Smile Politely

Building a better Champaign-Urbana: an interview with Jessie Rusteberg

Jessie Rusteberg co-owns and operates CU Women’s Boxing, located in Urbana. Just like me, she was born and raised here, left for a couple years in her early 20’s, and then moved back home. Rusteberg is a certified USA Boxing Coach, and has six years of boxing experience. It was fun getting the chance to talk with her about CU Women’s Boxing, where women of all and any fitness levels are welcome.

Smile Politely: What does inclusive community mean to you?  

Jessie Rusteberg: Being kind. Someone may be different from you, in what they feel, think, want and need. But their feelings are just as valid as yours. Even though the two of you may be very different, you probably have more in common than you realize.

SP: Tell me a little bit about CU Women’s Boxing. What’s the mission? What inspired you to open it? 

Rusteberg: It’s really about empowering women and getting great workout. We teach boxing and skills and challenge you. My hope is that people leave every workout feeling strong and empowered.

SP: What’s your favorite part about running CU Women’s Boxing? 

Rusteberg: The people! It’s such a cool group of people. I also like that it’s high energy for the most part, and I get to people what to do and they appreciate it!

SP: What makes it unique?  

Rusteberg: To start with, you can’t just walk in and spar. We require everyone to take an intro class before starting regular classes. Intro classes are an opportunity to learn proper form and also get a sense of what classes is like. It’s also unique in that our membership is a large group of women who are just really welcoming and also tough. But it’s not intimidating to try a class. It doesn’t have that vibe.

SP: What are some ways you involve your idea of inclusive community into your work at CU Women’s Boxing? 

Rusteberg: I don’t feel like I can take all the credit for making it an inclusive space. Most of that is our members being themselves. Even though no one formally agrees to help out new people, everyone just does. I tell all the intro classes that they can ask anyone questions and that everyone is so nice. The members have made it an inclusive community. There are things I can do to support that, like group and partner work. I also try things here and there. Like during the month of July I asked members to write encouraging messages on sticky notes and post them throughout the gym.

SP: How can people get involved? 

Rusteberg: Go check out our website and Facebook page. There’s a lot of information in both places. You can sign up for an intro class. I post the dates for the next round of intro classes on the 15th of each month. Go online and sign up! The intro class allows you to see what classes are like without having to make a commitment, and you can ask all the questions you might have.

SP: How would you describe yourself? 

Rusteberg: (laughs) Annoyingly persistent. I go after what I want and keep going after it until I stop failing.

SP: Do you have a personal model who inspires you?  

Rusteberg: A lot of people inspire me, and I’m very lucky to have a lot of different role models. One of my favorite quotes comes to mind. It’s a quote from Elizabeth Gilbert. “The women I love and admire for their strength and grace did not get that way because shit worked out. They got that way because shit went wrong and they handled it. They handled it a thousand different ways on a thousand different days, but they handled it. Those women are my superheroes.” 

SP: What are your greatest stresses in life?  

Rusteberg: I recently had a molar pregnancy. A molar pregnancy is when a tumor develops in the uterus early during the pregnancy. So I lost the pregnancy and there was also a possibility of the tumor developing into cancer. Luckily, I didn’t get cancer. As sad as this experience was and as hard as it was, I grew from it, and my husband and I grew from it.

SP: Where do you get the most joy in your life?  

Rusteberg: Book Club! I look forward to it every month. I get a lot of joy from quality time with friends and family.

SP: What is your favorite movie?  

Rusteberg: Hmm, I don’t think I have a favorite movie. But I like a light-hearted comedy. I like anything with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler together. I also like documentaries.

SP: What’s your favorite food?   

Rusteberg: It’s a tie between roasted veggies and soft pretzels

SP: What do you do in your free time?  

Rusteberg: I like to paint. I paint rooms, canvases, whatever. I’ve also been trying to learn how to play the guitar.

SP: What are your passions in life?  

Rusteberg: Over the last two years I’ve really been trying to simplify things. Everything from the way we do something at the gym to cleaning out my office or kitchen. I’m also not cramming things into my schedule. I need more down time. Some of my best time is spent reading a book on my porch. I’m always asking how can I simplify this task? I want to make more room or space for the sake of having a calmer life.

SP: What’s your favorite funny story about yourself?  

Rusteberg: This wasn’t funny at the time, but looking back I think its funny.  In Kindergarten my teacher would tell different kids to do things. You always wanted to be assigned something because it made you feel important and everyone thought you were important.  We were going to watch a movie and I wanted to be the one to turn the classroom lights off. My teacher told me to wait because it was someone else’s turn. I looked right at her and slowly flipped the switch off.  It was silly, but I never got in trouble at school again.

SP: What makes you laugh? 

Rusteberg: My kid and my nieces. I have a stepson, Bobby who’s six, and four nieces. My nieces are very feisty, which they get from me. My sister, their mom, has always been the more straight-laced one in the family.

SP: Was there a defining moment that made you choose the career path you chose?  

Rusteberg: No, it was actually kind of a slow process. My brother owns the gym with me. We started out with a couple classes. I thought it was something I could just do on the side. But within six months the gym was growing and we added more classes. Within a year, we moved locations and I stopped doing my other job. Now CU Women’s Boxing is my full-time job.

SP: Is there anything else you want people to know about you personally or professionally? 

Rusteberg: I can be intense, but I mean well and I care a lot. Sometimes I focus so much on this one thing, I forget the overall goal. Like, sometimes I get so focused on a technique during a class, that I forget that my main goal is for people to have a good time. I do the same thing at home, too.

On the CU Women’s Boxing website, Rusteberg states: I know what it’s like to feel defeated  to feel frustrated, weak and small — to not know what the next steps are or how to take them. She also says that she knows what it’s like to feel strong…to feel empowered because you are becoming the best version of you…to see changes in your mindset and self-esteem.”

I believe her. It’s pretty awesome that she’s able to provide a space that allows women to have a fun workout, become physically stronger, feel empowered and build community.

Click here for more information about CU Women’s Boxing.

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