A young martial-arts athlete from Airdrie is continuing to pack a punch in the sport of Muay Thai kickboxing.
Twelve-year-old Emily Vigneault, who won the silver medal in her age and weight class at the 2017 World Youth Muay Thai Championships, earned another accolade May 11 when she fought and defeated a reigning Canadian national champion.
Competing in a tightly-fought contest against Abigail Alerta at Trial By Fire 8 – a kickboxing showcase hosted by the Airdrie Martial Arts Centre at the Westin Calgary Airport Hotel – Vigneault won in a unanimous decision.
“It made me feel very confident, because I knew I’d beaten the Canadian champion,” Vigneault said, adding her assertive style worked well in the fight.
“I do go out on the front foot a lot – I think I’m more on the aggressive side. [I was] very busy, very active in the fight. I was looking for an approach like that. I was trying to go in aggressively, for the crunching and the knees.”
Vigneault, who is a Grade-7 student at Heloise Lorimer School, took up Muay Thai at the age of six.
“She tried soccer, and she was just looking at the butterflies, pretty much,” her father, Eric, said. “We tried swimming and it wasn’t really working – she swam like a rock. Then, she started with taekwondo and said she liked martial arts, but she was complaining they don’t do enough sparring, so we tried Muay Thai, and I think we found what she was looking for.”
In the six years since, she’s built up a solid reputation at home and abroad.
Despite the tough training and diet regimen – Vigneault trains two hours a day, five or six days a week – Eric said his daughter has never shied away from her passion for the sport.
“We don’t even push her,” he said. “She just says, ‘Hey, dad, I’m ready to go to Muay Thai. Let’s go to training.’ She wakes up at 5 a.m. to do her own running by herself. She’s very self-disciplined.”
Though she lives in Airdrie, Vigneault currently trains out of the Mike Miles Muay Thai training centre in Calgary, where she participates in an invite-only program.
Miles, who has coached Vigneault off-and-on for much of her career, credited her strong work ethic to her early success in the sport.
“She’s very calm, focused and listens very well,” he said. “There’s a hunger and a desire. She’s not sitting there expecting it to come to her right away. She’s got to work at it and she understands that.”
Since Vigneault is more advanced than most female fighters her age in Canada, Miles said, it can be difficult to find appropriate opponents. He said she may have a few bouts lined up against American fighters this summer.
“We’re trying to keep her busy, but a lot of people realize she has good skills, so they’re trying to step aside and avoid her,” he said. “I can kind of understand that, but…the idea to become a better fighter is to always challenge yourself – and she’s always looking for a challenge.”
On the horizon for the young martial artist, according to Eric, is a return to the World Youth Muay Thai Championships in 2020.
“We want to try again in an older age bracket,” he said.
To ramp up Vigneault’s training regimen, Eric added, she will be enrolled in a home-schooling program next school year.
"She’s been admitted into an Alberta Education program that goes all the way to high school, so she can work from home,” he said. “That [way], she can focus more on training and be less tired, because school takes up a lot of energy.”