Tacked next to snapshots of Mike Tyson, Oscar De La Hoya, and Lucia Ryker on Carla Wilcox's bulletin board is a postcard that reads, "Your heart is a muscle the size of your fist. Keep loving, keep fighting." That idea is central to the internationally ranked boxing champion. It's true that at Seattle Boxing Studio, the gym that Wilcox owns and operates with Morgan Dancer, you can achieve six-pack abs and learn to bob, weave, dance, and throw a nasty uppercut just like Mike—and Carla—but what you really get when you train with Wilcox is a chance to be inside your body and a chance to really love being there.
"I always tell people that they're not really doing this to look like J.Lo or those guys on The Contender. They're doing it to feel the way they feel right now," says Wilcox, of that moment in a workout when everything falls silent and your body begins to float, to transcend. It's a monumental thing to teach a body in this age of numb treadmilling and endless fad diets, and Wilcox says that she has always fought so that she would have the credentials to teach. "I can't really pay the sport forward if I'm just boxing," adds Wilcox, a native of tiny Hunters, Wash. (northwest of Spokane), and a lifelong athlete. And when you spend time in her tidy and inviting basement gym, where tough guys train alongside soccer moms and a poster of Muhammad Ali stands roughly opposite a framed copy of that gorgeous Mark Seliger photo of Drew Barrymore in Everlast shorts, your perception of boxing as a sport that yields knockdowns, knockouts, bruises, scars, and pain starts to change.
The great majority of Wilcox's clients, who must all begin their training with personal, one-on-one consultations before transitioning to group classes, never actually fight. Wilcox herself isn't currently competing in the ring. What her clients learn, and what Wilcox practices, is discipline, focus, honor, and respect. The goal is not necessarily to score a KO, nor is it necessarily to look better naked. The goal is to achieve the feeling of oneness with your body that Wilcox calls "vibration"—which, she explains, radiates from the inside out: "On a good day, I can feel that for two hours [after leaving the gym]. I will forever practice until I get to the place where I always have it." Seattle Boxing Studio, 1432 Broadway Ave., 206-931-7989.
Carla Wilcox's Picks
Best Prefight Spa:
Ummelina International Day Spa on Fourth Avenue. "I like to be sure I feel really pretty before a fight; that gives me the motivation to be sure I'm pretty when I'm done with the fight. You don't get your nose broken when you're feeling pretty. Morgan taught me a lot about visual presentation, and I love that."
Best Restaurant Bar:
Lola in Belltown. "One of my clients is the head bartender there, so when I want to watch boxing on TV and have a drink, that's where I go."
Best Weekend Getaway:
Salish Lodge in Snoqualmie.
Best Local Parks:
Seward and Gas Works. "We have some landscaping around here that you really cannot complain about."