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Shape Your Life boxing program for women who've experienced violence launches in St. Catharines

'The program needs to exist in more than one community,' Laura Ip says

Laura Ip Shape Your Life

Laura Ip is launching a second version of Shape Your Life boxing program at her new gym, Underdogs Boxing Club, in St. Catharines, Ont., in October. (Laura Ip)

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A first-of-its-kind boxing program for women who have experienced violence has launched a second progam in St. Catharines, Ont., a decade after it started on Toronto.  

Shape Your Life, a 14-week non-contact boxing program that has been offered to 24 women per session in Toronto since 2007, will be setting up a new ring along Secord Drive near Lake and Scott Streets on Oct. 1. 

'Need for a physical outlet'

But this isn't your typical boxing exercise class.

With no-contact, participants learn how to safely hit things like heavy bags, speed bags and hand pads, instead. 

Laura Ip, founder and president of Underdogs Boxing Club, also the first women-led boxing club in the Niagara Region, told CBC Hamilton Thursday empowerment is at the heart of Shape Your Life. 

Laura Ip

'There is a lot of research around trauma and how trauma is experienced, not only by he mind, but also by the body,' Laura Ip says. (Laura Ip)

Ip teaches women who have experienced violence how to reclaim their power and bodies in a trauma-informed environment. 

"There is a lot of research around trauma and how trauma is experienced, not only by he mind, but also by the body," Ip explained. 

'The woman have the opportunity to use that physical outlet not to fight back against people, but so the body is feeling that physical release.' - Laura Ip

"When women experience trauma they tend to freeze when they're being attacked by someone.This leaves a physiological impact and a very real need for a physical outlet."

This isn't about physically pushing or fighting back, Ip said, as the purpose is to help women heal from their trauma.  

"The woman have the opportunity to use that physical outlet not to fight back against people, but so the body is feeling that physical release," she said.

St. Catharines boxing gym receives $46K

Earlier this month, Underdogs Boxing Club received funding from the provincial government to deliver Shape Your Life at its new space. 

The Ontario Trillium Foundation, the province's granting agency, awarded Underdogs Boxing Club, in partnership with the YWCA Niagara Region, $46,300 to set up the program that caters to women who have experienced domestic violence or different kinds of interpersonal violence. 

The funding will cover staffing costs, equipment purchases, rental space and administrative fees.

Ip, who also works as the resource development coordinator at the YWCA in St. Catharines, says the boxing gyms in the Niagara Region are male-dominated. This is why she started her own gym to implement Shape Your Life. 

'We want Shape Your Life to be bigger'

Cathy van Ingen, co-founder of Shape Your Life, told CBC Hamilton she began working with Ip nearly three years ago.

"It's going to be a really great way to now offer the same program in a region that's way more under serviced than a place like Toronto where a place like Niagara doesn't have the kind of access to programs that women do in Toronto," van Ingen said.  

"This is a great, really sort of different community they will be building there."

cathy van ingen co-founder of shape your life

Cathy van Ingen, a kinesiology professor at Brock University, co-founded Shape Your Life in 2007 to study the outcomes of the program on women who have experienced violence. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

Van Ingen says her program will be responsible for training new coaches and staff at the St. Catharines gym. Every personnel will go through mandatory trauma-sensitivity training.  

"We're going to do pre-and-post surveys with their participants," van Ingen said, noting it allows them to measure the way this program makes women more resilient, increases their social supports, mental and physical health.

"We want Shape Your Life to be bigger than what we started."   

Provincial funding for Shape Your Life in St. Catharines will cover two, 14-week sessions over the course of a year. 

While the date of the first session hasn't been set yet, 20 women will be taught by two coaches at Underdogs Boxing Club, Ip says. 

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