Vanessa Bellegarde knows a lot about fighting her way to the top.

Bellegarde is a former world amateur champion and a former world professional champion in the sport of Muay Thai. Fighting internationally, she travelled to Thailand and was the gold medallist in 1999 at the Muay Thai World Cup.

After retiring at the top of her career, Bellegarde started Airdrie Martial Arts Centre 10 years ago, training children and adults in Muay Thai and Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

“She’s incredibly active in the community, creating a safe space for children in her after-school program,” says Alexandra Owens, whose three children train under Bellegarde.

“I believe she deserves this award because of her dedication to see this sport create community and family within Airdrie.”

Bellegarde spearheaded Airdrie’s first women’s only Brazilian jiu-jitsu class, training women in self-defence and real-life situations.

She also started a yearly women’s only Muay Thai card event. At this smoker card, she invites women from all over the world to fight in celebration of International Women’s Day, showcasing female empowerment and talent.

“It is important to teach women to achieve any goal they wish; it builds confidence for them to be themselves, to carry themselves with inner confidence and attract people with the same mindset,” says Bellegarde, who has 25 years’ experience training in the sport.