Dhillon aims for podium at Pan-Ams

Ask Shaun Dhillon how coaching youngsters has enriched his own experience as a national team karate athlete, and he can't help but chuckle.

Shaun Dhillon keeps a watchful eye on his karate club students during a recent session at Apollo Athletic Club. Dhillon is competing at the Pan-Am Games next week.

Shaun Dhillon keeps a watchful eye on his karate club students during a recent session at Apollo Athletic Club. Dhillon is competing at the Pan-Am Games next week.

Ask Shaun Dhillon how coaching youngsters has enriched his own experience as a national team karate athlete, and he can’t help but chuckle.

“It’s been a learning experience, let’s put it that way,” said Dhillon, a 25-year-old Abbotsford native who runs karate clubs in Abbotsford and Mission. “I’ve developed a greater respect for people who are high-level elite coaches. It takes a lot of patience.

“At karate tournaments (as a coach), it’s frustrating, because I just want to go in there and do it myself. You have no control of what they do, and it’s just, ‘Arrrgggh!’ You’re so used to going to competition and being ready.”

In that which he has more direct control over, Dhillon has tasted some terrific success recently. Last year, he notched a top-eight finish at the World Championships in the 84-plus kumite division.

In June, he finished first in his weight class at the North American Karate Cup in Montreal, defeating the top contenders from Canada, the United States and Mexico to earn a berth to the Pan American Games. He flies to Guadalajara, Mexico on Sunday, and opens the Pan Am tournament next week.

For Dhillon, the recent success has been gratifying, after battling back from a knee injury. In 2007, he tore his ACL and meniscus, but actually managed to make it to the quarter-finals at Worlds in ’08 before undergoing surgery. Between rehab time and various setbacks, it’s only been within the last 12 months that he’s back to 100 per cent.

“Now, I’m finally at a point where everything is excellent,” the Mennonite Educational Institute grad said. “It’s a good mental relief.”

As Dhillon has been preparing for the Pan Ams, he’s also been working with his karate students – he has over 100 at this point – to get them ready them for various youth meets. At the recent zone championships, 35 of his students earned medals and qualified for provincials. Eight more are set to participate in Team B.C. tryouts.

“The whole coaching thing is a completely different realm for me,” he said. “A lot of athletes, when they start coaching, they’re done their athletic career. But I’m still in my prime. Now, I’m understanding the other side – how the coach feels when I’m competing.”