After a quick visit to his hometown in southern India, Gopi Rajkumar has returned to Yellowknife with a gold medal in kickboxing.
After flying to a different continent — approximately 11,500 kilometres as the crow flies — the 38-year-old stayed for around a week before travelling that distance all over again. But he was there long enough to win the Tamil Nadu World Association of Kickboxing Organization (WAKO) Championship for the under 75 kilogram low kick amateur category.
The championship happened on May 21 to 22 in his hometown of Chennai, a city in the province of Tamil Nadu.
In his first ever sanctioned fight, he said he faced a competitor who had a lot of experience in the sport. But Rajkumar won handily and followed it up by winning his second fight, earning him the gold medal.
Despite his lack of experience in kickboxing, he credits his upbringing for preparing him both mentally and physically.
"We had to fight through a lot of challenges in India," he said.
There's one person who he credits for that toughness he brings into the ring, his mother Revathi Rajkumar.
His father passed away when he was young, leaving Revathi to raise three kids on her own, Rajkumar said his mother faced a lot of obstacles, but overcame them to provide for her children.
"For the first six years, she didn't have any proper employment," he said.
"So it was a very hard time. I'm here because of my mother."
Rajkumar is a parent himself, his wife and one-and-a-half-year-old son are currently in India but he's hoping they will join him this summer.
Rajkumar said he came to Canada for job opportunities and the ability to support his mother, which is what he is doing now, working with the Workers' Safety and Compensation Commission as a senior client service analyst. He credits his employer for being so accommodating with his kickboxing.
A former track athlete, specializing in the 400 metre dash as well as hurdles, Rajkumar said when he first moved to Yellowknife seven years ago, he wanted to find another high intensity sport, which led him to kickboxing, eventually joining Stanley Boxing and Fitness in 2020.
"What we get here [Stanley Boxing and Fitness] for competition is something you won't get anywhere," Rajkumar said.
He said the training and the opportunity to spar with people at higher levels and different weight classes helped prepare him for the talented fighters he faced in India.
John Stanley is the head kickboxing and boxing coach and co-owner of Stanley Boxing and Fitness.
He said he was impressed with Rajkumar's win, but admitted to initially feeling some hesitancy around the competition.
"Gobi hadn't competed yet. It was a big tournament. I know that obviously there's a huge population in India and we weren't sure, you know, what the competition was going to be like. But I mean he did phenomenal," Stanley said.
WAKO Canada and the Olympics
Rajkumar and six other fighters will be travelling to Niagara Falls, Ont. this week to compete in the WAKO Canada National Championship. This year will be particularly competitive, as in 2021 the sport received full recognition by the International Olympic Committee, meaning fighters will soon be able to compete in the Olympics.
"This is actually the largest tournament in the history of WAKO," Stanley said, adding there will be over 500 athletes registered to compete this year.
With nine national championships, Stanley said he's hoping his gym can keep building on the success. After a hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he said he thinks they can make up for lost time this year.
"I believe that our athletes are definitely ready. And, you know, I think that there's definitely a couple on the team that I'm quite confident can win gold," he said.