Julia Gschwind is a boxer, martial artist, coach, mother and owner of the Austin Women’s Boxing Club in South Austin. Julia was also the San Francisco Golden Gloves Champion in 2000. After years of competing, she is now building a community of strong, powerful and confident female boxers she wished she’d had in the beginning of her career.
AFM: Let’s start at the beginning. What was it like growing up in Germany?
JG: I grew up in Freiburg, Germany. I was very active. I would run everywhere. But my parents did not have an eye for what I was interested in. They just wanted me to read more.
AFM: How did you start boxing?
JG: I was in my mid-20s. I moved to Las Vegas and my brother suggested that I try Muay Thai. I loved physical challenges, but I didn’t know where to direct that energy. My first Muay Thai class was like coming home. Like, oh my gosh, you get to hit things? And it felt so good. You have permission to do this. I experienced time standing still because you’re doing something that you love. The coach asked a couple weeks into training if anyone was interested in competing, and I raised my hand not even knowing what that meant. I trained for my first Muay Thai fight in Las Vegas, and that was quite an amazing, shocking experience.
AFM: What caused you to transition from Muay Thai to boxing?
JG: I tore my ACL in kickboxing and, after surgery, I still needed to move. My arms were still functioning, so I started going to boxing gyms — focusing on the upper body simplified the game. There was a deeper technical aspect to it. Also, in competitions, it hurt a whole lot less. Getting punched by gloves hurts a whole lot less than having a shin land on your chin.
I fought in Germany then came back to San Francisco where I found my permanent boxing trainer, Sonny Marson, for the Golden Gloves.
AFM: Was this your full-time job?
JG: No, I always had to juggle work with training. At that time, I wasn’t balancing it very well. I was suffering from an eating disorder. Having to make weight all the time was difficult and counterproductive. So how did I balance it? I basically just ran myself into the ground.
I hopped on the train at 7 a.m. from Mountainview to San Francisco, worked until 5 o’clock, took the next train to the gym, worked out for two hours, then took the train home around 9 or 10 o’clock at night — but I loved it. Now, as a coach, I’ve learned so much from my mistakes that I can now teach and work with my boxers. I wish someone had worked with me that way back then.
AFM: Is your love for boxing what drove you to continue going?
JG: Yes and no. Boxing helped me process a lot of frustration and trauma from my childhood and as a young woman. I see my other boxers go through a similar process of being put down, not having any control in their lives, being pushed around by men and boxing [is]a way to process it and to build yourself back up. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was me becoming a confident, happy, grounded woman that I never was before.
AFM: At what point did you stop competing and decide that you wanted to coach, and how did that grow into Austin Boxing Babes, now Austin Women’s Boxing Club, your all-women boxing gym?
JG: I stumbled into it and realized, when I had my first student, that I enjoyed it and that I didn’t want to teach men. And once that decision had been made, a whole new community grew that I never had in any training or anywhere; a safe place, yet authentic. You learn the true sport of boxing. It’s not a watered-down version for women. It’s the real thing. You get to compete. You do anything the guys get to do but in an emotionally safe environment.
AFM: What have been some of the highlights of opening the gym and what have been some of the challenges?
JG: One of them was to have my own physical location because we started training inside of another school. It was a financial risk, but the community helped make it all happen. We’ve coached some of our boxers to get their Golden Gloves medals. There are daily highlights — which are some of the most important to me — when a member has a breakthrough. Say they’re struggling with a jump rope, doing a criss-cross jump rope and they’re in their mind about it thinking ‘I can’t do it.’ Finding a way to break it down where, all of a sudden, it works; creating these small successes that build on each other — those are the most precious highlights because they build up to the end result of having a great community and great support and building confidence in people.
AFM: With COVID-19, you’ve had to change the way you run your gym. How have you adapted during the pandemic? What can people do to support Austin Women’s Boxing Gym?
JG: I think we’ve done extraordinary. It’s really just me and two other coaches. As soon as we were told the gym had to close, we sat down, Alex brought a bottle of champagne and said, ‘What are we going to do?’
I said, ‘Virtual classes.’
We closed on Friday and then Monday we were up running all of our virtual classes. As we were allowed to open, we started outdoor classes. We’re continuing to train virtually and livestream. We have indoor classes where they have to wear face masks. We have open gym hours where you can come in on your own, and you reserve that time. Considering the circumstances, I think we did really well. It was the ability to pivot really quickly and work with a team of people that are just amazing.
AFM: What does a typical day look like for you now?
JG: I’m a single mom with two sons. I go to the gym very early; I get up at 5:30 — I teach my first class at 7. My first morning shift is until 10. I come home to the kids, make sure they’re doing school work, make them lunch, head back to the gym, do another class, head home, head back to the gym and bring my son for martial arts, teach another class, come home, make dinner — it’s pretty crazy.
AFM: Lastly, what do you love about boxing? Why do you think women, who haven’t tried, should try boxing?
JG: I think it’s extraordinary for people who think they don’t like to workout, because it engages your mind in a way that I found no other workout could do. You’re learning how to move your body; you’re learning about footwork; you’re learning how to throw a punch well, with power. And once you feel that feeling, it’s exhilarating. When you first learn to land your punch with a good thud with your bodyweight behind it, it’s powerful. It captures you in a way that other things don’t. You always have something to learn. You’re not done after a year. That’s just when it just starts getting good. You get to learn so many things that take years to perfect. It makes things interesting and keeps you motivated since there’s always something to improve on.
You can find out more about Julia and the Austin Women’s Boxing Club by visiting their website https://www.austinboxingbabes.com/.