Theresa Callero came the first time with a friend who had invited her. 

“I had never boxed before,” she said. “I enjoyed getting some aggression out, so I continued.”

Ruth Costellano got into boxing because she needed to burn some body fat. Brianna Christiano is 24 years old and had been a competitive athlete. She wanted to get back in shape and was sick of going to the gym by herself. She also knew that many celebrities were using boxing to get in shape, so she decided to try it. Barb Cybulski, who is 62 and looks like 35, said she has always worked out, but when she went to the gym, she would just do the same things over and over. She said Cheryl Sauvey, the owner of Core Strength, 7223 Madison St., makes the classes interesting by including variety in each session.

On the other side of the Eisenhower Expressway last fall, Chad Koch, the owner of White Wolf Academy, led a self-defense workshop at The Park. Koch said most of the participants in his workshops are women, and he thinks he knows why so many women are getting into the martial arts and boxing. 

“If you take a look at what is happening with our former heroes and our current political candidates,” he explained, “I am not surprised that more women are looking to protect themselves. We live in a deeply narcissistic patriarchy. Women have been seen as less than men for a long time. It is a shame they became objects and toys for many of the males who were/are in power. I teach women that they have their own strength and have high worth even if popular culture doesn’t see it.”

The women in Sauvey’s classes at Core Strength aren’t boxing primarily to learn self-defense techniques but rather to get in shape and lose weight. Costellano said she burns up to 500 calories per session and has lost 45 pounds since she started boxing. Callero has lost 30 pounds. Cybulski said she doesn’t box to lose weight but to gain agility, flexibility and strength. It works all parts of your body, she added, including your heart.

The boxing at Core One isn’t about pummeling your opponent. The women don’t actually hit each other. What they do is pair up, with one partner holding big pads on each hand and the other, donning boxing gloves, doing jabs and combinations at the pads her partner is holding.

The four women may have started coming to Sauvey’s studio for different reasons, but all agreed one reason they keep coming back is that Sauvey creates a comfortable, welcoming, non-competitive atmosphere.

Koch’s approach is a little different in that he focuses more on the inner, almost spiritual side of the martial arts instead of the physical and technical. 

“My Self-Defense Warriors Workshop,” he said, “is designed to teach people to be aware of themselves and their surroundings. My job is to help people find and accept their strength and live by a warrior’s code. Martial arts is no longer about fighting. I teach that it is about developing morals and codes while learning to live in a physically, mentally and emotionally healthy way.”

Although women may not be conscious of developing their “internal strength” when they box at Core Strength, that is what inevitably happens. 

“If someone attacked me,” Cybulski said, “obviously I’m a small person, but I do feel like I could do something to fight back. Boxing blends both inner and outer strength.”

Christiano, who has only been boxing for a month, said, “So far I’ve seen a difference in my body, but it gives especially women confidence to know that they can stand up for themselves. It gives you both inner and outer empowerment.”

Costellano said the internal change for her is simply feeling healthier, and Callero said she is happier with her body now.

Cybulski emphasized that the environment Sauvey creates is emotionally safe. 

“There are a lot of women who come here extremely overweight,” she explained, “and they come in with a lack of confidence and with self-consciousness. But because there is such a warm environment here, they come on a consistent basis and start seeing results. It’s not at all competitive in the sense that someone wins and someone loses. We’re very supportive of each other.”

Contact information: Cheryl Sauvey (224-659-4550, also does personal training with yoga, kettlebell, ropes, floor exercise and TRX. Chad Koch (, 708-522-3596).