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HAMMOND | The women working out on this arctic night are not sipping imported bottled water, texting their friends, and wearing cutesy outfits while watching Oprah on a big-screen TV.

Far from it.

They are eager students in Army vet/retired steelworker Joe Orellana's "boot camp" held three times a week at the timeworn Hammond Boxing Club.

The ladies range in age from 16 to 62. They are here to improve their cardio, build confidence, shed some weight, and maybe strap on the boxing gloves if they so desire.

There are no shortcuts or holding back in these hourly-sessions of high intensity interval training. And they absolutely love it.

"There are seven stations and after every 30 seconds, you change stations," Orellana said. "That way, you're getting a full body workout. Then we do a lot of pad work and incorporate the 'military motivation' -- but with compassion.

"They inspire each other and they push each other. The atmosphere is more like a family thing. We modify the exercises so they can handle them."

The mitt drills are particularly fun to watch as one student quickly backpedals holding two huge mitts while her charging partner is throwing a flurry of punches.

Balance and focus are key as the two work their way around the gymnasium and between several obstacles, eyes fixed firmly on each other.

"It's not only a physical thing, it's a mindset, a lifestyle," the 65-year-old Orellana said of his class. "It will give them self-confidence and carry them through the challenges they face each week."

Lynwood's Tiffany Griffin, 33, trains the HBC's amateur boxing team. She's taken the boot camp class, taught it, and now occasionally helps out.

"Most of the women come here with some sort of fear or insecurity," she said. "I tell them you can't avoid that. That's everyday life. What you can do is try to overcome that, get past it.

"I've had women lose 50 pounds teaching them this class. At the end, they're able to build off it, go on and do other things. I have a woman now who is running marathons.

"It's about growth and empowerment. You need confidence here and the ability to back it up."

Erin Skelly of Park Forest, after a few sparring lessons with Orellana, scored a first-round knockout at the Nov. 15 "Battle of Badges" charity event in Harvey, which drew more than 500 fans.

"I started here with my daughter (Olivia) so we could get fit together," said Skelly, 35. "You can get your cardio, you can get your strength training, all in one. It's all women. We all support each other. It's like family.

"I've lost 30 pounds since July."

Skelly is a police-fire dispatcher and though she looks like a natural while throwing punches, that's not her game.

"It does build confidence. I'm not a fighter but I know the skills that I've picked up would help me defend myself," she said. "Everybody has some pent-up aggressions or problems and you can take it out on the punching bag."

Anyone can sign up for classes by calling HBC manager Dennis Hardesty at 219-852-4210.

The term "boot camp" is no gimmick. Time spent at the HBC is invaluable. This is no chit-chat social hour.

"We do Army crawls, sprints, a thousand situps," Skelly said. "Joe runs it like in the military. You slack and you do it again.

"No guys are allowed in here because it's more of a comfort thing for the women. But I think we could beat half the guys."

Other students this night included Renee Watts (49) of Crete, Essie Orellana (62) of Whiting, Joyce Wynn (48) of Calumet City, Kirstin Cucio (32) of Beecher, Erin McGinley (35) of Beecher, Olivia Skelly (16) of Park Forest and Hammond's Niko Sullivan (39).

For most of the hour, Joe Orellana is shouting encouragement and instructions at the top of his voice, sounding like a union leader on a picket line.

"It's a good workout. It's fun. And they motivate you," said Sullivan, a mother of three. "Look at the age group here. They make sure they tailor it to your physical ability. They single you out. They're very individualized.

"This is where I want to be. I've tried other places. I've been to the Y. But seriously, this is home."


Sports Copy Editor

Jim is a copy editor for The Times who works out of Valparaiso. A South Central High School (1984) and Ball State ('89) grad, he’s covered preps most of his career. He received the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association’s Media Award in 1997.

Jason is a sports copy editor and avid traveler whose goal is to see and do everything before he expires from this mortal coil. Also, mosquitoes find him delicious.