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By Janet Fuchek

At a community fundraiser on June 14, 2012, in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada – less than an hour’s drive from the border of Canada and Minnesota. I caught up to a few athletes who were guest speakers at the Tbaytel 2012 Sports Celebrity dinner at the Valhalla Inn. These included Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight fighter (UFC), Frank Mir of Las Vegas, and Ashleigh McIvor, the Canadian gold medallist in women’s ski cross at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, B.C. The event featured close to 400 people in attendance.

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Frank Mir

For 34-year-old Frank Mir and 28-year-old Ashleigh McIvor, renowned athletes in their respective domains – mixed martial arts and ski cross - sports provide invaluable life lessons.

“I think the martial arts itself is a real-world application of problem-solving skills,” UFC heavyweight competitor, Mir, figures, highlighting the strategy behind fights. “A guy is trying to beat you, and you are trying to beat him.”

He values perseverance in all aspects of life.

“You’re not always going to get the results you want,” figures the pragmatic athlete. “You have to rethink your strategy and apply yourself again.”

Though on a temporary hiatus from competition, Mir will take this approach to heart.

“I am going to take some time off to heal from a few injuries,” he says.

Besides cage fighting, he has another passion.

“I like analyzing fights,” he reveals. “I like color commentating.”

Mir says that unlike in the United States, he seems to be recognized more often and approached more frequently while in Canada, which he views as a friendly place.

He vows to adopt a determined attitude in all that he does.

“Fighting is like life,” he argues. “You can do everything to a tee. You can show up and fail. That’s no reason to quit. The sensation of throwing the towel in never crossed my mind.”

Like Mir, McIvor also gave an inspirational talk at the recent Canadian fundraiser.

“I haven’t aligned myself with any charity organizations,” she explains of her willingness to help out with various causes. “It’s nice to be doing speaking engagements.”

Currently recovering from a knee injury, she continues to focus on her dreams.

“Hopefully, I will get a good result at the world championship,” she says of her next competitive challenge, adding that she’d like to stick around for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

The impact ski cross has made on her life is huge.

“Sport is a metaphor for life in general. A lot of lessons are taken from sport – the mental aspects, how to remain calm, ….The biggest thing for me is breaking seemingly unattainable goals into a step-by-step process," she said.

McIvor credits her childhood environment for her many opportunities.

“I grew up in Whistler, a town full of professional athletes,” she added. “I love racing ski cross.”

But she realizes that she needs to think beyond her competitive days.

“There’s more to life than sport. I hope to finish my business degree.”

As for advice for up-and-coming athletes, she recommends, “Focus on the journey – not on the end result. Ordinary people like you and me can do extraordinary things.”

Members of the audience were impressed with the evening’s line-up.

Duncan MacGillivray was touched by the two athletes’ messages.

“It was exciting to come out and support a good cause and to hear former UFC champ, Frank Mir, speak about his career,” says the passionate fan.

Kris Turcotte agrees, offering a comment about McIvor.

“It (her presentation) was from the heart,” he observes. “She was very humble. Their personal experiences were inspirational.”

“I like (about) their triumph over adversity,” says Joe Curciarello.

Lori Robinson shares their views, noting that she enjoyed hearing how the two sports figures rebounded from their troubles.

Dave Rooney won the bid on a pair of Mir’s gloves in support of the fundraiser.

“There are a lot of tears in these gloves,” he remarks, adding, laughingly. “I take more punches a day (in his job) than Frank takes in the ring.”

Kerry Timko connected with the life lessons presented in the athletes’ speeches.

“I just like the never-give-up attitude,” he explains. “When you’re down, you still have to get up. That’s what life is all about. We’re all going to be down in our lives at many points. As Frank Mir says, you could do everything right and things can still go wrong.”

Timko looks up to the UFC fighter.

“He’s a good role model for how one should live his life,” he reasons.

The Thunder Bay man saw similarities in McIvor’s background, with her various injuries that she overcame.

“It’s about perseverance and self-belief,” he says of the two speeches. “The No. 1 thing it’s about is effort. In the end, you know you did your best. You put out what you had. You only answer to yourself.”

In a world of unexpected twists and turns, Mir and McIvor seem to have inner strength on their side, branding them as champions in their respective domains.

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