Punching Past the Pandemic

Boxing lessons help support young people during uncertain times

By Daniel Meyer

There are no salespeople.

There are no contracts.

There is no juice bar.

There aren’t even fancy mirrors hanging on the wall.

Unlike some of the more elaborate fitness centers and state-of-the-art gymnasiums that exist throughout Western New York, KC’s Fitness is a simple neighborhood gym that has provided youth boxing lessons and submission grappling classes for nearly three decades. While emphasizing excellence in the sports of boxing and martial arts is the main focus thanks to a strong emphasis on personal training and conditioning classes, the sense of community, camaraderie and character has taken on a greater importance over the course of the global pandemic.

“We’re a very different type of facility,” said Kevin Cunningham, who has owned KC’s Fitness since 1992. “We’re not a big box gym and we don’t promise to be all things to all people. We don’t offer a bunch of different classes. What we do offer is a few things and we do those few things exceptionally well.”

The numerous ways the COVID-19 crisis has changed our day-to-day lives has caused many youth sports organizations to reevaluate how they provide support to those in need, especially teenage boys and girls who are struggling in some fashion.

“Community is the most profound thing that we offer,” said Cunningham. “It’s a great place and you are with some wonderful other souls who want to learn and advance themselves in some form or fashion. We can do that with through community building and having everyone help motivate and support and encourage one another.”

KC’s Fitness may be a no-nonsense and relatively unassuming gym. But the business model is rather remarkable based on the number of long-time clients they’ve taught at their former long-time location on the West Side of Buffalo and their current facility on Thorn Avenue in Orchard Park.

“We provide our students the ability to study boxing as a discipline,” said Cunningham. “We offer a warm, supportive and welcoming environment where there is definitely a commitment to excellence, with special attention paid to the quality of souls who hopefully smile just as often as they sweat.”

Members embrace the fun, welcoming and supportive atmosphere during these difficult times that have seen students have to learn to adapt to frequent stop-and-start scheduling of their academic classes, constantly adjust to changes in the work schedules of their parents, and cope with the social component of having to wear facemasks in public and attempt to follow government regulations related to physical distancing and other public place policies that are anything but normal.

“What I liked about what Kevin taught us was the importance of being a decent human being and how you can achieve some pretty lofty personal goals,” said Derek Hill, who began taking youth boxing classes as a teenager shortly after his parents separated. “That was a very difficult time for me because there was so much to process. I’m sure the current students are benefiting from the diverse community that exists there and it’s a nice distraction from all the uncertainty that kids today are dealing with because of the pandemic.”

Due to the mental health implications of the pandemic that are expected to impact young people for the foreseeable future, the need to remain active is important because physical activity can help achieve stress relief and encourage inspirational thinking so children can become the greatest version of themselves.

“We don’t say we’re the best, but we definitely do our best,” said Cunningham. “To offer somewhere safe that is so much more than a place to learn some self defense and get in shape. This is a community that offers motivation, support and inspiration and I think the students who come back and visit tell us how much they enjoyed that this was a thoughtful and intelligent place to spend time.”

Photo: KC’s Fitness