Monday, October 18th 2021, 10:35 am - A Brighter Day shines a spotlight on everyday heroes who are making a difference. The Weather Network has partnered with Moneris to celebrate small businesses in Canada that are making an impact towards building a better world. In this episode, we bring you the story of local gym owners, Kerry Marine and Hillary Doukas, turned community changemakers.
Gym owners Kerry Marine and Hillary Doukas are changing people’s lives one kick, punch, or right hook at a time.
Partners in business and in life, the couple first opened their fitness facility, Marine Kickboxing, located in East Toronto, in 2017. Inside its four walls, people learn martial arts, participate in fitness classes and let off some steam while kickboxing. The trainers welcome people from all walks of life and teach them how to train like a marine in a judgement-free zone.
“Kerry and I met at a gym, funnily enough and it was love at first sight. We were always good training partners … we always knew we had a passion you know, it's cheesy, but a passion for each other and for the sport,” Doukas told The Weather Network.
“Training like a marine to me — and this is purely how I feel — is that you are training to persevere through some of the hardest things you'll probably have to deal with,” Marine added.
Kerry Marine seen here with daughter. (Courtesy: John Lawson, Running Dog Photography)
Marine explained that his desire to make everyone feel welcome and capable stems from moments of his own life when he felt alone and worthless.
“I was actually born in Trinidad and I came up here [to Canada] when I was eight years old. I went through some difficult times with my mom and my dad and I kind of bounced around from home to friends’ houses to my aunt's house,” he said.
Having a Trinadadiaan accent and growing up with a speech impediment in Canada, Marine says he was often bullied by his peers. (Photo provided)
After moving between homes, Marine became homeless at the age of 18, and remained so until he was around 23.
“I just didn't have anywhere to go ... I gained almost 100 pounds, I was out of shape and I wasn't taking care of myself at all. And just being homeless and just like not having somewhere to call my own, I didn't feel great about myself,” Marine said. “Parts of those years were harder than others, just because almost anywhere I went I felt alone, right? But I guess I just kind of willed myself through it. And thankfully I'm still here.”
Having a Trinadadiaan accent and growing up with a speech impediment in Canada, Marine was often bullied by his peers. Experiencing homelessness and feeling isolated, he found himself getting involved in physical altercations as a young adult.
In 2010, Marine’s friend Dwight Catanus introduced him to the martial art of Muay Thai as a way to channel his frustrations through a positive outlet.
When Marine stepped foot in the Muay Thai gym for the first time he said he felt apprehensive and self-conscious. After the second or third visit he finally felt at home.
“Did it help me feel like I had a better mental state? I want to say yes. But it was more that it made me feel like I was worth something. Because, I mean, I was. I've been teased basically my entire life. I've been bullied, I've been picked on and I honestly never felt during that time...like I was worth much. But then the fact that somebody thought that I was worth enough to get me doing something like that was good enough for me to give it a try.”
At that martial arts facility is where Marine met his partner Hillary Doukas in 2010. Together, they now have a four-year-old child, Oliva.
Hillary Doukas seen here with daughter Olivia. (Courtesy: John Lawson, Running Dog Photography)
While it was love at first sight for the couple, Hillary’s love for kickboxing sparked when she was just 11-years-old.
Doukas began her journey with MMA kickboxing, Mauy Thai, and martial arts from a young age and even taught Marine the sport.
“So I was always active as a kid, my parents always did their best to get me into any activities possible. They wanted me out moving all the time. It wasn't about until I was 10 or 11 where I actually asked my parents to start kickboxing which they weren't thrilled with … it wasn't anything where you saw a lot of women in the sport,” she said. “And then after about a year of badgering them, they finally enrolled me into a local gym. It was love at first sight.”
Hillary Doukas. (Photo provided)
Marine’s personal experiences with homelessness and Doukas’ ability to break down barriers is what helped form the culture at Marine Kickboxing.
“Kerry's personal experiences in the past and my personal experiences as a young woman coming up in kickboxing and martial arts really helped us decide what kind of a program and gym we wanted to have,” Doukas explained. “We wanted to make sure that when people come in, they feel welcome, because especially Kerry as a young man, knowing what it felt like to be alone, he didn't want people to come into a gym and not feel like a sense of community. That's what we really strive for.”
While a physical transformation brings many to the gym, it’s the mental transformation clients say they are most proud of.
“It just, it gives me an outlet, it gives me a place to bring out those negative emotions and you know, take them out on the bag, take them out on the pads. And I just find that really helpful,” said Justin Williams, a client who’s been going to Marine Kickboxing with his wife for several years.
“It does increase your confidence. You learn what you're capable of and then when you're out in the world...I know what I can handle, I can handle myself, I can handle this situation,” Williams continued.
While business was running smoothly for trainers and for clients, everything was put to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Marine Kickboxing prior to opening in June 2017. (Photo provided)
“The pandemic really created an unbelievable hardship for us," said Doukas. "I think anyone that had a small business would agree the pandemic was so difficult, especially because this gym was essentially our baby. We opened the gym a month after actually having our own baby. So the last four years, we've been raising our daughter, and we've been growing the gym. So for the gym to shut down and be told there was no way we could open it was absolutely heartbreaking.”
In the spirit of kickboxing, the owners decided to roll with the punches, adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic by conducting virtual fitness classes and holding community initiatives.
Despite having a closed gym to the public the team still found a way to keep people connected by holding community potlucks, clothing drives, and organizing food pickups. Their generosity during a time of uncertainty helped clients at the gym feel connected during a time when humanity was forced to be apart.
“It was important for us to give back to others even though we were going through hardships of our own, because we know what it's like to go through hardship. And we know that maybe while other people can’t do it for themselves, we can still do something for them, however small,” expressed Doukas.
Gym owners Hillary Doukas and Kerry Marine (Photo provided)
Fast forward to October 2021, the duo is back doing what they do best. The team says they are welcoming anyone and everyone to the Marine Kickboxing studio while abiding by public health guidelines to keep everyone safe during COVID-19.
“What would I tell someone that doesn't know us or what we do hear about us?” Marine pondered. “We are a family. You don't need to be in the best shape of your life, you don't need to know how to kickbox at all. We are, we are somewhere you can come and be totally who you are within a safe space like it. This is just who we've always been and it is who we will always be.”