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The Auckland forensic scientist looking for a fight

Kelly Broerse training at StrikeForce gym in New Lynn, Auckland.

Broerse with her Muay Thai championship title belts.

By day, Kelly Broerse helps catch criminals, but at night, she goes looking for a fight.

Forensic scientist Kelly Broerse has lost track of the number of times she’s arrived at work sporting a shiner. The 28-year-old is one of New Zealand’s leading exponents of Muay Thai, a combat sport that originated in Thailand and is renowned for its physicality, using punches, kicks, and elbow and knee strikes to target eight points of contact with the body.

“I’m always injured,” says the experienced fighter, who last November added the coveted New Zealand King in the Ring title to her domestic featherweight and South Pacific championships. “I don’t think I’ve had a day in the last six years when my shins didn’t hurt.”

Broerse works in Auckland at ESR (the Institute of Environmental Science and Research), which operates New Zealand’s only forensic DNA lab. Broerse spends much of her time there, profiling DNA samples from suspects and crime scenes – and she reckons the contrasting natures of her work and her sport help keep her balanced and motivated.

“I’ve always wanted to be a forensic scientist and work comes first, so if I got seriously injured, I’d stop training. But I hope that day never comes,” she says. “Muay Thai is the best stress relief I’ve ever had. Instead of going home to unwind, I go to the gym to beat someone up – or get beaten up! Then I go home feeling amazing and have a great night’s sleep.”

Up at 5.30am, Broerse trains around 10 hours a week – more in the run-up to a tournament – and has to watch what she eats. Her diet includes plenty of eggs and vegetables, with limited carbohydrates and salt. “I get cravings for pizza, but it’s all about having as little food in your stomach as possible during a fight.”  

Growing up with three older brothers who treated her more like another brother than a baby sister, Broerse was used to “rough-housing”. Dancing was her first love – Latin American, ballroom, hip hop and jazz – but interest faded in her 20s. “I stumbled across a movie about mixed martial arts and remember thinking, ‘I could do that.’” It was an easy segue to Muay Thai in 2012, and Broerse has been hooked ever since.

“It can be terrifying, stepping into the ring with an opponent who wants to hurt you. But it’s such a rewarding feeling, knowing how hard I worked and how much I pushed myself, long after the tank was empty.”

Broerse, whose partner Yassin Tansi also competes in the sport, has won 13 of the 14 major fights she’s had to date. This year, she hopes to defend her King in the Ring title and also compete in Australia. “Muay Thai has given me an incredible amount of physical and mental confidence and I’d like to encourage other women to take it up, whether for fitness, self-defence, confidence or fighting.”               

This article was first published in the February 2019 issue of North & South.

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