By Ryan McKinnon
Sarah Carter represented Team Canada in the 75 kg Elite Female division in December at the 2018 Pan American Championship in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Hailing out of Nak Muay Gym in Winnipeg under the tutelage of Dave Zuniga, a famous Canadian nak muay in his day, Sarah either has to fly or drive to compete as amateur Muaythai is still not sanctioned in her home province. This is a testament to her dedication to a sport that she only recently fell in love with.
In Sarah’s own words, “I came across Muaythai by accident. I moved to England after graduating teacher’s college for work abroad. I walked to work every day. On my daily route I, there was a gym I would pass each day. Finally, I sent that gym a message and my first questions was honestly ‘What is Muay Thai?’ This was January 2015. From that start at Kaang Raang Gym in Dunstable, United Kingdom I connected with a group of England Muaythai blokes who would end up being lifelong friends. The coaches from England still check in on me and follow all of my fights here in Winnipeg. Coming back to Winnipeg, with the ever-shrinking world thanks to technology… there were people who recommended Dave (Zuniga) at Nak Muay Gym. Now here at Nak Muay gym I have an incredible group of friends, all from different backgrounds and walks of life.”
An athlete while growing up, Sarah played a lot of sports with her friends, but there was something about Muaythai that is very special to her. “Muaythai has become a platform for me in showing that people are inherently good. Muaythai also has the ability to provide people with an endless path to new experiences. I am very grateful for being able to compete as often as I do, and at such a high level against top tier competition.”
In Sarah’s gold medal match on Sunday December 16th, she defeated one of Brazil’s best in Aline Rodrigues. The bout was extremely exciting for three rounds. It looked like Sarah had been shot out of a canon in round one, taking the fight to the Brazilian immediately with a new level of confidence in her game. “I have started to learn how to mentally prepare for fights by taking a feeling of ‘scared’ nervousness and channelling that energy into an ‘excited’ nervousness.”
It was clear from the outset that Sarah was the stronger boxer, using superb footwork and head movement, creating opportunities to land effective strikes. Her leg kicks and teeps were all well-timed and accurate, and seemed to demoralize her opponent as Sarah began to land strikes almost at will.
In round two, it was Sarah’s jab that was most effective against the Brazilian. Looking winded after the energy she expended in round one, Sarah had a great game plan by utilizing distance, and striking when she saw openings, thereby reserving energy for the third stanza.
It was more of the same in round three, as Carter went back to her jab, her cross, and rear swing kick to the leg of her opponent, shutting down any last hopes of her mounting a comeback in the third. Staying light on her toes, Sarah stayed out of danger, moving away from the ropes, and only striking either when she knew she had an opening, or to counter Rodrigues’ attacks.
When asked how she felt to represent our country on such a stage she replied, “Representing Canada is incredibly humbling and inspiring! I’m a teacher, and to have some of my kids come up to me and say “Miss Carter, we YouTube’d you and found you! We watched your fight,” is just really cool. The administration, teachers and entire staff are more supportive than I could have ever hoped for. I’m extremely fortunate to do what I love. More and more people in Winnipeg now know what Muaythai is and ask genuine questions about the sport. Representing Canada is a talking point and helps to grow the sport, especially for females. I love when girls and ladies are asking about the sport or interested in getting involved.”
After the final bell rang, it was clear that Sarah was the 2018 gold medallist. It was a well deserved honour for the effort she made both leading up to the event, and during her bout.
Although Sarah didn’t have her head coach Dave Zuniga or the rest of her team by her side at the Pan Ams, her attitude toward working with a new coaching staff and learning from new teammates exemplifies her open-minded and open-hearted approach to training. “Working with a different coaching staff and having different teammates is just an opportunity to learn more. Even if 3 coaches are teaching the same technique, their approach will be different. You get to see so many sides to the sport and athletes; my roomie Taylor and I- between the weigh ins and fights we both were doing adult colouring books. It’s hilarious. I find it so interesting how different people get ready for fights and prepare themselves.”
Upon reflection, Sarah has fond memories of her experience in Argentina, both in and out of the ring. “I bought a beer for my Brazilian opponent after the fight. I couldn’t figure out how to get the drink because my Spanish was so bad. Thankfully our head coach Vic helped translate! Those moments will stick with me. Moments like one night I went for a run and passed kids playing pick-up ‘football’ at 10 at night on outdoor turf. It doesn’t get more Argentinian than that. I loved it!”
Sarah now begins serious preparations for the World Championship this summer. With a performance like the one she had in Argentina, it’s scary for any opponent to think that she will be spending the next 5 months continuing to improve upon what is already a very strong demonstration of good Muaythai. We are all very proud of Sarah’s latest accomplishment, and the positive example she sets for our sport wherever she competes.
Ryan McKinnon is the host of The Bloody Ballet Podcast and website, found at www.thebloodyballet.com.