Martina Walker remembers the exact moment, years ago, when she knew her daughter, Emily, was destined to one day compete in some form of mixed martial arts.
Emily was “seven or eight years old” with few years of taekwondo already under her belt, having taken up the sport at five years old after her parents thought it would be a good outlet for the youngster’s abundance of energy.
“When I was little, I was always punching and kicking things,” Emily explained.
The family was at a competition to watch Emily’s older brother compete, her mother recalled, and Emily was transfixed not by her older sibling’s exploits, but rather the girls competing nearby.
“She walked right over to where the girls were competing, and almost went right out on the mat,” her mom said. “That’s when I knew.”
Now 14, the Earl Marriott Secondary student has come a long way since that first foray near the mat.
Walker earned her black belt in taekwondo at age 10, and for the last few years, has been training in a variety of disciplines – boxing, kickboxing and grappling – with Stephen Lapre, owner of Dragon’s Den Elite MMA and Ocean City Boxing, both of which are run out of the same building in South Surrey.
To suggest she has talent – especially for someone so young – would be something of an understatement, said Lapre, who has been teaching mixed-martial arts since the discipline rose to prominence in the 1990s.
Last November, in her first grappling competition, Walker – a former cheerleader – won a bronze medal, and in February, won silver at an event that saw her compete against a 27-year-old woman. In April, she won silver medals at both kickboxing and MMA events, and on June 4 at Nanaimo’s Quest For Glory event, won her first career boxing match, with a TKO against Nanaimo boxer Taylor Nicks.
“First round,” Walker said. “It was pretty awesome.”
Walker’s raw talent and her willingness to learn are what has propelled to so much early success, Lapre said.
“She’s one of those rare individuals who has maturity and… tries to absorb as much as she can to achieve a goal,” he said.
“She has skills beyond her years – you just don’t see people as young as her compete in adult-level divisions. Going against people with at least four times the experience and still medalling, in my opinion, that makes her something of a prodigy.”
He’s never hesitated to put her up against older competition, either.
“The people who put on these competitions will ask me if she has the skills and the maturity to go up against adults, and I’ve never once said she isn’t capable,” he said. “She’s more than capable, and the proof is in the pudding, based on the medals she’s bringing home.”
Walker said her brother’s taekwondo experience, as well as the MMA career of her 20-year-old cousin Mitchell are what fueled her to move from taekwondo into a more multi-faceted sport like mixed martial arts.
“My cousin would come down from Terrace, and my mom and I would always go and watch. That really got me interested. I’d watch him and think ‘that’s cool. I want to do that,’” explained Walker, who added that the recent influx of female fighters in the UFC, MMA’s most popular company, has also spurred her recent athletic pursuits.
She points specifically to UFC’s Paige VanZant, a 22-year-old fighter who, like Walker, is a former cheerleader and dancer.
“She’s not that much older than me, and I’d really love to get into (MMA) as a professional one day. That’s my longterm goal.”
In the meantime, Walker will continue to compete and train locally, using her daily sessions with Lapre as an release for her energy, much the same as she did as a toddler.
“When you leave here after training, you always feel better than before you started,” she said. “It’s still a good outlet. The best way to get my mind off anything is to come here and hit things.”