Going out on top

Darcy MacRae
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Michelle Critch set to retire from competitive karate despite recent national gold medal

Michelle Critch would like nothing more than to say she's looking forward to her upcoming retirement from competitive karate.

But the Badger resident, a former world champion, knows that's simply not the case. She's experienced some of her greatest success in the past few years and thinks she could continue to be a force on the international karate scene for a while longer if not for a nagging hamstring injury that refuses to heal properly. So she faces the reality every top-level athlete must acknowledge at some point.

After 17 years of success in karate, injuries have forced Michelle Critch into the difficult decision to retire as a competitive athlete. Submitted photo

Michelle Critch would like nothing more than to say she's looking forward to her upcoming retirement from competitive karate.

But the Badger resident, a former world champion, knows that's simply not the case. She's experienced some of her greatest success in the past few years and thinks she could continue to be a force on the international karate scene for a while longer if not for a nagging hamstring injury that refuses to heal properly. So she faces the reality every top-level athlete must acknowledge at some point.

"It's been an amazing 17-year journey ... I really don't want to stop," Critch said. "In my heart, I don't want to ... But I'm 45 years old now, and there has to come a time that I give up my competitive career."

Critch can at least take solace in the fact she's leaving the sport on top. Last month, she won gold at the Canadian karate championships, marking the 10th consecutive year she claimed a gold medal at nationals . But it was at this event that Critch also finalized her decision to retire after tearing her left hamstring while delivering a roundhouse kick. It was the second time she tore the muscle and combined with a longing to spend more time with her family, the injury convinced Critch the time was right to walk away.

"My body is telling me I'm not giving it time to heal and if I don't slow down, I'll do so much damage it will never heal," she said.

The fact she isn't exactly going out on her terms is tough to accept for Critch. After all, when you've had the success she's experienced, it's not easy to decide you're done competing. In addition to the numerous gold, silver and bronze medals she's won at the national level in fighting, team fighting and kata, Critch has also competed in 16 international events

She won gold in kata (self-defence against an imaginary opponent, in which you must demonstrate to judges you are destroying your opponent) at the 2004 world karate championships in Davos, Switzerland and twice took part in the prestigious World Cup, a competition in which only eight men and eight women from around the globe are invited to compete.

The World Cups will always be special to Critch since so few athletes receive the privilege of attending, but claiming gold at the 2004 worlds is still her career highlight.

"I'll never forget hearing the crowd in the background," Critch said of her gold-medal performance. "When you look around and see all these people from different countries cheering for you ... you know you've made a lot of friends."

The friendships she's forged all over the world are what she's going to miss most when she stops competing. She's made friends everywhere from Poland to Argentina, friendships she looked forward to renewing each karate season.

"I have friends from one end of the world to the other ... The other thing I'll really miss is travelling with the Canadian team. I've travelled with these people since 1994 and I've developed some really close relationships," Critch said.

The thrill of the battle is another element Critch will miss, especially since she's been competing against some of the world's best athletes for the past 17 years.

"You have a certain drive, an adrenaline rush, before a competition," Critch said. "When you're training for a competition and get in that frame of mind ... it's something you can't explain unless you are a competitor. Then you walk onto the floor and all the nervousness leaves you, and it's just you and your competitor. I'm going to miss that tremendously."

Critch travels to Poland for the World Cup on Oct. 14 before taking part in the Pan-American championships Oct. 24-25 in Peru, her last event before retiring. But even though it will be her last competitive outing, Critch promises she will stay involved with karate.

She'll continue teaching classes in Grand Falls-Windsor, Bishop's Falls and Gander and will work toward bringing the world karate championships to Corner Brook in 2008.

"There are a lot more places I can go in karate that will challenge me," Critch said. "Judging, coaching and developing the (central) area in karate are things I'm looking forward to ... I have some young students coming through the ranks, so it's time to let them enjoy the wonderful journey."

dmacrae@thetelegram.com

Organizations: World Cups

Geographic location: Poland, Davos, Switzerland Argentina Peru Gander Corner Brook

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