September 25, 2020

BY SARA HANAFI

Conestoga’s Ashley Nichols battled many fierce opponents on her way to becoming the world champion Muaythai boxer in September.

Nichols, an Aboriginal student at the college, along with seven other athletes from across the country, represented Canada in St. Petersburg, Russia, at the International Federation of Muaythai Amateur world championships. There were around 1,000 other athletes from 108 countries at the event, making it the largest Muaythai tournament ever held outside of its home country of Thailand.

“It was a high level tournament,” Nichols said. “The competitors I faced had a lot of experience.”

Nichols competed against nine other countries in her specific weight class, including the previous IFMA champion from Russia in the quarterfinals.

“Facing Russia in the finals, knowing that she was the 2011 champion, really made me have to focus mentally,” Nichols said.

After defeating the Russian, Nichols advanced to the semi-finals against Belarus, a match she had been eagerly anticipating.

“Belarus is well-known and respected for their team,” she said. “They’re at a really high level.”

The win against Belarus brought Nichols to the final round against Germany.

“Germany was tough,” she said. “She had a lot of heart and a lot of determination, but I felt I was always one step ahead of her. I was able to intercept and counter her.”

Nichols said she saw the German competitor fight prior to their match. “One thing I knew about her was that her boxing was very strong. I would see her move. I would see her load. I would see her try to put everything into the combination,” she said. “I was able to counter with the higher level technique.”

Nichols, who has been practising Muaythai for eight years, trained hard for the competition. “I sacrificed a lot,” she said. “I trained almost four hours a day every day doing different aspects of training.”

She had to endure weight training, track training, distance training, strength and conditioning, sparring and preparation for the actual fight.

“It was a lot of work,” Nichols said, but after she won the gold medal she said she was ecstatic. “All my time and efforts and all my experience leading up to that moment paid off.”

Chris Kew, Nichols’ coach at the MAS Academy of Martial Arts in Cambridge, said Nichols told him she wanted to be a world champion when she first met him.

“I’ve worked with Ashley for a little over four years. She has devoted four to six hours a day for the last three years working ever closer to a world championship attempt.”

Kew said being at the tournament and hearing Canada’s national anthem was an honour. “To see our nation’s flag raised and 1,000 lovers of Muaythai from around the world stand and recognize a great Canadian athlete was possibly the best moment in my life.”

But it doesn’t stop there for Nichols. Not only did she win the world championship in Muaythai boxing, but 10 days later she won the North American kick-boxing championship, held by the World Association of Kick-boxing Organization in London, Ont.

She was also the Athlete of the Year in Cambridge two years in a row, is competing at the Ottawa Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Open on Oct. 20 and 21, and was asked to represent Canada in kick-boxing at the Pan Am Games in December.

“She is passionate and persistent,” Kew said. “She came with a fire and determination to succeed.”

“Being able to win (the kick-boxing championship) and prove that I am versatile and able to step outside of my comfort zone really made me happy,” Nichols said. “I was proud to represent my school, women in sports, Aboriginal people and to represent my country.”

On top of all of this, Nichols is a first-year student in the protection, security and investigation program and a graduate of the human services program at Conestoga.

“I wasn’t too excited about the championship being during the first two weeks of classes, but I couldn’t turn it down,” Nichols said. “They requested me to represent Canada. How could I say no?”

Despite missing the first weeks of classes, she kept up with her school work and wrote a quiz on her first day back, receiving a mark of 72 per cent.

It was proof she had the ability to succeed even though she was away competing.

While Nichols has an already busy schedule, she said she likes to have one competition a week and three to four big tournaments during the year.

Nichols also teaches a program at the MAS Academy called Ladies Fight Fitness, which empowers women and gives them a comfortable environment to train in. She also said she wants to continue her schooling and eventually work in prevention services specializing in interventions and diversions.

But Nichols said Muaythai will always be a part of her and she will continue practising it.

“It’s a passion of mine,” Nichols said. “It’s a way of life.”