She’s ranked at the top of her division in Canada in Muay Thai kickboxing and she hopes her perseverance, integrity and skills take her to the world championship. Ashley Viner is determined to be the very best.
Raised in a low-income household and being bi-racial — Indigenous and Black — Viner had her challenges, but the native of Winnipeg learned she had to make the best of it all to survive.
"I grew up fast… maybe too fast," she says. "When you have nothing, you have nothing to lose. So going after things I want has never been as issue for me. I just hold my head high and go for it. If I lose, I lose. That’s life."
If you aren’t sure what Muay Thai is, think of it this way: Boxing is with your hands, kickboxing is with your feet and hands, and Muay Thai is with your feet, hands, knees and elbows. Full contact fighting in the ring. It can be a vicious sport, but Viner feeds off the excitement and energy it brings to her life.
At 34 years old, her current record is six wins and zero losses and she is ranked first in the welterweight division (147–155 pounds). She started training five years ago, with her first fight coming on April 18, 2018 after two years of hard training.
It's a date she will never forget.
"I remember walking into Winnipeg Women’s Kickboxing and the smell of sweat and the sound of pads being hit intrigued me," Viner recalls.
At first it was a weight loss journey after having three kids, but soon she got a taste for the sport and competition.
"There is always something new to learn in martial arts. Whether you are new to the sport or have been in it for twenty years, it is constantly evolving," says Viner.
The mental health aspect the sport brings to her life keeps her challenged in and out of the ring. With COVID, she explains training has really helped her maintain a healthy mind and body.
Watching videos of Ashley training online reminds me of Rocky 4. In case you aren’t familiar with which one that is of the series, it's where Rocky fights the Russian. One of my favourite parts is when they show the training of Rocky in the countryside of Russia, versus the Russian boxer with the countless technology elements involved with his training. With gyms being closed for the majority of the last 16 months, Ashley has had to improvise. From using a tire as a punching bag, to running at Garbage Hill in +30 C and -30 C, nothing has stopped her training.
"The hope is to return to the ring this fall to compete. My big dream is to head to the World Muay Thai Cup and win. That would be the ultimate," says Viner.
Her coach, Trisha Sammons from Winnipeg Women’s Kickboxing, says there is nothing that would stop her from competing and winning every fight she takes on.
"Ashley is very strong willed and determined to win. When she is training, she is focused on taking things as far and as high as she can," says Sammons.
Sammons is no stranger to the ring. With over 35 fights under her belt, she is the owner and head trainer at Winnipeg Women’s Kickboxing (WWK). As one of the only female-owned kickboxing gyms in Canada, she notes she and her fighters have to work extra hard to be taken seriously and get the win.
"She reminds me a lot of myself due to her work ethic and love for the sport. She fights the same way I did when I was in the ring — she just moves forward and doesn’t back up or back down. She’s fearless in the ring," says Sammons about Viner.
Ashley, mom of three, and Trisha, mom of four, are both big advocates for getting girls into and staying in sport. The confidence it has brought to their lives is something they hope all young girls can achieve. When their kids look at them they want them to see perseverance, motivation and confidence.
"Women can do anything and be anything they want in this world — in and out of the ring," says Sammons.
But unfortunately, young girls don’t always see the clear path to ‘I can be anything’ in this world. June is National Indigenous History Month. Both Viner and Sammons identify as Indigenous, and see the struggles for Indigenous youth, especially when it comes to sport to be all too real.
"It starts with building their (Indigenous youth) confidence — they are treated differently and looked down upon and that needs to stop for them to feel good enough to participate," says Sammons.
"Being a fighter is in our Indigenous blood so it has made me have more tenacity to win," Viner says.
Both of these women attribute much of their confidence and overall life success to the sport of Muay Thai. A physically and mentally tough yet exhilarating sport, they are showing girls in Manitoba and across the country that when you set big goals and believe in yourself, anything is possible.