Jungle gym. Did visions of playground equipment from your youth spring to mind? For Zach Walters, a jungle gym is his business – literally. Zach owns Jungle Gym, a nonprofit organization in Duluth, and as a former professional boxer, he knows a thing or two about creating a knockout gym.
Born and raised in Taolagnaro, Madagascar, Zach is now a retired light heavyweight professional boxer who boxed under the alias Jungle Boy. His career record over seven years was 24 wins, 5 losses with 19 of those wins by knockout. At the height of his boxing career, he was ranked 12th in the world.
Zach is clearly fast on his feet, both in the ring and out as he’s adapted to changing situations over the years. In addition to owning his gym and working there as a boxing trainer, he’s also a boxing promoter setting up matches and helping young boxers go professional. In fact, the Jungle Gym has turned out three consecutive Golden Gloves champions, including Jesse Walters, Zach’s nephew.
If you guessed Zach is someone who likes to stay busy, you would be right. He’s also an insurance agent at the Duluth branch of Great Lakes Insurance Agency; CEO of Miel, LLC, his family’s beekeeping business (check out the Walters family honey story here); President of the Board of Directors for The Hills Youth and Family Services; and a youth mentor through his role as a boxing coach. And he’s married to his wife, Shannon, and dad to their children, Caden and Lila.
His passion for being active, particularly with boxing, is strong. “Training boxers is one of my favorite things to do,” said Zach. “Beginners have blue sky imaginations of boxing dreams and I feel privileged to guide their goals.”
But at the end of 2009 when Zach hung up his gloves as a full-time professional fighter, he felt aimless. The sport he loved had become his identity and he missed boxing as he was starting the next chapter of his life. “I literally lived in the gym for 2 ½ years and had acquired a great deal of boxing knowledge after 14 years in the sport. And then all of a sudden I wasn’t doing anything with it.”
One day Zach went back to the gym and his coach, Chuck Horton, let him train some of the new kids. It was a perfect way to keep boxing – the one thing he always loved – a part of his life. Along the way, Zach realized his college degree in psychology gave him a unique opportunity to develop a special coaching philosophy and mentor young, aspiring athletes.
Five months later, Chuck asked Zach to take over the gym. “I was speechless. Talk about big shoes to fill. Chuck was a huge influence in boxing and had accomplishments worthy of two lifetimes.” Although Zach was a bit nervous about what felt like a monumental undertaking, he knew he would regret it if he passed it by. He said yes to the offer and didn’t look back.
Zach jumped back into the boxing scene and restructured the amateur boxing program to create a team of tournament boxers and he started training professional boxers, matchmaking boxing fights and promoting shows. He eventually included fitness classes and introduced boxing to hundreds of people who may otherwise have never tried the sport. “The ultimate purpose of the gym was to make a difference and teach the art of boxing. It’s clear to see lives have been made better through Jungle Gym Boxing Academy and it brings me great joy.”
The COVID-19 pandemic shut the gym down for a few months in spring 2020 though Zach describes it as a silver lining. “The shutdown allowed me to work on my business, not in my business.” He spent the time rebranding the name (formerly Jungle Boy Boxing Gym), building out a new location, providing 24/7 access to the gym, creating new training and classes like mixed martial arts (MMA) and carving out the competition boxing program as Jungle Boy Boxing Academy.
There for him along the way was Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union. Zach’s original business account was with a different bank, but he found it too restrictive, so when a friend referred him to Affinity Plus, he met with a team member of the credit union. “The experience at Affinity Plus was great and they made it so easy, which I appreciated a great deal as a new business owner. I soon moved my personal account there too and we’ve refinanced cars through Affinity Plus. I love their down-to-earth approach to customer service. It’s always a pleasant experience.”
“Affinity Plus and Jungle Gym are a lot alike. We’re both focused on our members, genuinely believe in them and want to see them succeed.”