Fifteen-year-old Stephanie Whipple didn’t know anyone when she moved to Land O’ Lakes from Aurora, Illinois, last December.
While Whipple, now a sophomore at Land O’ Lakes High School, was saying goodbye to the freezing Midwest winters in favor of the more enjoyable subtropical climate, she would also leave behind her childhood friends and family members.
To help her transition with her new Florida surroundings, her mother, Jenni, encouraged her to enroll in classes at Koh Muay Thai, 6450 Land O’ Lakes Blvd., in Land O’ Lakes.
“I actually didn’t even know what it was,” Whipple said. “A friend back home did boxing for fun, and I was like, ‘Oh, that seems cool,’ but I never actually thought I’d do anything like it.
“I was really, really nervous to start. I was like, ‘Oh no, this is going to be terrible, I’m going to be terrible,’ and then once I started, it was like a click.
“I automatically was in love with it.”
As opposed to boxing or (MMA) Mixed Martial Arts, the concept of ‘respect’ within Muay Thai intrigued her.
“You respect your trainers, you respect your opponent, you respect your peers, and that’s really the thing that got me,” Whipple said.
“When you walk in here, there’s a feeling that people will accept you…even if you’re fighting against somebody. It’s not like if you were to do dirty fighting or boxing or something, where they kind of bad-mouth you.”
Her immediate embrace of the combat sport helped skyrocket her development as she begins testing for her Level 1 Blue Shorts, a process that typically takes most fighters nine months to a year.
“Stephanie is incredible,” said Melisa Male, operations manager of Koh Muay Thai. “All she does is she works. She comes in here, she focuses, she trains. Every day, she’s pushing herself to be better and perfect her skills.
“Stephanie has put in so much work that she has fast-tracked and has become the fastest developed student since we opened.”
To reach Level 1-status, Whipple must undergo a rigorous fitness test that combines strength, endurance and toughness.
The fitness test entails 10 minutes of continuous jumping rope, 60 pushups, 60 half-spring ups, 200 skip knees (kneeing a free-standing punching bag) and 10 pull-ups.
She will also have to sustain two rounds in the ring with her Kru (trainer) and perform the Wai Khru, a traditional Thailand dance performed before fights as a show of respect.
“It’s a pretty tough test, but what’s awesome is once they pass, they can start sparring,” Male said. “You don’t just come in and start sparring — you have to earn it. That gives them the opportunity to try their skills out with somebody else in the ring.
“The strength and conditioning of Muay Thai training is probably the most intensive, rigorous strength and conditioning you can get,” Male added.
In preparing for the test, Whipple trains at Koh Muay Thai six days a week, working with head trainer Ben Marrs anywhere from two to four hours in a session.
The dedication and extra training has paid off, as she’s transformed her body, packing on 10 pounds of muscle to her 114-pound frame.
“She’s gained muscle, she’s stronger. It’s come very quickly to her,” Male said.
“I never had abs before, and now I have them, which is super cool,” said Whipple, a former competitive swimmer. “It’s helping more than just physically, it’s helping emotionally.”
As Whipple prepares for the Level 1 assessment, the Land O’ Lakes High sophomore is also gearing up for her first two sanctioned fights this summer.
She’s slated to compete in the Amateur Fight Night 29 full-contact kickboxing and MMA event in St. Petersburg on June 18, and the 2016 IFK (International Kickboxing Federation) World Classic Muay Thai-Kickboxing Championship from July 22 to July 24 in Orlando.
While a bit nervous at the prospect of fighting so quickly after starting the sport, Whipple is looking forward to the opportunity to display her in-ring skills.
“I know because of Ben — he’s a really great trainer — and he knows when I’m ready or if I’m not ready. He wouldn’t put me in the fights if I was not ready,” said Whipple, whose nickname is ‘The Human Torch’ because her skin “turns red” when she spars with others at Koh Muay Thai.
While Whipple has been told that she could one day fight professionally in Thailand, she has another career path in mind.
“I want to go into science and become a forensic science technician, but I actually love (Muay Thai) and want to do it, too,” she explained. “I really do want to fight, but I don’t want to go the professional (route), I’m fine with staying (as an) amateur.”
Published April 27, 2016