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Four years ago Laurie Hyacinthe was looking for a way to blow off steam from the pressures of her dental residency when she took her first class at the Wat, a gym in downtown Manhattan that specializes in muay Thai, a full-contact martial art from Thailand. Today the 34-year-old pediatric dentist is an amateur fighter with a killer record: nine wins -- including titles as both the World Kickboxing and Karate Association North American Champion and World Champion in her welterweight division -- and just one loss. "I never in a million years would have thought I'd compete in a martial art," she says, "or that it would make me as happy as it does."
It was Phil Nurse, the owner of the Wat, who "turned someone who had never committed to any fitness activity into a competitive athlete fully dedicated to being the best fighter she can be," Laurie says. Phil knew that Laurie was a champ the moment he saw her. "She may not look like your idea of a fighter, but she's got a spark inside," he says. The first time Phil asked Laurie if she might want to train for a fight, she turned him down flat. But after she became enthralled watching another woman compete in a match, she changed her mind. As Laurie trained for a grueling two hours a day, she slowly began to realize that the combat sport is about a lot more than well-placed kicks and jabs. "Fighting isn't just about two people hitting each other; it's a life lesson," Phil explains. "When you face a problem -- in life or in the ring -- you can't stand still. You have to go around it, over it, under it."
Laurie has since spent a three-week vacation in Thailand polishing her sparring skills, and she has gone on to open her own dental office in Harlem. Whether facing a formidable opponent in Phuket or negotiating a lease back home, she would remember Phil's admonishment: "He taught me that in moments of the most intense stress and competition, when things really count, you have to relax and trust your abilities."