Meet Don Heatrick, strength and conditioning coach, former pro Thai boxer (previously UKMF ranked 4th Super Middleweight at the age of 40 years), MuayThai instructor and fight coach.
From a young age, it was clear that Don was not only an athlete, but also very analytical and keen to learn as much about improving physical performance as possible.
As A Kid
Throughout his time at school, he walked the path of both the geeky-nerd and sports fanatic, being selected to represent the school in athletics, cross-country running, hockey and rugby while also studying in the top science set.
Don was the kid with broken glasses (held together with tape) and muddy knees from playing American Football with his class mates in the lunch hour. In fact, eventually Don had laser eye surgery as it was no fun being smashed in the face while wearing glasses or contact lenses.
Constantly seeking to get more from his athletic performance, Don began reading all he could on the nutrition and training methods of elite athletes and began practically applying this to his own training practice. All this was a hobby, albeit a very passionate one, and Don left school to pursue a career in mechanical design engineering for which he’d also shown great aptitude.
Along Came Martial Arts
In parallel with his engineering studies, Don continued to train and research his beloved contact sports, moving from American Football in 1991 to Judo, Kyokushinkai Karate, then earning blackbelts in Freestyle Kickboxing and Taekwondo before discovering MuayThai (Thai boxing) in 1997. The following year saw Don earn his BSc. (Hons) degree in engineering, and freed up considerable time for him to invest in learning all that he could on becoming a better athlete.
MuayThai was the perfect fit for Don, and there he now had a direct focus for all the supporting strength and conditioning work he was using. In 2000 Don became a MuayThai instructor and has regularly taught classes ever since.
In 2003, after an advertising enquiry to Combat magazine’s editor Paul Clifton, Don was invited to write regular training editorial for Combat, Fighters, Traditional Karate and Taekwondo & Korean Martial Arts magazines.
Don discovered that his written work developed quite a following and he continued with monthly articles for a period of 3-years. At this time Don also wrote and published a free online “Nak Muay” magazine providing news, results and training ideas for Thai boxers.
In 2007, aged 34-years-old, after winning EMF Amateur MuayThai Southern Area titles at three different weight categories, Don was selected by the EMF Amateur MuayThai team to represent England at both the EMC European Championships and the WMF World Championships in Bangkok Thailand.
This proved to be a fantastic learning experience for Don. On his third successive day of fighting, he eventually lost a split-decision fight to Russian defending two-times World Champion Vitali Salnikov at the 2007 WMF World Championships.
Later that same year he went on to claim the 2007 EMC European Cruiserweight Silver Medal in the final with Mahmet Ozer from Turkey, despite being injured with long-term patella tendonitis.
During this time, the publication of Nak Muay Magazine proved to demand too much time and the project had to be parked.
In 2009, Don decided part-time training and coaching of fighters was not going to cut it, and he decided to dump his 18-year engineering career in favour of fully immersing in his passion for MuayThai.
He gained formal qualifications in Personal Training and continued his studies in Strength and Conditioning and opened a full time gym. This decision allowed him to provide a facility for athletes to engage in strength and conditioning training – the missing link for the fighters currently training in health and fitness gyms without the equipment, space or culture to allow Olympic weights and medicine balls to be thrown around.
In fact, in the first year that Unit 1 Gym opened, it was listed in the top 5 Combat Gyms of the Year at the National Fitness Awards 2010. Following a 2-year break from competition to build up the new business, Don got back onto the pro MuayThai circuit at the age of 40-years-old, climbing to 4th ranked Pro in the UK at Super Middleweight.
At the start of 2015, Don decided to hand over the full time gym to his business partner and concentrate on coaching private clients and Muay Thai classes, and shift his focus to providing online support for Muay Thai fighters looking for professional strength and conditioning information and programmes.
Sports science is constantly evolving as we better understand how the body really works. Don doesn’t claim to be an expert, but he enjoys learning the current best practices and applying them to his own training and the fighters and ‘regular clients’ he works with.
He’s passionate about what he does and wants to share what he has learned. Don very much practices what he preaches, and believes that if he learns to be the best he can be, he can show others a quicker path to becoming the best they can be too.
Don has enjoyed over 20 years marriage to his (long suffering) wife Deborah, and loves raising their son and daughter to live their own healthy, happy lives. With a son into track athletics, rugby and motor sport, and a daughter training as a classical ballerina, physical activity is in their genes.
Having athletic, Thai boxing, gym training parents (yes, Deborah too), it was kind of inevitable! Although learning and training obviously play an enormous role in his life, Don always puts his family first.