Selected as one of six coaches into a pool for potential international competition placement, Sudbury Kickboxing Academy owner and tour de force Dawn Culgin was honoured, yet grounded.
Possible placement is not quite the same as probable placement.
“I was not really thinking that they were going to call on me,” said the 48-year-old Sudbury resident, just back from a whirlwind November stretch that featured a trip to Brazil for the 11th Pan American Championships in kickboxing and a quick jaunt to Toronto for provincials the week after.
“There are coaches in that pool who coached when I competed. They have pro-level athletes, athletes who have medalled at Worlds. They’re the dudes.”
Even as the message came that she would be making the trek to South America two weeks ago, reality had yet to set in for the graduate of Lockerby Composite who meandered her way through a variety of sports in her youth before falling head over heels for traditional karate in her mid-teens.
“I wasn’t sure who else was going (to coach), but I’m going to go and hold the bucket, hold the towel and tape some shin guards, get their water,” Culgin surmised. “I’m going to learn stuff, so it’s great that I am going.”
A week before departure came the news: Culgin had been named as head coach of a Canadian delegation of some 20 athletes or so. For a woman who has seldom if ever lacked confidence, there were a few moments of soul searching.
“I almost wanted to back out,” Culgin admitted. “This is such a big responsibility — and a lot of our athletes are from down south and I haven’t been competitive since 2017, haven’t fought in Canada since 2014. These athletes don’t know me.”
Thankfully, the same resolve that has seen her through a lifetime of interesting experiences with several segments of the world of martial arts, the same self-belief that allowed her to leverage everything she learned in offering a women’s-only program that sold out in less than three hours quickly settled in.
“I am so glad that I didn’t back out,” said Culgin.
That sentiment was shared multiple times over by WAKO (World Association of Kickboxing Organizations) Canada president Muzammal Nawaz and his entire team, fully supportive of this initial foray into the world of international coaching for a Northern Ontario mainstay who attended four world championships as a competitor, capturing bronze in Serbia in 2015.
“Our head coach (Dawn Culgin) was a multi-tasking queen, able to manage bout orders, changes in drawings, multiple warm-ups and athlete briefings, and able to corner 50 bouts,” read a Facebook post from the national governing body. “She was able to draw out the best of every fighter with her athlete-centered approach.”
“The reason that I accepted this position is because somewhere out there, there is a little girl, an athlete watching,” noted Culgin. “I may not be the bulldozer paving the way, but I’m part of the machine.” An important part of the machine, most would suggest.
That ability to forge forward, to bulldoze ahead, if you will, is inherent in the woman who balances a full-time job with all of her many interests in a sport that she loves. It dates all the way back to her return to karate, having stepped back from a short-lived exposure to sport karate when she was just seven or eight and jumping in full force under the tutelage of Perry Campbell just under a decade later.
“I thrived in a full contact style of karate,” said Culgin. “For years, I was black and blue and covered in bruises. It’s called body conditioning. My training partners were 200-pound men. For me, this was real, the real deal.”
In a sense, the full circle element of her recent adventure might have provided her greatest sense of joy and accomplishment in Brazil. “I am most proud of the fact that athletes were asking me to hold pads; big, strong athletes,” she said. “At first, I wasn’t sure if they would receive me that way.
“And when they were done (their bouts), it was the bone-crunching hug.”
Seems that Dawn Culgin is clearly, to coin her own phrase, “one of the dudes”.
Randy Pascal is a sportswriter in Greater Sudbury. Pursuit is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.