Co-founded in 1994 by former number one middleweight boxer, Michael Olajide, and Leila Fazel, a former ballerina, Aerospace claims to offer “a revolutionary new fitness that engages body, mind, and spirit. ” Leila explained that the Aerospace workout is “revolutionary” in two ways: first, it does not involve any machines, and second, it has its foundation in athlete-level boxing to engage cardio, muscle endurance, and core strength. The company has its own boxing ring and jump rope line. We had the pleasure of seeing Michael, who lost vision in one of his eyes in the early 1990s, guide a student through some boxing combinations as part of the Aerospace workout. Although Michael and Leila intend to maintain the “authenticity of boxing” in their program, Aerospace is open to everyone, with or without boxing experience. While some learn to hit bags on the second floor, others in a more advanced program spar in the boxing ring on the first floor. Leila also runs a workout that combines shadow boxing with ballet.
At the Victory Boxing Club, owner and operator John Snow trains everyone from busy executives to recovering stroke patients, with a focus on the psychology behind every swing and jab — and the motto “you don’t have to be in my ring for me to be in your corner. ”A Brooklyn native with a degree in history from Fordham University, Snow first began training fighters at his brother Martin’s gym, the Trinity Boxing Club on Duane Street in Tribeca, where he put his multidisciplinary education to work as a personalized, newfound boxing philosophy. “As far as taking what I’ve learned in one field and applying it to another – I lifted my idea from Leonardo da Vinci, ” John said. “If he was stuck on a mathematical problem, he would work on some art (or vice versa) and it would help him redirect and refocus. That’s why I use everything from Milton Erickson to Noam Chomsky to different learning and language patterns in my coaching. I use all different coaching modalities based on the person’s learning style. ”For John and his brother, getting into the sport was “the total opposite of my family [his mother was a school principal and his father a financial planner] – going to a boxing gym was a different kind of rebellion, ” he said. While attending school near Union Square in the 1980s, 15-year old John stumbled upon Gramercy Gym originally run by Mike Tyson’s adoptive father Cus D’Amato, now closed. “At the time Gramercy and Union Square were so bad, if you walked through the park you got suspended because it was assumed that you were only there to buy drugs, ” John recalled. “It took me many, many attempts for me to get up the stairs to the gym — and when I finally got through the door, everything changed. ”Working with legendary trainers like Al Gavin, John was smitten with the art of boxing. He credits the coaches at Gramercy Gym with not only training him to box, but also with teaching him resilience. When, a year after joining the boxing gym, John’s father was diagnosed with ALS: “The gym was a place for me to process it all, ” John said, adding, “As a boxer, you have a fierce sense of individuality, but you do have a team around you, and the trainer/fighter relationship is very important – my trainers were instrumental in helping me get through that time and building a fortitude and mental toughness that helped immensely. ”According to John, the key to success in the ring is to give trainees clear goals, structure and a sense of safety to push past their boundaries. “Boxing appeases the amygdala – the oldest reptilian part of the brain, ” John explained. “And it’s really there so that we know we can defend ourselves and take chances. By boxing, we know that we can endure and we can push ourselves harder than other people push us. ”He added: “I tell people, ‘what scares us thrills us’ – that’s what I learned the first day that I finally made it up the stairs of Gramercy Gym. ”It’s a feeling that John hopes everyone who steps through the doors at Victory will experience. “My mission statement for the gym is, ‘everyone has my first day. ’ Everyone comes here for their own reasons, ” John said. Once a curious kid climbing up the stairs of the Gramercy Gym, John is now New York’s foremost boxing philosopher. He has trained kids who are now adults, couples who met in his gym and generations of boxers, and considers it an honor to keep the work going at Victory: “It’s heaven on earth – I never work a day in my life. There’s no better place in the world to me than a boxing gym. ”This story was adapted from the W42ST article, "You Don’t Have to Be in My Ring for Me to Be in Your Corner” — John Snow, the Philosopher of Victory Boxing. "
The greatest treasures on the side streets often take the form of art studios, theaters, non-profits, innovative exercise spaces, and specialty lodging. I was delighted, therefore, to find all of these facilities inside the West Side YMCA. According to Wyndy Wilder Sloan, the senior director of the Y, I was not unlike numerous others who admitted to having had no idea that this extraordinary building existed on West 63rd. Sharing the fascinating history of the Y with me one morning while touring the building, Wyndy simply stated that not many people stroll down their street and those that do rarely notice what has been here since 1930. Wyndy was crowed that they have at least 5, 700 active members, 397 guest rooms, an off-Broadway theater, and an art space in addition to its vast array of fitness facilities. At the start, the Y even owned the McBurney School next door, which is still marked with a sign for "BOYS. " Wyndy informed me that the West Side Y is the largest YMCA in the country. My first stop on the tour was on the newly renovated tenth and eleventh floors to see the selection of guest rooms, which Wyndy described as "a hostel that is not a real hostel. " Wyndy shared with me that guests are frequently European travelers, mostly form the UK, with the average age between eighteen and twenty-four, but national youth groups, like the boy scouts, also take advantage of the facilities. Traipsing down the white walls marked with shapes in cheery bright colors and the names of countries from around the world, I peeked into a room and found a spotlessly clean bunk bed that had a view of Central Park. Descending down some flights, I went to the fitness floors, which were astonishing. There, I found enormous studios that offered classes from Aerobics to Zumba and everything in between. Learning that the YMCA "invented" basketball and volleyball, I gazed upon the spacious court encircled one floor up by an elevated track. When I commented on the spectacular racquetball courts, squash courts, and, particularly the original machinery still decorating the walls in the boxing room, Wyndy proudly admitted that they were available for promotional shoots. In the gym, I was met with one of the most enormous collection of ellipticals and treadmills I have ever seen. "You never have to wait for a machine, " Wyndy said. "We have every piece of equipment you can imagine, " and she went on to tell me that all Y's in the country lease their machines for three years so that they can easily update to new models. Through the clean, flower-filled women's locker room, I arrived at the magnificent pool. The space is a palace, decorated with red and yellow tiles in a stunning mosaic pattern. Wyndy explained that King Alfonso of Spain donated all the tiles to the Y as the building was being erected. Slipping inside to view the smaller pool - used more for classes and therapy sessions than for laps - was possibly even more extraordinary, with dazzling white and blue designs covering all four corners. Tearing myself away from the pools, I walked into the art annex to see a painting class in progress. Down the hall, students filled a ceramics studio that boasted two kilns. I now understood from where the cases full of colorful mugs for sale in the lobby hallway came. On my way to the "Little Theater, " which sported sloping bannisters and comfortable audience seating, I caught a glimpse of rounded traditional Spanish doors and more of the magnificent tiles in an event space named the "King Alfonso" room. After a whirlwind tour, where I saw so much original architecture, artistic craftsmanship, first-class facilities, and happy members, I was shocked that I had not heard more about the building as a lifelong New Yorker. Though I knew of its existence, I had no idea of all the valuable resources and facilities inside. Wyndy conceded that is a challenge that the West Side Y is trying to overcome: "When you're a landmark building on a side street, it's hard to maintain visibility. " It is, however, definitely worth seeking out. As Wyndy noted, "We are unique among other gyms because we are non-profit. When you sign up as a member, you know your money is going to a good cause. "
With a boxing studio, a cute cafe offering refreshing drinks, and a photo-op corner boxing ring, Shadowbox hits all the right notes of a fun, health-conscience exercise space. Classes are held in a dimly lit studio with forty punching bags, an energetic soundtrack, and a forgiving, impact-absorbing floor for maximum gain and minimal injury. Grab a coffee, punch a bag and take a great picture.