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I first heard about kickboxing when I was in high school. Growing up in a small northern community, I had no access to martial arts or even boxing classes, so I had to content myself with watching Rocky movies and fighting multiple “opponents” (such opponents included garbage bins, chairs, huge stuffed animals, etc.) Then this guy who was a “black belt” kickboxer came to town, and I was enthralled. (I now know there’s no such thing – Muay Thai doesn’t have a belt system the way karate does.) The Karate Kid was one thing – kickboxing sounded so much cooler.

After graduation, I left my small town for a city of nearly 700,000 people. My new city was big enough to offer access to martial arts, but unfortunately, before I could get there, I was attacked by a vengeful ex-boyfriend. He repeatedly slammed his mother’s station wagon into the truck my friend was driving. Seven times, he hit us. I plunged forward in my seat each time, only to be pulled back by the seat belt. As a result, two of the vertebrae in my lower back were broken. I wasn’t even twenty years old, and a doctor told me I’d be confined to a wheelchair by twenty-three. Kickboxing seemed out of the question.

Back then, chiropractor treatments were a way of life for me. I saw a chiropractor at least four times a week, along with massage and physiotherapy. I really lucked out with my first chiropractor here. He was a great guy: young, caring, and incredibly understanding. By some strange coincidence, he was also the official chiropractor for one of the most established Muay Thai clubs in the city.

At that point in my life, I was in constant pain. I couldn’t stand, sit, or lie down in the same position for more than a few minutes before my lower back shrieked in agony. This didn’t deter my chiropractor from encouraging me to try Muay Thai. He really believed I could be a kickboxer, in spite of my obvious limitations.

Going to the dojo for the first time was really scary. Only three other women belonged to the club back then, and they didn’t have a proper changing room for us. It was just a piece of plywood leaning against the wall. A line of men were waiting just inside the entrance to the club, and you had to push past them to get inside, while they stared at you and jeered. I brought a friend with me for emotional support, and she only lasted one class. I was completely on my own, and this was a no-frill’s gym. The owner had me sparring on my first day against much more experienced students, when I barely knew what a roundhouse was.

The idea of someone with a broken back taking up kickboxing may horrify you. (It certainly had that effect on my mother.) But it literally changed my life. Muay Thai is one of the best full-body workouts on the planet. It increases your flexibility, balance, strength, and speed. It’s a mental, physical, and emotional workout. If you have a good trainer, you leave the gym completely drained but euphoric.

Muay Thai strengthened the core muscles that supported the fractured portions of my back. It improved my posture and flexibility. Soon I was having less pain, and today I rarely ever have problems with my back. Sure, I’ve had nasty bruises, cuts, and broken wrists, but none are half as painful as the life I lived before I became a kickboxer.

I will never perfect my technique, no matter how long or hard I train. I don’t think anyone ever does, although my first coach (kru) came pretty damn close. Muay Thai is a lot like life that way. You have good days and bad days, but you can never quite reach perfection. It’s always a journey. When you fall down, you get up, dust yourself off, and try again. You enjoy it as much as you can while you have it.

So, here’s to you, Arthur – you taught me how to push myself in this incredible martial art, and for that, I can never repay you. You gave me back my life, and although it’s not perfect, I’m damn lucky to have the life I do. Thank you for everything.

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