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EmPOWer Lansing helps the community use boxing to fight personal battles

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Colin Jankowski, WKAR's Current Sports
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Colin Jankowski, WKAR's Current Sports
One of many statements of encouragement painted on the walls of EmPOWer.

The boxing facility, founded by U.S. Army Vet Brian Daniels, serves as a haven to help with mental health.

LANSING, Mich. – Three years ago, Brian Daniels, a U.S. Army veteran and sole survivor of a bombing attack in Iraq, started his own boxing gym in Lansing. He wanted to help others find their own strength and empowerment through boxing and physical fitness.

Now, Daniels’ gym is running strong, and his mission hasn’t shifted.

“I like to say the EmPOWer isn’t just a gym. It’s a movement,” Daniels said. “And it’s not just about empowering your body. I try and give life to people’s spirit. Help them find a piece that’s either been lost or broken or something they never knew they could truly have.”

And the environment of the gym makes it clear. All around the gym are statements of encouragement. “Just don’t quit” (a play on Nike’s “Just Do It”), “Be Relentless”, and other statements are plastered throughout the gym’s walls. They are easily visible for members of Daniels classes to see as they go through their class.

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Brian Daniels
Brian Daniels (Top Left) pictured during his deployment with the US Army.

Daniels checks in with each student during the class, sometimes multiple times, during the physically demanding routines.

“Everybody likes to hit things,” Daniels said, “and I think that creating that space where people feel comfortable no matter their fitness level or their experiences. If they’re happy in the space, then they’re able to thrive.”

The classes are demanding, too. Daniels’ afternoon class is 35 minutes, with class members constantly doing cardio: jumping rope, to throwing punches on punching bags.

And he pushes them the whole way.

Heather Robinson came to EmPOWer Lansing nearly three years ago looking for a gym that would motivate her and push her physically.

“A friend of mine had mentioned there was a gym named EmPOWer that had just opened and told me I should check it out,” Robinson said. “I knew after that first workout it was where I belonged.”

Now, three years later, Robinson still goes to EmPOWer, and was approached by Daniels to become an instructor.

“About six months ago, I was presented with the opportunity to become certified and join the EmPOWer team,” Robinson said. “Aside from teaching I still enjoy taking the classes Brian teaches and I make sure to fit it into my schedule.”

A rising issue today is mental health, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. People were isolated from each other, and then outlets such as gyms closed. That affected a lot of people and made mental health issues a bit more severe.

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Brian Daniels
Daniels pictured at a memorial for those killed in the attack in 2005.

“Everyone has demons to fight,” Brian said, “I’m an Iraq War veteran and sole survivor of an attack in 2005. Boxing helped rebuild my body and find that confidence again. Since we’ve opened, that’s what people have been trying to do. They’re fighting their demons.”

Daniels wants to fight the idea that boxing isn’t for everyone.

“Everyone needs to be able to vent and let off steam,” Daniels said. “Our world, in general, is kind of on fire and having somewhere you can go and let out that aggression or that nervous energy is important.”

“Everyone can box. It doesn’t matter if you’re built like me or if you have underlying health issues. We’re all capable of this.”

For his efforts with EmPOWer, Daniels was recently recognized by the Lansing Chamber of Commerce and received the “10 Over the Next Ten” award, which recognizes business owners who are believed to be influential business leaders in the next 10 years.

“I’m very honored,” Daniels said, about the award. “I love EmPOWer. I’m really proud of what it’s become.”

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