Moving meditation and knowing when to give a fuck
By Coleman Molnar
Anna Farrant found boxing while rebuilding her life after recovering from substance abuse. Today, she shares her passion for the sport as co-owner of the underground boxing gym, All-City Athletics.
Vancouver has plenty of cheery storefronts, but All-City Athletics’ is not one of them. The entrance to the underground boxing studio is located down an alley that runs like a vein, connecting a flow of foot traffic from Victory Square to nearby East Hastings St., the unofficial entrance to the city’s notorious underbelly. There are no sandwich boards offering daily specials here, no floor-to-ceiling windows displaying merch alongside potted miniature cacti, just a brick wall and a small round sign bearing the letter A, hanging above a door with a boxer painted on it.
It’s important to manage the number of fucks you give out to the world
This is the entrance to Anna Farrant’s world. Along an alley, through a door, down some stairs and you’re greeted by the rhythmic thud of leather on leather, the smell of sweat mixed with some sort of incense, and the glow of a neon sign that reads “Fuck Off,” an open invitation.
“It’s important to manage the number of fucks you give out to the world,” says Farrant, co-owner of the downtown studio, describing one of her modus operandi. “You want to save the fucks for the right moments.”
The 36-year-old entrepreneur seems to wear this stoic philosophy on her sleeve, literally. Her sartorial aesthetic is best described succinctly: black. Her personality? Friendly, but you can skip the small talk, thanks. Her business, which she runs with her partner (romantic and professional), Jordan Bowers, is similarly no-nonsense, from the minimal branding and design to the workouts themselves, which range from the dimly lit, playlist-forward, fitness-boxing 8-Count class that’s accessible to beginners, to a more technically advanced NFAC (no fucking around class) designed for those with more experience. But whichever you choose, there’s no shying away from the truth in this gym. Eye contact will be made, with others, with yourself, but mostly with an 80-lb bag that hangs from the ceiling and doesn’t give an ounce of a care about your feelings.
This recipe for an honest workout in an unapologetically underground environment has proven effective in the Canadian West Coast Capital of Cool. Farrant and Bowers have earned attention from just the right crowds for their new-school-meets-old-school approach to fitness, and the local business community has drawn them into the fold. Athletics brand Lululemon, for example, has named them both as official ambassadors, while hospitality company, the Donnelly Group, is offering its 500 or so Vancouver-based staff two free passes to the class. Like recognizes like.
Boxing is like a moving meditation
But boxing is a raw endeavour—yes, even for experienced yogis and bartenders—and though this is a space dedicated to exercise, where punches land on leather bags or plastic pads, not bodies, the physicality of the sport remains.
“For me, boxing is like a moving meditation,” says Farrant. “The classes are like my own personal self-care moments. I do four or five a week. It keeps me sane.”
Farrant’s own introduction to the sport, however, came at a time in her life when this sense of stoic wisdom was just beginning to develop. At the age of 21, following a nearly decade-long battle with alcoholism and addiction that led her to drop out of high school and repeatedly torch nearly every personal relationship she had—all the fucks being allocated to the exact wrong places—Farrant finally found herself on the road to recovery. An intervention staged by her friends and the enrollment in a 12-step program proved effective and soon she was sober, gainfully employed in Vancouver and looking to give back to the recovery community that had helped save her life.
“Alcoholism is very selfish,” says Farrant. “It’s a very self-centred disease. You’re not concerned with other people. You’re thinking about what you can take from the situation to make yourself feel better, so the antidote for that is to be of service to other people.”
She would find such service with Insite, the renowned supervised injection site program in Vancouver’s downtown East Side. There she laboured on the frontlines, helping nurses and peer support workers with the dope-sick masses. Her daily duties included helping patients find veins, teaching them how to shoot safely, interjecting when there were staph infections or overdoses and just getting to know the users as people. But the work, fulfilling as it was, took its toll and Farrant found herself emotionally drained after each shift.
“When I was working there I was like, ‘man, I’ve absorbed all this energy from people and it’s just in my body and I don’t really know how to get rid of it,’” she says. “A girlfriend was boxing at the Astoria, which is an old boxing gym, and I went down there and tried it a few times. It was the first time I really fell in love with exercise. There’s just something about it that speaks to my character. It’s kind of intellectual, but still intense.”
After some training and a few fights at the Astoria, Farrant began volunteering her time to Aprons for Gloves, an Eastside-based organization focused on providing community outreach through boxing, and training at Eastside Boxing Club. It was here that she met fellow boxer, Jordan. Together they unwittingly laid the groundwork for their future business, gaining experience volunteer coaching Vancouver’s troubled youth and running the occasional outdoor boot camp for friends over the years.
When the draw of the potential marriage of passion and profession became too great, the pair took the leap together, getting certified as personal trainers, quitting their day jobs and launching themselves into the uncertain world of entrepreneurship. Many of the pieces were in place—the experience, the network, the drive—only the location was missing.
But we know how—or more accurately, where—this story ends: down a back alley off of Victory Square on the outskirts of Gastown. The storefront may be minimal, but you can guess how many fucks were given about that.
Visit Anna at allcityathletics.ca
We’ve partnered with Anna and the All-City Athletics crew to hook our staff up with two free classes. Work for us? Access the offer here.