Karate and kickboxing star Cathy McAleer - took time from her hectic schedule ahead of her world kickboxing title challenge set for June 14th in Paris France. The Karate Queen met up with ProKicker Julie Pettigrew who pulled no punches with her questions. Read on.........

Q: When did you realise you wanted to fight? Is it a moment you can pinpoint?    

A: No, I`ve never said to myself I want to fight, it just happened. I practised Karate, entered some competitions, won a few and it just snowballed from there.  

Q: How does your family feel about it?  

A: It’s a bit of a strange one. My dad got me into Karate cause I`d taken a bad, bad beating when I was seven but he`s never seen me fight in his whole life,. He doesn`t agree with it and doesn’t really feel I should fight. Then my older sister, Rose Marie, she`s non-stop, is constantly asking me when I`m gonna fight, she thinks it`s brilliant. The rest of my family show support but wouldn’t be as highly involved as my sister Rose Marie would be.

Q: What got you into Kickboxing all those years ago when you were on top at Karate? And why ProKick?  

A: I was training for the World and European titles in Karate and started doing heavy gloves and bags so that whenever I took the gloves off my hands were going faster. I won a number of titles in the European and World Championships and realised that I was strong. My coach at the time, Terry Boyle, said try some kickboxing so we picked ProKick…because it’s the best club in Northern Ireland.

Q: Can you tell us about your first fight for ProKick?  

A: Yeah, it was in the Holiday Inn, a show called The Ladykillers, Lydia Braniff was in that, me and Lydia used to train together all the time in here. That first fight was a tough one, I didn`t know what to expect, you`re coming out into a big crowd and there`s only 2 people in the ring. In Karate there`s about 5 or 6 mats going on at once and the focus isn’t solely on you, that`s a big thing to overcome. My opponent was a girl called Donna Larkin, I think she had 8 fights and 7 wins and I was coming in with nothing, thinking  what`s gonna happen to me? But I love the adrenaline and the feeling after, I think that`s what kept me going to do another, then another...

Q: Why did you stop when you were going well for nearly ten years?  

A: I had an opportunity to go for the British title after the Celtic. On the morning of the bout the fighter was changed to a girl I`d already fought 2 or 3 times, Adele Steinbeck. It was disappointing after being so psyched-up for it. At that time I got an offer to be a Karate Coach for NI and was promoted to General Manger of Virgin Sports. There was a bit of pressure to stay within Karate itself and pressure was being applied from work while I was trying to juggle two sports. I wanted to drive my career as well as being a coach for NI. Something had to give, and I wish I hadn’t, but it was kickboxing.

Q: What brought you back to kickboxing?  

A: Fran Spence had coffee with me one day and told me Ursula was getting ready for a world title, she asked would I come down and spar with Ursula. I hadn’t been in the ring for 6 years so thought no chance, I wouldn’t be fit. Then Mr Murray called me, and I said sure. So I came down and did a few rounds with Ursula and it motivated me. So I thought yeah, I`ll do something for myself.

Q: What do you think of the fighters in ProKick Gym since you first trained here?  

A: Absolutely brilliant, all the members are lovely. I`ve been welcomed in and it’s a brilliant atmosphere to be part of. I think that comes from Mr Murray himself, he`s so welcoming and pleasant with everybody. He always has a bit of a laugh too but we all know where the line is and we just don’t cross it. All the fighters are great in the club – Gary Hamilton, I trained with him years ago and he`s still here. Ursula and Samantha are both great too.

Q: Have you sparred with Ursula or Samantha?

A: I`ve sparred with everyone in the club. If it`s not on the floor then I get an opportunity in the ring. It really brings you on to spar with different people.
Q: Is it different sparing with the girls and the guys?  

A: Yeah it can be completely different. Ursula`s K1, she`s always looking for clean shots and Samantha, she`s a strong fighter, you`re not gonna go toe-to-toe with her. And the rest of the guys, they`re fast and sharp. Johnny`s done some training with me recently, the encouragement he gives you is unbelievable. The strength the other fighters give you, even when they can see you`re exhausted, is brilliant. Great team. Great club.

Q: Do you think women`s kickboxing gets less attention/ opportunities than men`s?  

A: Not in ProKick. I find Mr Murray goes out of his way to bring in the women - the events he`s held, like the Ladykillers, the PR he does with us, the advertisements in the media, what he`s achieved with Ursula. He`s done loads. Maybe outside ProKick it would be uneven. But then look at the boxing in the Olympics, it’s come in recently. You can see it`s starting to come through. I think compared to when I was here six years ago I see change, it was a lot quieter and now people are more accepting of females in this sport.

Q: How did you get the chance of such a big fight with the WKN and who approved it?  

A: Mr Murray. He said there was an opportunity coming up and would I be interested in a fight (55Kg) and I said Yes, Definitely, I want to do it. I didn’t know it was a title fight at that stage, I just knew I wanted to get back in. I`d left with a British title and hoped I`d get back in at that level, but to get an opportunity at a world title is amazing. I think it was Mr Murray and WKN that approved it.

Q: About your Paris fight against Fadma Basrir, what you thoughts on taking on the World Champion? Are you excited? Nervous? Do you know much about her?

A: I know she`s good! I feel a mixture, obviously there`s nerves with any competition and I`m a bit excited. I`m training as hard as I`ve ever trained and am eating the cleanest I`ve ever ate. I`m looking forward to it and am putting in 100%  

Q: Would you like to say anything to your opponent? En Français s`il vous plait!  

A: I wasn`t very good at French in school (laughs) so better not.  

Q: Have you a game-plan and a strategy for the fight?  

A: In previous fights I`ve had for Mr Murray I`ve always been an attacking fighter, going full speed and non-stop. The majority of fighters couldn’t stick the pace. With this one we`re thinking more about technical movement, taking less shots and don’t fight when I don’t have to. Get in, score, get out again.

Q: What about the different styles of fighting, do you think your opponent will see it as a problem, or an asset, that you haven’t concentrated solely on one style?  

A: Sometimes it can be to my benefit. In Karate you`re in to get a point then out again, that can help in kickboxing. It’s a benefit to me. K1 is new to me but I`m getting the combinations now, my hands and head kicks have great strength…yeah I`m coming along. Mr Murray seems happy so hopefully it`ll be OK.

Q: What will it mean to you to become WKN world kickboxing champion?  

A: It would mean everything. It would be absolutely unbelievable. I`d always said when I won the Worlds in the Karate, and when I`ve gone round schools giving presentations, that I want to be a World Champion in two sports. It would be a dream come true.

Q: What about travelling away from home, how does that impact things?  

A: I`ve competed all round the world with Martial Arts, but in kickboxing I haven’t. So going into Fadma`s hometown, with her crowd cheering...ahh I`ll just have to go in there and do what I`ve gotta do.

Q: Will there be any team-mates with you?  

A: Maybe, Darren might have a fight. Hopefully there will be one or two.  

Q:Any friends flying out to watch?  

A: Yes a few, I think. Maybe an auntie or two but I don’t know if that’s a good thing. When I`ve travelled round the world before no-one I know had watched me compete. It`s so different when you come into the Ulster Hall, or the Holiday Inn, and its full of people you know, it makes you perform better but it’s an extra pressure.  

Q: How`s your training going? What`s a typical day like at the moment?  

A: Training`s going OK, Mr Murray is putting in loads of time. I wake up at 4.30 and take my lovely Samoyed called Ace for walk, that helps stretch tight legs out from training of the day before. Get breakfast then straight into work for 5.30am, making sure I`m getting breaks, eating healthy etc. Then to ProKick for a run - more like I chase Mr M, he`s so fit, I thought I could run till I started running with him! That’s usually 7 or 8 miles. Come back. Head home for a shower, food and then I`m driving back to ProKick again for a couple of classes. Home for a shower and a little bit of food (I have no appetite after all the training) then I climb into bed and start all over again the next morning.

Q: How's the balance going between your job and your training for this big fight?  

A: It`s OK, I suppose the more you train the more energy you have. I train two and most times three times a day when I can, early morning, over lunch and late in the evenings at ProKick. Everything runs quickly and to schedule. I have my lists so know what I need to tick off each day, if I wasn’t organised I couldn’t do it. It can be difficult to get the balance right and sometimes I find myself going back into work after ProKick if there`s things I`ve missed out to prepare for the next working day. The job doesn`t let you not do it, I`ve 63 staff, there`s sales targets to be hit, Health & Safety etc. – you`re constantly thinking, and not only about the fight.  

Q: You`re a coach as well, how do this compare to training? Do you have a preference?

A: I love travelling the world and giving back what I`ve learnt, and when you do it yourself you understand the emotional and mental side of it so you`re able to relate to the student. You can be a good fighter and fit and strong but if you haven’t got the mental preparation for it, it can blow you right off course and  you`ll not achieve anything. I think cause I`ve experienced it I can help them more and a couple of the guys I`ve been training have come up to the level of World Champion. The students look up to you if you do the fitness and training. There are coaches out there who just stand by the side-lines and shout orders. A lot of my students don’t know I`m doing this so they`ll get a shock when they read about it. I just went off to the side-lines and done it, this is something I need to do on my own.

Q: You won quite a few Coach of the Year awards, are you competitive in every aspect of your life or did these come to you naturally?  

A: I`m competitive, I work for everything and anything I do. I always have been. They were a goal when I started coaching,  

Q: You work as the General Manager for Virgin Active, is it difficult not to jump in and get involved at a coaching level when you see customers who need encouragement?  

A: Yeah it is. I started off as a receptionist and worked my way up, I did coaching and have all my qualifications so can teach all the classes. If an instructor is off sick or has an injury I`d probably be one of the first to say I`ll cover that. It’s hard not to get hooked into doing too much but, over the last few years, I`ve taken a massive step back and am solely focusing on business development and growth of the club. I have great staff and they all do a brilliant job, I like getting involved with the customers, they know I`m not just a GM who sits behind a desk all day. Some of the members will text me and ask if I`m doing a class and will join me. I`m highly involved in it from the fitness end of too.

Q: Do guys outside the club humour you until they actually see you in action?  

A: Not really. Because I`ve done Martial Arts since I was about 9 I think they all know this is what I do. I`m quite quiet and sometimes not a big chatter but I think they`ve got an idea – I`ve always been called Karate Kid. They`ve seen me coach the kids and train and fight so they know it’s pretty much my life. That’s all I do – sports and martial arts.

Q: Have you learnt anything new about yourself during this latest training program?  

A: Just that I want to do something for myself again and take up this opportunity to get a world title in kickboxing. Hopefully I`ll get a chance at full contact or Muay Thai, or whatever other styles there is. I wouldn’t stop, I`m really enjoying it.

Q: So you`re really back, it’s not just for this one?  

A: No, no definitely not. For the past year I`ve come 5 or 6 times a week and I wouldn`t put that commitment, time and training in. When this fight came up I didn’t even know it was a title fight. Mr Murray offered it to me and I just said yes straight away. When I heard it was K1 I did kinda go `ooohh` cause I`m more a full-contact fighter, but inside I knew I should take this. I had a bit of weight to drop but I knew if Mr Murray believed in me I could do it.

Q: What is your diet like? Are you strict about it?

A: Yes really strict, cause I had to come down that bit. Everything is so clean and so healthy, I haven’t touched anything bad in two and half weeks, it`s all good - chicken, steak, couscous, asparagus, green beans, white fish, it’s all good. No crisps. No chocolate. No fizzy drinks. The worst thing I`ve had was some peanut butter on a rice cake after training one day.

Q: Best post-fight meal/treat?

A: I`ve had a real craving for a sausage soda but probably a Chinese after the match, or a pizza.  
Q: What character trait is most useful to you in the ring?  

A: My determination. If you`re in the ring and you have a lot of heart it can shine through. Once I`ve said I`m doing something I stick to it – I never break it.

Q: What are your plans for the day after?

A: Fly home, hopefully with some good news.  
Q: What are your plans for the future?  

A: Take up this challenge, see how it goes, and see what else Mr Murray has planned for me. When I`m committed I give it 100% so hopefully I`ll keep up the fitness and stay injury-free.


Q: Does being a MA kickboxer give any skills you can use in daily life?  

A: Self-defence and basic confidence in everyday life. It gives you confidence in work, to deal with staff, to help others when they need it. I can remember my own confidence building through MA, I was very quiet and shy in school and then I got beat up in the park for wearing the wrong uniform in the wrong area so I remember having no confidence, then suddenly getting some through sport.  

Q: What part of your everyday life is the opposite of fighting in the ring?  

A: Most people who meet me for the first time wouldn’t believe that I do any fighting because I`m quiet and peaceful. I like to spend time with my nieces, enjoy taking them out and I always like something to work towards. I took up a qualification in Sports Massage and ended up doing three courses Sports, Swedish and Hot Stones just to do something more. It`s not all about the fight.

 I`m quite driven and I think I`ve watched so many people coming in through the door that can’t train or have illnesses. There`s one gentleman in particular, a member of Virgin for years and he was a big cyclist. He got knocked off his bike by a coal lorry and was in Intensive Care. I was visiting him every other day and they told him he`d never walk again - he`s back in the gym doing pull-ups, lifting weights, cycling and it’s that determination. There`s a lot of people who are physically ok but just sit on the sofa doing nothing, so when you see those motivated people coming through the door in your daily life it drives you on while you still can.

Q: Do you help the cyclist to recover?

A: The club helped, there’s one guy called Christian who was the personal trainer for his cycling races. When he had the accident me and Christian went to visit him and thought this guy’s not gonna survive this. The doctors didn’t believe he was gonna survive it. The minute he got out of that bed, and he shouldn`t have been out, he looked me in the eye and said I`ll be in the club in 3 weeks and I thought no chance but I could see his determination. Then one Sunday when I was in the club I got a phone call saying where are you? I said I`m in the club and he said I`m at the bottom of the steps, and there he was with a couple of plaster paris on, a cage around this neck and he was walking up the steps to have a coffee with me. Watching things like that happen has taught me that if you have the determination then no matter what, you can make it happen. When you`re told by doctors you should give up your sport you can do that but I think there’s a bit of mind over matter, along with strength and training in the right way.

Q: What’s in your DVD collection/currently in your iPod?

A: That’s funny! I`m not someone who comes in and puts the TV on. I`m never in the house actually. And music…I `m the only one in my family who can`t play piano or something, I`m not musical at all. I couldn`t even tell you what music is playing when it is on. I just make up my own lyrics when I try to sing along (it gives the team at work a laugh)

Q: Are you reading any books at the moment?

A: Funny you should ask that too. My Uncle Des is an actor and is in a play at The Lyric. When I went to see him he asked me the same question and was giving off when I answered none. Any books I read are sports specific - nutrition, anatomy, physiology, massage, injuries. I only read what I`m interested in and hate the thought of reading fiction. It has to be history, something that’s happened or has a benefit to me.

Q: What could keep you awake at night?

A: Just my own head ticking away because I`ve got so much to organise in my own job. And with the fight coming up you`re always thinking ahead. A walk with Ace helps me to switch off, then I can just relax.

Q: Describe your ultimate achievement in life?

(This is where Mr M walks back in gym, Cathy goes Quiet, to a mumbled answer and I sense Cathy doesn`t want me to ask any more, lucky I had the rest done, I'll get her again on this one).

Q: Will you share any great advice you`ve been given?

A: Train hard, eat correctly and put 100% into everything you do  

Q: What message would you like to give to kids today?

A: Take every opportunity that’s given to you and don`t sit around drinking at the weekend. Just go and do it.  
Final question for now: Anything else you`d like to share/haven’t been asked?  

Cathy's answer: Just to add that I feel I`m privileged to be welcomed back into ProKick and been given an opportunity so big - I`m really enjoying it.