Three years ago, while on duty as a Drexel University police officer, Jennifer August shielded herself and a young man she was training from a barrage of bullets just feet away. A gunman had ambushed a Philadelphia police sergeant, then gone on a shooting rampage that would leave a woman dead and two officers injured.
Days later, August said, she found out she was pregnant with her third child.
Despite the dangers, the crazy hours, and the panicked phone calls from relatives and friends worried about her, August loved being a police officer. Over a 10-year career in law enforcement, she seldom encountered other female cops, she said, but her male colleagues respected her.
The Norwood native says she has never felt more empowered than now, however, running the all-female Jabz Boxing studio in Ridley Park.
“It’s so refreshing,” she said, “going from 10 years of working with all men to now working with all women.”
High-intensity, women-only fitness studios have become increasingly popular across the country as women get fed up with being hit on, eyed, “mansplained” to, or otherwise intimidated at the gym, which can be a testosterone-fueled environment — particularly in the weight room.
As August, 33, was mulling a career change last winter, she jumped at the opportunity to add something different to that community and manage a Delaware County studio for Jabz, which was created in 2012 by her Archbishop Prendergast High School classmate Kimberlee White and White’s business partner Len Hayko.
Founded in Arizona, where White now lives, Jabz offers intimate, circuit-style workout classes that incorporate boxing and focus on female empowerment. The concept caught on there, where there are now more than a dozen studios. Last year, the company opened a Voorhees location, its first foray outside the Grand Canyon State.
The Ridley Park studio became the region’s second Jabz, opening last month with nearly 200 members and marking the company’s most successful opening yet, August said.
August said she and White were able to quickly establish a loyal following because of their Delaware County upbringing. Their Facebook page is full of rave reviews, with one user writing, “This place has become my therapy!”
Nicole Miller, 33, a stay-at-home mom from Norwood, said she joined because she was looking to get in better shape but wasn’t sure where to start.
Having known August from high school, Miller tried out a class — and left crying, feeling as if she couldn’t keep up with a challenging workout routine. But over time, she said, the classes got easier.
“The all-woman part of it is great, because we’re constantly encouraging each other,” Miller said. “It’s empowering.”
The black-and-pink North Swarthmore Avenue studio centers around a boxing ring, but the women here don’t spar with one another. Instead, during cardio portions of the workout, they can let out their aggression on body opponent bags, B.O.B’s for short. The “Bob” punching bags, which resemble a human face and torso, are the closest thing to men you’ll find anywhere in the studio, August said.
Laughing, she added: “We have a lot of women who call them their ex-husbands’ names, their ex-boyfriends’ names."
Some women join Jabz from other nearby gyms, saying they want a change of pace, August said. Others haven’t worked out in years and want to get back in shape, she said, “but they don’t feel comfortable going to a regular gym.”
“They don’t know what to do,” she added, “or they feel intimidated by the men that are working out.”
August has always been into fitness, she said, and regularly did CrossFit before opening Jabz. In the past, she had gone to more traditional gyms, too, but wouldn’t stray out of her comfort zone there and would find excuses not to go.
“This is so much more fun," she said, "and cleaner!”
August said she still stays in touch with some of her former colleagues at the Darby Police Department, Delaware County Sheriff’s Office, and Drexel University Police. They’re intrigued, she said, and sometimes skeptical of her new line of work.
To August, the trade-off is worth it.
She now has more control over her schedule, a necessity as she raises three young sons with her husband, Tom August, a Peco dispatcher who does shift work.
Most important, she said she feels rewarded as she watches members’ fitness levels and confidence grow every day.
Members come up to August and thank her for helping them overcome anxiety, become less dependent on their spouse, or simply “not feel like an idiot” because they don’t know how to do an exercise or use a machine, August said.