Ashlee Pilgrim

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Thinking of Korea conjures up thoughts of the comical doctors of M.A.S.H, but for Port Macquarie kickboxer Ashlee Pilgrim, a visit to Korea is no laughing matter. Ashlee has been invited to fight in Korea against a very tough opponent and will make the trek with Port Macquarie’s own east-coast kick boxing champ and trainer, Jason Harris. 

When you meet Ashlee, the picture of a fighter does not come to mind. But don’t be fooled – this happy-go-lucky graphic designer by day transforms into the “Smiling Assassin” when she enters the square ring. 

On a recent fight night in Tamworth, I was lucky enough to work in Ashlee’s corner and witnessed her persistence and determination first hand, as she dismantled an opponent 10 kg heavier than herself with a bombing right hand. It was a gutsy performance, which led me to this interview. 

Let’s find out what makes Ashlee tick.

> How long have you been kickboxing and what made you start?

I have been kickboxing for about 2 years. I started out doing martial arts at Zen Training Centre to improve fitness, strength and self-defence. Martial arts is great, and it developed my focus and discipline. 

While I was training I started eyeing off the kickboxing classes. I bit the bullet and started with the intention of one kickboxing class a week, to boost my cardio. Of course, I fell in love with it and haven’t stopped since! I love the challenge and the fitness is great.

> What is your fight record so far? 

 2 wins, 1 draw, 1 loss.

> Tell us about your next opponent. 

She is awesome! I met her when we trained together at Sinbi Muay Thai Training Camp in Thailand last December. Su Jeong is a really beautiful person – so quiet and kind. But when you see her hit the pads … WOW!  Strong, fast, focused and technical. 

I remember the first time I trained with her; we were grappling in the clinch and she was so strong, my neck hurt for days. It was great though – I learned a lot from her and from then on we became friends. I respect her a lot as a fighter and a friend. It’ll be great to see her again, and I appreciate her giving me this opportunity.

> What has been your hardest fight to date and what is it that keeps you going?

My last fight against “Asher the Basher” in Sydney was tough. I took the fight on 72 hours notice. I was told she had just returned from training in Thailand, that she was tough, wanted to knock me out and had fought Angie Parr (one of Australia’s best female kickboxers). With a lead up like that, I felt really intimidated. I took the fight anyway for experience … and I’m glad I did. 

I was scared before stepping into the ring and all I could think was, “OK, take my gloves off and where’s the exit?” 

My good friend and fellow fighter, Nathan Green was preparing me for the battle and he pepped me up and reminded me why we do this. I looked down at my wrapped hands and the adrenaline soared. 

She came at me aggressively and it was a great fight. By the 3rd round I’d settled in, but by that stage it was a little late. I lost on points, but I learned more from that loss than I ever had from a win. 

My passion for this sport is what really keeps me going. I really love what I do and I want to keep improving with every fight. 

> Describe an average day’s training …

I train six days a week, twice a day. I wake up at 5am, go for a run at 6am – anywhere from 3 km to 7 km. When I get back, I open up the gym (Zen). I skip for 15 mins or bike for 20 mins, then 5 mins biometrics, 5 mins abdominal work, 10 mins shadow boxing, push ups and finish off with 20 mins on the boxing bags. 

In the afternoon I train with the other fighters. We run, do bag work and practise clinching. On Saturdays, we all meet at Shelly Beach and run the stairs, which really pushes your heart rate. Sunday is my day off and I eat whatever I want!

> What do you do to turn smiling, bubbly Ashlee into the aggressor when you step into the ring? 

Ha ha! When you hear the bell it’s all about survival. Three x 2 min of fighting, and when the person opposite you is trying to hurt you as much as they can, that’s good incentive to get busy. 

A lot of people think it’s just violent, but it’s more than that. Fighting involves a lot of thinking. It’s like a dance, but there is no routine. It’s instinctive, raw and in the moment. I guess what turns me aggressive is wanting to put all the training and sweat in the gym into this moment, and I don’t want to disappoint anyone. I want to give 110%.

> What are your aims for the future, both inside and outside the ring? 

Pro – ha ha! 

The dream fight and to be paid to fight with my mates. My ultimate goal is definitely to win a title. Outside of the ring I’m not too sure, but I definitely want to travel.

> With all the training you do, is it difficult to maintain a social life? 

Very difficult … but it’s all part of the sacrifice. The week goes so quickly with training and work, that by Sunday I’m falling asleep on my mate’s couch. But I love hanging with my friends – it’s good down time, where you can muck around and chill with the people who make you smile. 

> Do you have a favourite sporting hero or inspirational figure? 

No particular one. I’m most inspired by my trainer Jason Harris and the other fighters at our gym. They all train hard and I’m really lucky to be surrounded by such awesome fighters and people.

> Do you have any quirky little rituals that you always perform before a fight?

I try and visualise the fight beforehand, watching myself in my head being elusive, fighting my fight and having a positive result. It gets me focused before my fight to see what I want to achieve. A good friend and great fighter taught me that.

> How important is your support network (family, friends, work colleagues) to you when leading up to a fight?

 Very important! Before a fight your body goes through changes, and as you peak in the final weeks, things can get quite intense. Sometimes you may have to diet to lose a few kilos, all the while still maintaining focus. 

My family puts up with a lot of my mood swings, my tired irritability and pick up the pieces. My mum is just starting to understand the amount of training I need to do. For my very first fight I was fighting at 57 kg. 

I had to lose 5 kg in 2 weeks; my sister ate the exact same food I was eating, so I didn’t have to diet alone. With her help I made it – though, understandably, she vowed she would never do it again. It was so nice to have that support, because my family knows how much I love and want it. 

My colleagues are always interested in what I do and it’s great to talk about the things you love and not be judged. They let me take a day off if I need to travel for fights and are always concerned about my health. It’s awesome to know that they care – they are a great bunch of big hearted people.

> If not kickboxing, what other sport do you think you could devote yourself to?

Surfing! Still trying to get in the tube!

> Thanks Ashlee. Good luck … and I’m sure you’ll make Port Macquarie proud!

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