As swinging punching bags creak on their chains and children shriek with excitement, Ludy Webster waits at the front desk of his boxing gym for his students to arrive.
Nobody comes through the door of Ludy's Boxing Gym in south Minneapolis without a handshake, high-five or hug from the owner.
He receives a chorus of "Hey, Ludy!" greetings in return before the students swarm the gym, some to stretch, some awaiting their coach's first instructions of the day.
Webster, 56, started boxing at age 13 and credits his career in the sport with keeping him out of trouble. In opening his own gym in 2021, he hoped to provide the same outlet for others in his hometown.
"It kept me disciplined, even as I got older," Webster said. "In my late teens, early 20s, I was still boxing. A lot of my buddies would go out, and I would go out, but that would stop me from drinking and doing anything bad because I knew I had a boxing match coming up."
The gym is a nonprofit organization, with Webster raising money to offer kids discounted boxing classes and support a group of young, competitive boxers.
To rent the building and pay for gear in 2021, Webster and another co-founder invested $40,000 of their own savings, with an additional $10,000 donation from U.S.A. Boxing, a nonprofit that supports new gyms.
Though the boxing gym is breaking even, Webster still relies on income from running a plumbing company to make a living. Any extra money after paying the gym's bills goes to buying more boxing gear, water bottles and Gatorade for kids.
"It is starting to get tight on us," Webster said. "I'm barely getting by with rent and all our bills."
The "for-profit side" of the gym — selling memberships and classes for kids and adults — helps to finance Webster's goal of training boxers who travel to represent Minneapolis in national competitions.
Webster said it's tough managing two businesses — one for money and one for passion — pretty much on his own. His duties for the gym alone can range from hosting car washes and fundraisers, arranging free memberships for volunteers and teaching boxing classes, including two kids' sessions, about a dozen adult trainings and a beginners' course every week.
Boxers can also purchase a gym membership or pass for more open practice. The cost starts at $25 for single-day pass for a class or gym access and runs up to $150 a month for unlimited access for a family.
Though Webster admits running a business doesn't come easy or naturally to him, his clientele agree Webster himself is the selling point of the gym.
"He supports the kids a lot," said Miguel Arroyo, whose son goes to Webster's classes twice a week. "The environment was really welcoming. That's why we just continued going."
When the doors first opened, Webster was able to attract 60 clients from social media promotion and distributing flyers. Now, the gym has amassed about 115 clients.
"It just took off," Webster said. He ultimately aims to double the size of the 2,500-square-foot gym to accommodate more clients.
Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune
Webster's positive reputation led local competitive boxer Damarius Gilbert to join a year ago. As a coach, Webster creates a uniquely warm and comfortable space for growing boxers, Gilbert said.
"I needed to find a new coach," Gilbert said. "I came here, and automatically it was like, 'Welcome to the family.' So it was a great first-time experience."
Being able to box at Ludy's has improved both his physical and mental health, Gilbert said, and having a coach who prioritizes creating personal connections with students has been a game-changer.
"Boxing brought me a better life," Gilbert said. "It changed me into a better man."
Webster said his relationship with his students has expanded in the two years he's owned the gym, especially with a group of teenagers who regularly come by to do homework and hang out with friends.
"You're more than a coach," Webster said. "You're a father figure. A psychiatrist. You're mentally really helping with the kids because they're trying to figure it out in life. They've got a lot more questions than boxing questions."
With the help of two other volunteer coaches at the gym — and occasional assistance from older boxers who frequent the gym — Webster structures an engaging class for kids ages 6 to 14, including intense cardio, running drills, proper stance and punch technique. It's all set to a soundtrack of Disney songs.
Justin Hill, with more than a decade of boxing experience, assists with these classes, maintaining the energy needed to keep up with a dozen spirited students who are all eager to throw a punch at a grown-up. Hill noted Ludy's sense of community is not present in other boxing gyms.
"Everybody just cares about each other," Hill said, smiling down at his daughter Ayla, who bounced around the gym with a rainbow bow in her hair. "My daughter, she loves hanging around with the other kids. When I was a kid and I boxed, it kept me out of trouble."
"I just feel like there's more care and love here."