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“This Virus Will Not Beat Me!” A New Jersey Gym Perseveres Amid Pandemic

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By George Goddiess: Just as small businesses are the lifeblood of a local economy, family-owned boxing gyms are the breeding ground for aspiring boxers and our youth searching for something more.

Chris Conca of Nutley, New Jersey, established Enforcer Fitness in 2017 and carries a wealth of experience dating back to 1986, where his boxing journey began. For Conca, this is a personal vision to carry on the legacy of his cousin, who was lost to Sepsis, who dreamed of opening his own boxing gym.

Named in his honor Chris keeps the legacy alive, passing on more than just boxing knowledge to his clients. Chris stressed in our meeting that his mission is not driven by money, but from our conversation, there is a more altruistic goal in mind.

Working in construction by day, Chris enters his gym after 4 pm to meet his students and oversee operations. Located just off of Franklin Avenue, the red walls of the gym are donned by boxing memorabilia and a tribute to Arturo Gatti.

A ring sits just inside the main area and is flanked by an assortment of bags and a weight training area. In March of 2020, Governor Phil Murphy closed down all gyms in New Jersey amid the panic that began around COVID-19.

After several months some gyms were able to reopen to varying capacities with precautions in place. Chris has seen some of his attendees return, but several of his fighters have continued to play it safe and are waiting to get back to the gym.

Despite the old school approach and Rocky like gym appearance, Chris keeps a welcoming door to anyone interested in learning about the sport and its techniques and disciplines. Over the course of our conversation, Chris stressed an environment of inclusion, positivity, and anti-bullying.

Aside from the competing boxers that Chris guides in the professional and amateur ranks, there are other attendees that he is very proud of. “If a young kid from the inner city cannot afford to train at my gym but shows dedication and promise, I will let them train here,” stated Chris, who hopes to use boxing as a way to keep teens away from gangs and dangerous street crime.

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Heroin and cocaine are another scourge for the youth of central and northern New Jersey. Chris discussed success stories of helping those struggling with addiction in the gym and a desire to see gyms as a road to recovery.

His desire to help and his close feeling of community with Nutley and the surrounding area drive him to keep the business open in this time of difficulty. “I refuse to close,” Chris declared from his office and that COVID cannot defeat the kids who seek a better life through boxing.

He defiantly persists through the struggle to also help local police officers stay in shape as other gyms have closed. “The men and women protecting us need to be in shape, and the self-defense they learn may save their life while on duty,” Chris added when talking further on his dedication to the local community.

“The basics are everything,” Chris preaches in regards to boxing. “Everything starts with a good stance and a relaxed jab,” added Chris as he took the time to demonstrate the fundamentals of an effective stance and jab.

He stated that he could train champions, but his focus is on the basics and building from there. He is a teacher bringing knowledge embedded from sessions at the renowned Gleason’s Gym in New York, where he rubbed elbows with familiar greats like Mike Tyson, Julio Cesar Chavez, Hector Camacho, and many more.

His journeys began at a young age, with trips spent with his father or alone on the subway. Through his dedication, he made these trips and learned from the best, culminating in a Golden Gloves Championship in 1994.

Presently the family affair continues with Chris and his sons Christopher, Kyle, and Ryan passing on the knowledge to the next generation.

Aside from learning to box for sport or to help save from addiction or crime, Chris also emphasizes the need for self-defense. In a dangerous and unpredictable climate, Chris stresses, “do not let yourself become a victim.” “Everyone should know some form of self-defense” and “all encounters start on the feet,” and “Boxing is simple in comparison to other martial arts” encompass another goal in helping attendees defend themselves.

Chris takes a hard line on bullying and confirmed that he will throw out students who use techniques to pick on smaller, younger, or less experienced pupils. He does not intend teaching boxing to kids who are not going to use it for good.

Chris is very proud of helping teens not only defend themselves but also develop self-confidence. In a story, he explained taking in a bullied seventeen-year-old junior in high school who was assaulted on video and embarrassed in front of his entire school.

The distraught young student came to the gym for six months and developed confidence and self-belief that left him able to defend himself, graduate, and move on to a good college.

The story of Enforcer Fitness battling back in the wake of the terrible pandemic and its consequences mirrors many small businesses and likely many other boxing gyms as well.

The great fighters we all watch on television and idolize or look to embody in our own ring careers all got their start in a local gym with a dedicated coach and gym owner.

The pandemic has given us all time to reflect on what matters and what we are passionate about. In conclusion, I would like to encourage all readers and appreciators to take the time to research their closest gym and take a class or put in a month’s work. You never know what you may discover about yourself and what good you could do for an honest business dedicated to its local community.

For more takes and opinion based boxing writing, please visit https://jerseygeorgesboxingblog.com/ and subscribe. To contact the author, email jersey.george.boxing@gmail.com.


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