Rolling with the punches

By Andrea Rowe  Photos Yanni

Karen Catalucci has rolled with the punches. She’s an inspiring Southern Peninsula boxing coach and fitness professional who exhibits strength beyond the ring.

And while she won’t necessarily feel comfortable with the title of survivor, she deserves that accolade too. Karen’s no stranger to set backs; she’s fought hard to battle breast cancer and is a woman equally strong in mind as in body.

Boxing and fitness have helped her rise from the knock downs. Karen’s love of gym life started in her teens. The fourteen year-old sports mad Chelsea teen accompanied her mum to a fitness session at the local gym and was immediately hooked. Beyond the exercise, she loved the energy, empowerment and working through challenges.

She soon put these values to the test.  At sixteen, a fall resulted in spinal surgery and medical advice that her sporting days were over. With her mum’s support, Karen refused to accept that diagnosis. “I’m really bloody stubborn,” she admits “I was going to rehabilitate and get on with things, no matter what.”

Exercising to recovery, Karen reinvigorated her plans to work in the fitness industry. She worked in reception and management in Chelsea and Parkdale gyms, teaching Boxercise and circuit classes while undertaking her Fitness Instruction and Personal Training qualifications at Frankston’s Chisholm TAFE.

And she gained her accreditation as a boxing coach, learning from Australia’s best at Boxing Victoria and Boxing Australia Coach and Athlete Development Camps

Moving with her children to Capel Sound in 2001 Karen “found my true sense of belonging; we weren’t just a number like in the city. I knew this was a great place for my kids to grow up.”

With accreditations from Boxing Australia and Fitness Australia, Karen works with Recreation Sorrento and Tonic Gym, channelling her love of “balance, movement and empowerment” into a compassionate teaching philosophy of helping others.

“I teach from life experience – both my spinal accident and my breast cancer saw me learn how I could work through my mental and physical challenges, coming out the other end a better person. I know those dark times, and how much joy there is in the smallest of victories.
Watching my students find that within themselves is fantastic.”

It was in 2015 that Karen received the news she had Stage 2 breast cancer. “I took it pretty calmly, then just got on with what needed to be done”. “Breast cancer taught me so much. You learn a lot about yourself; what’s precious in life and what’s bull.”

Four rounds of “chemo” and six weeks of daily radiation took their toll, but training kept her going when she was well enough. “Boxing gave me balance during this time, my teaching gave me purpose. I learnt to hold boxing pads with one hand, and was so grateful that clients kept coming back. I kept providing for my family, and was surrounded by people who cared about me. There was a lot love in those classes – it was the best recovery.”

Karen’s an equally compassionate supporter of others doing it tough. Her classes are filled with people working through their own personal challenges and set-backs.

She’s taught the “balance of boxing and hand eye coordination“ to Parkinson’s Disease patients, built confidence and resilience amongst kids disengaged in the classroom, coached community groups and Men’s Shed blokes, and trained others struggling with self-esteem, and mental and physical health challenges.

Karen has also organised charity events Boxing for Breast Cancer and Fight for Cebby with Lululemon Sorrento becoming an active supporter of her work.

“I want to live a purposeful life, because I’ve had to fight hard for this. It’s matters that I make a difference to others. As a trainer, I’m now more aware than ever that people make a choice to come to my classes, I’m grateful they’re here and I try to be more in tune with what their processing themselves.”

Beyond the gym, it’s the outdoors where Karen comes alive. Migrating from England to Australia as a young child, her parents were fascinated by the Australian bush and hikes to The Prom, The Grampians and Gunnamatta formed a backdrop to her childhood.

“I have such gratitude for the outdoors,” reveals Karen. “Your body and thoughts take up equal space together.”  She’s a familiar face running the tracks of Mornington Peninsula’s National Parks, along Bushrangers Bay, Greens Bush and through Point Nepean. “Being outdoors is so grounding. I gravitate to the ocean or the bush to reclaim my solitude.”

With the coronavirus pandemic temporarily closing her training sessions, Karen is reflective.  “This virus is a powerful equalizer. We’re all in the same boat, it doesn’t matter who we are. What matters is how we are. This is the time to be kind, to be aware of how we care of others, of our health and what we do have.”

That positivity is something we all need to propel us forward right now, a strength we can draw on. A fitting lesson from a warrior woman who has punched through the tough times.

Karen Catalucci runs regular groups and personal boxing and fitness training through Recreation Sorrento: and Tonic Gym:

Peninsula Essence – June 2020