As she moves from station to station and gives instruction, motivation and occasional assistance to the group of students who are participating in her cross-fit training class, Dani Tupper commands the turf room at Buellton’s All Sport Fitness Center much like a boxer would command a ring.


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Although she isn’t bobbing and weaving – or taking any punches, for that matter – she is participating in the exercises along with the class members and carries herself with a confidence that she is in complete control.

Of course, this is no accident or mere coincidence.

For the 26-year-old Tupper, who grew up in Santa Ynez, training is her second career. Her first, 11 years as an amateur and then professional boxer, helped prepare her for what she now says was the best decision she ever made. It also in many ways shaped who she is.

Tupper, who retired from the ring almost two years ago, got her start in the sport of boxing thanks to her younger brother getting in trouble at school. When her brother was disciplined for fighting on campus, her father, Mike Tupper, who had been a big fan of the sport, decided that if his son was going to fight, he was going to do it right. Mike enrolled his son in a boxing class, and 14-year-old Dani decided to go check it out as well.

“I was there just to watch, and the boxing coach was like, ‘Get over here, join the class,’” she said. “So I joined. I just remember the coach saying to another coach, ‘Did you see her right hand? She’s got a gnarly right hand.’”

After enjoying that first night, she decided to keep going back. First it was three nights a week, which soon turned into six. Six months later, she had her first amateur fight and knocked out her opponent just 54 seconds into the first round.

“After that, I was like, ‘OK, this is something I like,’” she said. “It was also something my family supported me in.”

From there, boxing took over her life. She participated in several junior regional and national tournaments, and began to compile an impressive record. She graduated a year early from San Marcos High in Santa Barbara – where she was a receiver and hard-hitting cornerback on the football team her junior year – so that she could work and train to support her burgeoning career as a fighter. She was bartending at night and training in the day as she moved up the women’s amateur ranks, where she eventually compiled a 37-3 record.

At 23, though, she came to a crossroads. With this summer’s Olympics still three years away at that point, she decided to turn pro. Finding fights, however, was another story. A lot of cards didn’t promote women’s fights, and those that did weren’t lucrative.

“There was no money to be made for me, and I was kind of in a limbo stage where there was just nothing for me to do,” she said.

The injuries were also piling up. She said she’s had six concussions, fractured her wrist in three places, fractured her sternum and also undergone five knee surgeries.

“I was training four hours a day and getting my butt kicked by guys who outweighed me by 50 pounds, and then not having any sort of payment for it,” she said. “It was financially difficult to survive, and it was emotionally hard.”

Around that time, she got her certification as a trainer and returned to the Valley looking for work. It wasn’t long before she settled in at All Sport Fitness, where she currently runs five classes per week and also offers one-on-one personal training sessions.

“I was really excited to come back into my community to help people,” she said.

She said she views those people as more than just a means to an end.

“I build bonds with my clients, it’s not just an hour a day,” she said, noting that she’ll often text them to check in or make sure they’re following their nutrition plan. “I really feel like I’m not just a personal trainer, but also a therapist. My clients break down during our sessions and my job is to build them back up, not just count reps while they’re sitting on a machine. I ask what’s going on in their lives and how I can help them with it.”

Buellton resident Lisa Hoose was in Tupper’s “Abs and Assets” class and liked the results that she saw, so she began training with Tupper individually. She said that there is absolutely a bond that Tupper forms with her clients.

“Working with her, we definitely have a close relationship,” Hoose said. “She definitely takes care of the whole person; it’s not that she’s just working with your body. She works with your body, mind, spirit, nutrition – because of that, you’re talking about intimate things everyday and you start to become close with that person.”

Whitney Holmes, a teacher at Dunn School, found out about Tupper’s boxing class when one of her students, who was in the class, mentioned it to her and asked her for a ride to the gym. She soon joined the class, motivated in part by Tupper’s background as a boxer, and is now taking other classes with her as well.

“I had put off joining a gym, but when [Tupper] came, I said I had to try training with this lady,” Holmes said. “She’s hard-core, and I figured that it would be a great way to get in shape and also learn something new.”

Holmes can attest to that strong communication line that Tupper has with her clients. Holmes said she recently took a group of her students to the movies, but didn’t want to break her nutrition plan, so she texted Tupper to ask what theater food would be best for her. (For the record: non-buttered popcorn and licorice, which is low in fat though high in sugar.)

“She’s been a great person, not just to have at the gym, but to be able to talk to,” Holmes said. Holmes bought her mom, whom she said had never attended a gym, a couple of private sessions with Tupper and now she’s hooked, too, she said. Tupper is also training a 10-year-old in her boxing class, whom she describes as “my little prodigy.”

“I really try to transform my clients’ whole life and make exercise a habit for them, and we work on their nutrition, but then also their self-esteem and self-confidence,” Tupper said. “That’s the No. 1 thing that I get out training people: seeing their inner transformation. I don’t really care so much about what the scale says, as much as how they feel about themselves when they leave the training session.”

Tupper credits that first boxing lesson, and all the subsequent fights thereafter, with helping her get to this point in her life, which she says is the most stable – financially and emotionally – she’s ever been.

“I really thank boxing for all the discipline it gave me,” she said. “I’m not sure where I would be, honest to God, without it. My life was a wreck when I was a kid. Walking into that gym every night was a consistent thing for me. My boxing coach was like my dad at that time, and I’d walk in the gym and see the same people and it was just a consistent thing for me. It helped a lot with just guiding me.”

Now in a better place, Tupper said she would like to soon start a family. Although she loves what she’s doing, she said her ultimate goal is to be a stay-at-home mom. She said she recently joked with her boyfriend that if they were to get married, her bridesmaids would all be women that she has trained. At the moment, though, she has no complaints.

“I get to come to work in tennis shoes every day and I don’t have to get dressed up and sit behind a desk,” she said. “This is the perfect career for me. However it happened, I’m glad that I’m able to be here now and doing what I’m doing.”

willis@syvjournal.com