WATCH: How Childhood Friends from Alabama Brought Boxing Fitness to Birmingham
"Keep working hard! I see you!"
Leah Drury tosses out encouragement from the platform, raising her voice over the pulsating music. Twenty-two punching bags swing to their own rhythm as the dim lights shift from yellow to red, making the room feel twice as hot—or possibly on fire.
"This is the last round today. You're almost done. Don't forget what you're battling for. This is your time."
And, quicker than expected, it's over. The lights shift to a calm blue for the cool down and everyone, Drury included, settles to the floor smiling or groaning and removing their boxing gloves. With the stretches that come with the cool down, Drury shifts her tone. Like a yoga instructor reciting the yamas, Drury sends the class forth with an empowering message, encouraging them to celebrate the rest of their day and to feel powerful and accomplished and proud.
Battle Republic, located at 2800 18th St. South in Homewood, Alabama, is unlike any fitness experience available in Birmingham, and people are catching on fast. That's evident in how often their 22-person classes sell out and how many sweaty, happy clients hang around after their workout or show up at a pop-up in the photogenic building to sip beer and socialize.
Truthfully, Battle isn't about its location or even about the insanely fun (and challenging) fitness routine. Ask anyone who's taken a class at Battle, and they'll tell you that it's about the Republic—the men and women of all ages who have, in its short lifetime, flocked to find community under Battle's neon sign: "Glove up. Fight on." They keep coming back because the instructors and founders of Battle have offered them the space to fight out their daily frustration, stress, and anxiety; because Battle shows them an obstacle and teaches them how to overcome it.
And, although Battle Republic's popularity is spreading fast, it didn't happen overnight. It really is the culmination of a lifetime of preparation—or, rather, two lifetimes.
Battle was the brainchild of two women from Greensboro, Alabama. Leah Drury and Lindsey Miller were raised in the town of 2,300, both the daughters of catfish farmers. They grew up playing sports together in the tiny Hale County town, and eventually went their separate ways. Battle is what brought them back together.
"It's like the 1996 Chicago Bulls," she said. "We just have all the right people in the right role."
It's a fitting description, and one Drury is qualified to make. She earned a scholarship, starting position, and was named team captain after being a walk-on for the University of Alabama women's basketball team. From there, Drury coached at U.A. while getting her master's degree in sports management and eventually served as an assistant coach for the WNBA's Seattle Storm.
This expertise is evident in the classes Drury leads at Battle. As Battle Republic's Vice President and Chief Culture Officer, Drury combines world-class athleticism and unbridled enthusiasm. She sets the tone for beginners and more practiced Battlers to reach their personal best.
Upon returning to Alabama, she headed back to Greensboro and became part of a growing initiative to revitalize Main Street. This is where Drury fostered her sports background into business acumen with the opening of A1 Fitness, the only woman-owned fitness centers in Greensboro.
When you ask Drury why she wanted to open a gym in Greensboro, she simply says she needed a place to work out and that she thought other people in her hometown would support it. Indeed, A1 got the support Drury envisioned. When childhood friend Miller dropped by, it didn't take long for the duo to realize that they had similar goals and complementary skillsets. They teamed up with Monique Kitchen and Sheri Chapman to open Greensboro's only coffee pub, The Stable.
If Drury is the Battle dream team's shooting guard, Miller is the point guard. With a master's in accounting from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Battle's President and CEO is no stranger to running a business.
Miller spent over a decade with Zoës Kitchen, working her way from General Manager to her last post as Regional Director of Operations, overseeing more than 40 restaurant units across the southeast. In 2007, she helped lead the private equity purchase of the company as its CFO. Miller rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange after Zoës initial public offering in 2014.
Having helped guide Zoës through its exponential growth, it was Miller's goal to establish herself independently among the top players in Alabama's business community.
"Watching Zoës going from mom-and-pop to publicly traded, I got to really learn a lot about what it looks like to open up a new business, the mechanics that go into it, and the financial piece that goes into it," she told Over The Mountain Journal.
In 2018, Miller launched Mpire Concepts with JR Frey in Birmingham. The boutique bookkeeping and consulting firm has already earned glowing reviews from diverse southern talents like restauranteur John Cassimus, founder of Zoës, Jinsei, Maki Fresh, and Crazy Caz Boys; and Carrie Holley of Escape Day Spa. Their client portfolio boasts some of the most exciting up-and-coming Birmingham collectives: marketing group Telegraph Creative, Campesino Rum (of which Miller is also a Co-Owner), and the approachably chic new restaurant, The Essential.
Together, Miller and Drury began conceptualizing what would become Battle Republic—a unique fitness experience that blends High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) with strength training and boxing. Their initial idea for the studio came from reading about the recent boxing and kickboxing craze in New York and Los Angeles. They noticed that there wasn't anything comparable in Birmingham and began their research.
The duo traveled to NYC and tried out different powerhouse boxing facilities. They noted what they loved about those boxing gyms and added extra inspiration from yoga, SoulCycle, and technology-centric workouts like Orange Theory. To specify and execute their model, Drury and Miller added Luan Nguyen and Kevin McLendon to the Battle Republic team as partial equity partners and consultants.
Nguyen and McLendon are vital pieces of the Battle puzzle. Nguyen is the founder of Wheelhouse Academy with a background in martial arts, strength and conditioning, CrossFit, Olympic weightlifting, physical therapy, sports massage therapy, and sports science. On top of that, Nguyen has consulted for over 50 gyms around the country.
McLendon, Telegraph Creative CEO and Sloss Tech Cofounder, has decades of advertising and leadership experience. The Telegraph team is responsible for Battle Republic's image from the website, custom digital strategies, and robust social media presence to its classic typography, color palette, and logo. The videography and photography Telegraph directed is enticing and sums up what Battle is all about: community and stepping up to whatever challenges are thrown at you. One step at a time. One punch at a time. One round at a time.
Because Battle's leadership believes wholeheartedly in its mission, its energy is felt the moment you are greeted at the door. Everyone, from the front desk operator to the most newly trained instructor, is invested in Battle's ability to touch people's lives beyond fitness. The result is a winning combination built on passion and a finely tuned business strategy—proof that this team is one to watch.