By NATALIA HAWK
Andrea Wheatley is a 37-year-old osteopath from Victoria. She’s also a world champion in Filipino stick-fighting.
Yes, you read that correctly. During the day, Andrea works at a clinic; in the mornings, and in the evenings, she trains in the traditional martial art of the Philippines, which emphasises weapon-based fighting with sticks, grappling and hand-to-hand combat.
Inspired by the Karate Kid and other Bruce Lee movies as a child (yes, really), Andrea has been practicing martial arts for 24 years.
In June of this year, Andrea managed to win four medals – three gold, one silver – at the Australasian Stick-fighting Titles, held in Adelaide. More recently, she took part in the CDP Stick-fighting World Championships where she won gold, silver and bronze.
But what makes Andrea’s story so remarkable is that she hasn’t been able to compete in martial arts for the last five years. In fact, she’s had to spend 35 months in rehabilitation, after an illness caused nerve damage to the three most important nerves of her leg. For those of you who know anything about nerves, Andrea’s sciatic, femoral and obturator nerves at the level of the lumbar plexus were damaged.
She walked with a pronounced limp. “I would walk into shops and people would think I was drunk because I was stumbling,” is the way Andrea explains it. She was told by experts that she would never walk properly again.
But now? Not only is Andrea walking properly – she’s also fighting properly.
It was, by no means, an easy journey – it took extensive effort, training and rehabilitation. But now Andrea is back on the world stage, winning medals.
Here’s the story that she shared with me. It’s remarkable.
Natalia: How did you get into Filipino stick-fighting?
Andrea: I’ve been practicing martial arts for 24 years. I just love martial arts – I love the choreography.
I was a really active kid, loved running and sport. Martial arts is how I express myself. Some people do dancing – but my dancing’s in the ring!
Ten years ago, I met my teacher – the Supreme Grand Master, Cacoy Canete, who is 95 years of age. He is one of the world’s first mixed martial artists, having trained in other martial arts such as jiu-jitsu, boxing, judo, freestyle wrestling, Shorin-ryu karate and aikido. He is highly ranked in all of these styles (12th degree Black belt in Eskrima and Eskrido, 10th Dan in Pangamot, 8th degree Black Belt in Judo, 8th degree Black belt in Jujitsu, 6th degree black belt in Karate, and he is a 6th degree black belt in Aikido).
Cacoy is beautiful. Without him, I’m nothing.
What do you love most about martial arts?
I love the fact that it uses both sides of the brain – it’s left and right, it’s coordinating and using all of you. I’m ambidextrous so it’s great as an art that uses my whole body. There’s a real discipline to it. It’s a lifestyle choice, not just a sport – for me, the way that I eat affects the way that I train. I don’t drink alcohol, I get good sleep – all those things are part of the process.