Sneads Ferry Athletic Club brings boxing, Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu classes and more to the Greater Topsail area.
A journey that led Peggy “PJ” Ross from a rough Chicago neighborhood to Okinawa to California has now brought her and her self-defense training skills to Holly Ridge. A professional MMA fighter with a number of championships under her belt, PJ sees her classes as being just as much about building self-confidence as about teaching people self-defense techniques.
PJ and her husband, Albert, opened Sneads Ferry Athletic Club in Holly Ridge so they can teach others and share the road to building self-esteem. PJ and Albert, who is also a coach at the club, had been leading classes in their home in Sneads Ferry.
The popularity of those sessions led them to look for a better, bigger space. They found the perfect place adjacent to Smoky Tony’s BBQ on Highway 17. The opportunity came at the right time as PJ explains that she had “looked tirelessly for a space like this.” Even though the new location is in Holly Ridge, the name Sneads Ferry Athletic Club reflects their home base and the future home of the business. For now, the 3,200-square-foot space “is amazing,” PJ says.
Classes in the new facility include sessions for youth and adults in boxing, Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Ross is an Alliance brown belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu under Johnny Faria, a certified USA Boxing Coach and a Muay Thai Instructor. Albert, an active-duty Marine, is also an Alliance brown belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu under Johnny Faria and has a degree in sports psychology.
PJ got her start in what she describes as a pretty rough area in Chicago. She grew up understanding that she needed to pay attention to her surroundings and be aware everywhere she went. Then, as a military spouse, she met many women who had some terrible experiences with compromised safety issues, either for themselves or their children, and who also wanted to get in shape physically.
When she and her husband moved to Okinawa, she “found boxing bags and just started training.” PJ adds that “Japan is the kind of mecca for martial arts.” As she was training, the boxing coach introduced himself and told her that he thought she was pretty good and that she needed to train with him. There was truly no stopping her after that. She won the first women’s MMA bout in Okinawa.
“That was a huge event, especially because I was an American woman,” she says.
MMA is mixed martial arts, which combines boxing, Jiu Jitsu, Muay Thai and other disciplines as a combat sport.
Undefeated while in Japan, PJ tells the story of fighting her last bout in 2014 before leaving the island and then boarding a plane the next day to go home. “Going through customs was quite an ordeal with my bruises and black eye!” she says.
The couple then transferred to California, where PJ continued competing and then began teaching and coaching. She found that she loves to “empower people, especially women.”
“We are not fragile. We are strong creatures. We are warriors,” she says. However, she emphasizes that she doesn’t teach students to run into a fight but rather learn how to make smart decisions. She says, that’s the most empowering part of her job.
PJ believes that everyone, including men, needs self-defense skills. However, there’s a confidence boost that comes from the type of training she offers. “Knowing you have the basic skills to protect yourself and your children is life changing,” she says.
When they transferred to North Carolina about a year and a half ago, Ross decided to transition fully to coaching and teaching. She explains that she had decided competition and traveling was something she couldn’t do with two kids.
While “technically still in contract” as an MMA fighter, she hasn’t accepted any bouts as she is now focused on the gym and the students. Ross says she is leaving that door open and “as we get more settled, definitely plan to get back to competitions and fights.”
The Rosses had been teaching classes at their house several nights a weekuntil the number of students outgrew their availability. That’s when they decided they needed to expand and open the gym.
“We are excited to be here and excited to get to work with some of the schools, training football players and other athletes in their off season,” Ross says.
She emphasizes that people of all ages can participate in the coaching and training sessions and can compete. Most people participate in sports in high school and college and that “is as far as most of us go,” she says. Adults have children that play sports, but they no longer are active themselves. However, Ross says, anyone can compete, all the way through their 60s and 70s.
Her students currently range from the ages of 4 to 67.
Wanting to ensure that everyone feels welcome, Ross also stresses that the boxing classes are no-contact sessions. They “hit a pad, not a person,” as she says. “It’s always going to be safe here.”
Ross says that she has already seen so much change and growth in all the people they’ve met here.”
She knows that self-defense training improves self-confidence in addition to providing mental and physical health benefits. “It will change your life,” she says enthusiastically.
Want to work out?
Sneads Ferry Athletic Club
511 U.S. Highway 17, Holly Ridge