BATTLE REPUBLIC HAS OPEN HEARTS AND OPEN DOORS
Photos by Kris Broadhead
Battle - to fight or struggle tenaciously to achieve or resist something.
Republic - a group with a certain equality between its members.
Battle Republic - A kickass boxing gym where anyone is welcome to throw on some gloves and beat the hell out of life.
Battle Republic is every positive variation of the word ass: bad, kick, sweet. The building contains 55-gallon trash cans full of boxing gloves, 190-pound bags strapped to the ceiling with heavy duty chains, and neon-caked, sweat-stained workouts fueled by propellant beats. But surprisingly, the exercise aspect of Battle Republic is almost a secondary function to its real focus: community. Leah Drury sums it up like this, “However we can build you up, that’s what we want to do.”
The soul of the company is born from the hearts of the owners, Leah Drury and Lindsey Miller. So, a deep dive into their story is necessary to understand the thought and history that built this fitness concept. These are two women who understand what it is to persevere—and they’ve managed to take the roller coaster of life and condense it into a 45-minute workout for an experience that is utterly unique to the South.
The two couldn’t be more different, but are clearly thick as thieves. Leah is positively buoyant with bubbles of boisterous energy. She can barely stay in one place. Her voice is slightly gravelly. Her hair is sandy blonde. Lindsey is just a touch shorter, with heavy brunette locks and lashes visible from orbit. There’s a tenderness in her voice. They’re both beautiful—and they’re both far too humble. Leah played basketball at the collegiate level and later went on to coach the Seattle Storm in the WNBA. Lindsey went corporate after college and headed the private equity purchase of Zoe’s Kitchen in 2007. She even got to ring the triumphant bell on Wall Street when the company went public.
Not bad for two kids raised on catfish farms.
They’re Greensboro girls, raised in a city with less than 2,300 people, just south of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. They lived 10 minutes from each other growing up and bonded over sports. When Lindsey was 16, she drove Leah to and from games in her ‘89 Lincoln Towncar. It was far from glamorous. “It was pretty pimp,” Lindsey said sarcastically. “It had velveteen interior. I hated it.”
Life on the farm steeled them for life in general. They weren’t strangers to hard work and learned its value early. Lindsey has her father to thank for that. “I worked harder than any boy in my school.”
Leah chimed in, “She couldn’t come [to tournaments} until she’d finished weed-eating everywhere on the farm. I remember her coming to tournaments and saying ‘I can’t feel my arms.’ And she still crushed in the game.” The foundation for their grit was laid.
Jump cut to later in life when they’re young adults getting knocked on their asses. Leah worked like a dog to get a basketball scholarship and then managed to get injured multiple times, keeping her from playing for about two years. Lindsey had moved to North Carolina for work, was absolutely overwhelmed—and while she was away, her dad died unexpectedly. This is when the world would tell you to quit. They didn’t. They kept grinding. Leah eventually went on to play professionally and tour the world. Lindsey worked so hard that she was able to move back home to be closer to family without sacrificing her upward path with Zoe’s.
After Leah moved back home they reconnected and started their first entrepreneurial foray into joint ownership with a coffee shop. It was a great idea in theory, but lousy on paper. “It honestly wasn’t a smart investment,” said Leah. But this was a matter of the heart and not the head. “We wanted to give back to our community.”
And they did.
They tied as much of their shop to the local economy as possible. There’s a local farm that sources their veggies. Local coffee from the only coffee roaster in the Black Belt. The Mennonite bakery makes fresh bread. “We’ve been able to hire people and pay them really well for that area. We knew we wanted the restaurant to be impactful,” said Lindsey. The point was never profit. The point was people.
A couple of months down the line, Lindsey called Leah from a bar to convince her to start a boxing gym—something she learned about in an email she received. Her location would lead some to think it was a stereotypical drunk dial, but that was far from the truth. Lindsey wasn’t even tipsy. Leah realized her best friend wasn’t faffing about. “It was probably one of the most serious conversations we’d ever had. Lindsey had just quit a job she’d had for 14 years.”
Indeed, Lindsey was done with corporate for a time and was heavily considering her next steps in life. She didn’t know what she wanted to do, but she knew she wanted Leah on board. Leah was skeptical until they actually attended a Rumble class in New York City. Walking out of it, Leah said two words, “I’m in.”
Lindsey responded dryly, “Oh good.”
The remainder of their trip was spent researching how to create an experience that not only worked people out, but built people up. It holds nearly zero resemblance to any other workout of its ilk. “The only similarity is the bags,” said Leah. “Everything else is us. Our workout, how it’s setup, how it’s designed—it’s nothing like others.”
On the east and west coast, the selling point for membership is exclusivity for knit-brow meatheads, but the ladies knew that wouldn’t fly in Alabama. So they traded cliques for community. The doors are open to anyone. They have members as young as 13 and as seasoned as 73. While they encourage members to do their best, they don’t pressure anyone because they know, sometimes, people have bad days. Leah said it like this, “Sometimes just showing up is a win.”
Really, fitness isn’t the goal, it’s a side effect. Their hope for Battle Republic is that anyone and everyone can show up and leave all their stress on the bag. “Hitting the crap out of a bag is emotional,” said Lindsey. To encourage this, the final round of the workout is freestyle. The lights go red, the music elevates, and people are allowed to do whatever they want to do for 30 seconds. Oddly enough the intensity doesn’t wane, but explodes—as if that’s the moment everyone was waiting for. Some wail on the bag, some use weights, others do something completely original. The ladies recall one woman who proceeded to backhand and slap the bag for 30 seconds. “That’s what she needed that day.” they said.
When it’s over the music smash cuts immediately to something far lower key, and the lights turn a cool blue. The members stretch out for a cool down, and the coaches speak life over them, encouraging them to be proud of the work they’ve done.
These ladies have so many accomplishments, and so much character, but they don’t talk about that.
They talk about each other.
Leah jumps at the chance to praise Lindsey. It gushes out of her. “We work very well together because we have completely different strengths and we stay in our lane. I don’t second guess anything she does. She has the best interest of everyone in mind that works for us. If anything, we’ve gotten closer over the years.“
Lindsey responds in kind. “It’s very rare to be in business with somebody that you know is looking out for you as much or more as they’re looking after themselves. I already had respect for her, but to watch when she’s in her element and how she motivates people and speaks life over people, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
They talk about their team.
“We have an incredible team. Silly amazing humans.” Having built a through-line of empathy into the company, they fiercely protect it when hiring coaches and front desk staff. According to Lindsey, they ask hard questions. Tell me a time you had to show grit. Who are you and what’s your life story? What is your why? They don’t really care as much about a fitness background. They’re really just looking for character. “We can’t teach that,” said Leah, “but we can teach all the other stuff.”
They just want good-ass people.
Here’s the point: Battle Republic doesn’t care about themselves. They care about you. “You come through the door and no matter who you are, if it’s your first time to work out, or you’re a frickin’ stud. Come on in and get what you need.” said Lindsey. “We don’t talk about results, we don’t talk about nutrition…”
Leah finished her sentence, “Come as you are. You be you.”
The music isn’t the focus. The whud, wham, whacks of the bags don’t matter. These two badass women with a history of selflessness know the heart of Battle Republic is people. People who show up no matter what life throws at them. People who love one another. People who do the damn thing.