain the priority so he can continue to build relationships with clients, both old and new.
“Community is important,” Robert said. “Nobody is a stranger here. One of my goals, when I opened, was to make something friendly, and […] build up a community.”