Maeghen Cotterill

Avenue Calgary’s 2016 Top 40 Under 40.

Photograph by Erin Brooke Burns. Photographed at Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre. 

Age: 36

Job title: Owner, Operator and Head Instructor, 5 Elements Martial Arts

Why she’s a 2016 Top 40:

Cotterill has built a safe and inclusive space for everyone to learn and practice martial arts, including children with ADD, ADHD and autism.

Maeghen Cotterill is a teacher, but her lessons have nothing to do with reading, writing and arithmetic. Instead, sensei Maeghen schools on how to wield a nunchuk, break a wooden board and throw the perfect punch.

Cotterill owns 5 Elements Martial Arts, the largest single-location martial arts studio in Western Canada, which she opened 13 years ago at the age of 23. The 5,500-square-foot, multi-level space is home to 1,000 year-round students, and the team of 23 instructors has trained more national and world champions than any other school west of Ontario.

“I definitely don’t look like the stereotypical martial artist, but I love surprising people.” Cotterill says. “I wanted to change the dynamic of what a martial artist could be, what schools could offer and how children are taught.”

The martial arts school offers classes in karate, tae kwan do, muay Thai and other disciplines to all ages, but Cotterill, who has three black belts, including a fourth-degree black belt in karate, is especially passionate about teaching children, particularly kids with special needs, including autism, ADD and ADHD.

“I have ADHD – and martial arts changed my life,” Cotterill says. “I knew I had to create a safe environment where these kids could go and know they were good at something and the same as everyone else.”

Cotterill’s seven-year-old son, Hadrian, who is autistic, has also benefitted from martial arts training. “My son was non-verbal until he was three and a half. He wasn’t talking, but he was punching, kicking, blocking and breaking boards,” Cotterill says. “At the studio, he was an equal.”

Cotterill’s involvement in the martial arts world extends beyond her life as an instructor. She has won multiple medals at national and international competitions, including gold medals across three weight categories in kickboxing.

Between competing and instructing, Cotterill finds time to volunteer with Prairie Sky Equine Assisted Therapy. The non-profit partners horses with children and adults with special needs, including autism.

Cotterill says martial arts are about more than learning to fight. “Ultimately, it’s a mindfulness practice. It brings self-discipline, social confidence and is the best way to focus and face your fears,” Cotterill says. “It helped me truly believe I can achieve anything.” – Meredith Bailey

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