The Promised Islands

I came to America too late to make a career out of boxing here.

Continent Adelino Da Costa

 

The inventor of a new form of fitness, still woefully obscure in the Russian-speaking world, Adelino Da Costa tells us about how the concept of his fitness-boutique came to light, and about the first steps towards developing the active retreats he currently arranges in Guinea-Bissau. To escape from the madness of the information-packed mirrors of society, to return, if only for a week, to the cradle of civilisation, to attain your authentic self — what could be more enticing?

I opened up my first boxing gym on Madison Avenue, though everyone around was eager to assure me that this was the wrong place to do so, predicting that my undertaking would be a complete failure. The wealthy, successful, comfort-loving inhabitants of Madison Avenue, who never sweat, and who despise any forms of violence or fighting — these are the people who were to become my clients.

My funds while living in New York, working both in a restaurant and in professional boxing, enabled me to rent a tiny room of 150 square feet. It was a basement that had previously been used to store junk. Even the owners of this basement were convinced that such a lousy place wouldn’t bring in any profit, and therefore agreed to reduce the rent to a minimum.

When the contract was signed, I went in there and said to myself, «Well, it’s not the 3,000 square feet everyone seems to think is necessary to open a gym; it’s only 150. My gym won’t be a big one, but, if I work 14 hour days and manage to make rent, I could eventually even earn some money for myself.»

I was a rookie in the business, I didn’t go to business school or Harvard. I was born in Africa, on the island of Jeta, and then my parents and I lived in Portugal, where I became a Professional Boxing League champion. Afterwards, I decided to challenge myself, and moved to New York, where I found work as a dishwasher in a restaurant. I simultaneously trained at the legendary Gleason’s Gym, an establishment that had been frequented by such boxers as Mike Tyson, Muhammad Ali, Floyd Mayweather, and Zab Judah. I would finish work at the restaurant at 1:00 in the morning, and then I’d be at the gym, ready to box, at 7:00 sharp. That was the rhythm of my life for three or four years: at the restaurant, washing dishes, at the gym, training, working, training…

In 2002, I participated in the US National Golden Gloves Tournament, where they select fighters for the Olympics. I made it to the finals, but lost in the quarter-final.

I came to America too late to make a career out of boxing here. I was 27, and in this business, you have to start at a very young age. That’s what the promoters and everyone on the business end require. And so I decided to look for a path of my own.

In 2005, when boxing was mainly a sport for children of middle and lower-class families, I opened up the Madison Avenue gym. My business plan involved only myself and my determination to succeed. And there was also the idea behind it: after having lived in the states all these years, I felt I had a notion of what was lacking for America’s rich and famous, who are constantly sprinting for success, who are constantly under stress and tension. I created a place where they could let off steam.

This was how the first sports boutique came into being, an outdoor gym that wasn’t 3,000 square feet, but 1,500. It was very small, but beautifully decorated, as if in the middle of Madison there was a little piece of Africa, with nice floors.

When people come to PUNCH, they are taken care of. Everything adapts to their individual rhythm, to their mood and purpose, so that, leaving the gym, they’re left only with the feeling of how good it was. All of the physical exertion, all of the training and learning are in the background! In the forefront, it’s always about your smile, your comfort, the sense of harmony you have with yourself. It is only when you are able to reach this state of mind that all of that physical exercise can really make you stronger; only then do you gain energy and confidence.

At the beginning, I had to work 12-14 hours a day, but soon enough I was able not only to cover the rent, but also to hire my first employees. To everyone’s surprise, something unbelievable happened — the weary and capricious people of Madison Avenue fell in love with us.

And so our concept came to life. When it turned out that many of our customers spend summer in the Hamptons, we opened a location there, too, and there we were also met with success. After that, we opened clubs on 5th Avenue and at the Mark Hotel on 77th Street.

In 2006 – 2007 New York City, there were no small gyms, just the big ones. People couldn’t imagine that there were cosy little places, where you could chat, where you would be paid attention to and taken care of, where you could feel at home. The gym at the Mark Hotel was modelled on this concept, as were the ones at Greenwich Canary Cab and Central Park West, in Harlem, which, after President Bill Clinton set up an office there, completely transformed before our eyes.

During the crisis of 2008, when people weren’t sure of what to do, I decided to return to Africa. I sought out all of my family and relatives, visited Jeta, my native land. And Africa appeared to me as yet another great opportunity.

Guinea-Bissau had retained its natural beauty and traditional way of life. All of the things that, twenty years ago, could only have been seen as evidence of backwardness, now presented themselves as hugely advantageous features and resources for development. Only 13 of Guinea’s 88 islands are inhabited, meaning that a wealth of unique, untouched nature is only a short flight from Europe.

I continued to explore the territory, under the protection of UNESCO as well as the Institute of Biodiversity (IBAB). Then I started to bring my New York clients there, to the islands.

In 2010, I organised a training camp for 4 people. The idea sprung up in me to conduct a camp right in the midst of these purely natural surroundings, especially for those who needed a break from life in the urban jungle. For people who could manage at least five days of free time. The daily routine was as follows: a nutritious breakfast, followed by training, then a break for some rest, then lunch, after which we’d do some more training, followed by time for massage and meditation. In today’s world, so full of stress, sleeping pills, stimulants, and daily haste, we provide the opportunity to get away from it all.

After the plan worked out with a group of 4 people, I began preparing a program for 10.

The reason I’m involved in this is because it’s so rewarding, after all the training, travelling, and learning, amidst the noise on the street, to see the smile on a person’s face, know that this person has found harmony in himself, and that I was the one who helped him do it. For me, it’s not only about business, but also personal success. Very often, we get lost in the crowd and don’t even recognise ourselves. Within each of us, there is the space and the strength for development, and a heart eager to reconnect with the nature that we all came out of. Nowadays, we are constantly forgetting this.

That’s why Punch isn’t about fighting, but about breaking through to your true self.

Happiness, to me, is when people enter the gym weighed down by the world, and leave with high spirits and levity in their hearts.