Former musical conductor Travis Glenn unleashes gay men’s boxing talents at Dallas’ white-collar ring, the Oak Lawn Boxing club
Travis Glenn’s story is like chapter from Chuck Palahniuk’s "Fight Club."
Growing up in Peoria, Ill., televised boxing matches never interested him.
"Never!" Glenn insists, as he proudly sits in front of his 22-foot ring inside the gym he owns, Oak Lawn Boxing.
At Illinois Wesleyan University, Glenn majored in physics and music. After serving as a conductor for touring productions of Broadway musicals, Glenn eventually migrated to Dallas in 1983. Big D was home base as he dotted the East and West coasts in productions of "Oklahoma," "Forever Plaid" and "Carousel."
But in 1995, a gay buddy told him about underground fighting matches — the kind held in parking lots, warehouses and empty fields.
"I can’t go into too much detail about it — not because of the fighting, but because of the gambling and betting that goes on," Glenn says. "This was before the Internet and text massages. And back then, it seemed like taxicab drivers served as the grapevine for finding out where and when the fights were held."
The first bare-knuckle brawl Glenn attended was beneath a highway overpass. And he wasn’t a spectator.
"My fight lasted about a minute. I just ran out of steam, and I ended up with a black eye," he remembers.
Since he was on break between productions, Glenn didn’t have to show up at rehearsal with a shiner. But he was immediately addicted to the adrenaline rush and thrill of danger. And he wanted more.
While performing in cities like Chicago and New York, Glenn picked up lessons in martial arts. In 2000, he found a local trainer, Dan Gonzales, a straight dude.
In 2003, Glenn stopped competing in the bare-knuckle fights. During those eight years, he competed in about 75 fights — never in gloved tournaments, he says.
In 2005, Gonzales encouraged him to train others. Gonzales said Glenn would learn more by teaching others. So in the garage of his Gilbert Avenue townhouse, Glenn started giving lessons on Saturday afternoons. That same year, he gave up conducting.
Business picked up. And Glenn found that had a knack for teaching one-on-one lessons — especially with beginners. Many think boxing is an intimidating sport, but Glenn’s approach is different.
"A lot of gay men grow up with gym teachers yelling that they ‘run like sissies’ or ‘throw like girls.’ I’m all about positive reinforcement," he says. "I help people overcome the programming that they were never good at sports. I help them realize that as they’re getting older, they’re good at athletics. I’m 51 years old. I was never good at sports, and now I’m in the best shape of my life."
Along with boxing and jujitsu instruction, Glenn helps people with body mechanics and motion analysis. He says students eventually enjoy the stress relief, cardio workout and learning about self-defense. He teaches men and women; gay and straight; young and old; doctors, lawyers, accountants and IT specialists ….
Glenn says there are mainly three boxing gyms in Dallas: One in Oak Cliff primarily caters to African-Americans; another in North Dallas primarily caters to Latinos.
"Oak Lawn Boxing is Dallas’ middle-aged ‘white guy’ gym," Glenn laughs.
This month, Glenn celebrates his one-year anniversary at Oak Lawn Boxing’s new facility, a 3,000-square-foot gym in the Dallas Design District. Right now, he has 83 regular students who train once or twice a week. Glenn also employs four part-time instructors.
His students aren’t just white guys. He says he’s had incredible success with cancer patients who are going through rehab. He mentions a 30-something woman who had a portion of her right foot removed to due a melanoma. Her doctor suggested some physical activities to regain her balance and get her back on her feet.
"She’s feisty, and she wanted to box. Her doctor was worried. But like most cancer patients, she’s a fighter," Glenn says. "After a few months, the doctor saw her progresses said he wanted her to increase her lessons from once to twice a week."
Since the novel "Fight Club" was written by a gay author, is there a homoerotic connection to boxing — like an S&M connection?
"Maybe. I wasn’t interested in fighting until I hit my 40s. There’s something Wild West about it — settling things with our fists or brawling like cavemen," Glenn says.
"The last thing I want to do is insult the S&M community. But I think boxing takes too much work. There’s too much dedication involved for it be anything else," Glenn says. "Not that there isn’t an erotic component. Recently, one of my straight students said, ‘Boxing is the most intimate thing two men can experience without having sex.’"
DIABLOS ON SATURDAY
The Dallas Diablos Rugby Football Club hits the Lake Highlands Pitch on Saturday afternoon.
The Men’s Side plays Griffins RFC on Jan. 10 at 2 p.m. in East Dallas at N. Buckner Boulevard and Lake Highlands Drive. For more info, DallasDiablos.org
Oak Lawn Bowling Association’s spring season began Jan. 5. Spring season ends in May. OLBA bowls Mondays at 7:45 p.m. at USA Bowl, 10920 Composite Dr.
Weekly dues are $15 per bowler, $60 per team, which doesn’t include USBC certification, $18. OakLawnBowling.com
SIGN UP FOR V-BALL
Dallas Independent Volleyball Association Spring 2009 Recruitment is underway and runs through Jan. 30.
Weekday new-member clinics begin Jan. 20-Jan 30 at various North Texas recreation centers. For more info, DivaDallas.org
— Daniel A. Kusner
GETTING IN THE RING
Oak Lawn Boxing has five punching bags, a 22-foot boxing ring, a 20-foot wrestling-grappling mat and a small weightlifting gym.
• Instructors give one-on-one lessons.
• Lessons are $30 per 45-minute session.
• There are no contracts. Students pay as they go.
• Most students train at least once a week.
• First lesson — mostly an assessment — is free. You can borrow the gym’s equipment. However, most students eventually buy their own gear because they get sick of used sweaty gloves.
Oak Lawn Boxing, 1339 Crampton St. 972-497-1767. OakLawnBoxing.com
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 9, 2009.