Lynnhurst couple bonds over boxing

Heidi Henriksen and fiancée Joe Amouta have found love and a career at the boxing ring. Photo by Michelle Bruch
Heidi Henriksen and fiancée Joe Amouta have found love and a career at the boxing ring. Photo by Michelle Bruch

She’s the first woman boxer from Minnesota to join Team USA, and she’s launching a summer boot camp at Armatage Park. He’s the new lead coach at Fighting Chance Boxing Club, a North Minneapolis gym based at a converted fire station.

Lynnhurst couple Heidi Henriksen and Joe Amouta met at the Uppercut Boxing Gym in Northeast.

“I walked into the gym and saw her training people. I said hi,” Amouta said. “The next day I said, ‘You look pretty today.’”

They went for coffee. Coffee became dinner. He proposed in April, the same night Henriksen won a fight at Uppercut, surrounded by cheering family members.

“Two ring victories in one day,” she said.

Henriksen is perhaps an unlikely competitive boxer. She originally studied art at St. Olaf, and went on to work at Albertsson Hansen Architecture in Minneapolis.

She came to Uppercut simply for a place to work out. While taking an intro boxing class, gym owner Lisa Bauch pulled her aside and suggested she try sparring.

As Henriksen took up boxing, she became inspired by her fellow athletes, started losing weight and thought about competing.

“If you come in and work hard, you have just as big of a shot as anybody else,” she said.

She competed in the Ringside World Championships and won the title match in the Senior Women’s Light Heavyweight category in 2011. She went on to compete with the US National Boxing Team in 2014, which took her to competitions in South Korea and Guadalajara, and she’s currently an alternate for the national team. She narrowly missed qualifying for the Olympic trials by two spots.*

Amouta — born in Samoa, they call him “Samoa Joe” at the gym — said he’s always loved boxing.

“Since I was young, I wanted to be a boxer,” he said.

He created his own workouts, running to school and back, shadow boxing under the lemon trees, even running seven miles with a jump rope.

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Henriksen remembers the first time Amouta sparred with Alfonso Vazquez, a trainer at Uppercut with more than 20 years of experience.

“The entire gym stopped and watched,” she said.

Now Amouta is working at Fighting Chance, a new boxing gym at 1704 N. 33rd Ave. that is free to kids and open to adults with a donation. Fighting Chance offers boxing programs, a community gym, a yoga studio and a community kitchen. When Amouta visited the gym for the first time, he gave some tips to a few kids.

“I didn’t know they were watching me,” he said.

He was soon offered a lead coaching position, and he immediately left his job at Maple Grove Hospital.

“It’s amazing where life is taking me,” Amouta said.

“Since we met, he’s been talking about coaching kids,” Henriksen said.

Amouta said he’s enjoying the chance to provide some structure for young boxers, teaching them how to handle the equipment and grow in confidence.

“I’ve been there,” he said.

Growing up, he said people told him he wasn’t fast enough, couldn’t throw a punch, or was too small.

“How can you overcome that? Faith,” he said.

Henriksen is also a certified yoga instructor. She teaches at CorePower Yoga in Northeast Minneapolis and other locations, where she throws boxing moves into her yoga sculpt classes.

“I think that is rare,” she said. “I think it is such a beautiful combination.”

Henriksen said she loves the intensity of boxing — the bells going off, the loud music, the leather-on-leather. But after working in the gym every day, she reached a point where she needed to find a way to calm down.

“I was so amped all the time,” she said.

The quiet of yoga provided the perfect counterpart to boxing, she said. She’s noticed similarities in the breathing and focus it takes to do both.

She’s recently started her own business, offering summer boot camps that combine elements of boxing and yoga. Her “Get Fit” boot camp runs through Aug. 26, featuring 6 a.m. meetups at Armatage Park. For more information, visit Heidi Henriksen Fitness on Facebook.

You compete alone in the ring, Henriksen said, and there is a parallel to daily life.

“You have to figure out whether to turn the switch up or down,” she said. “…When you get in the ring, you have all the support you need in your corner.”

*Corrected to specify the Olympic trials

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