Normally, a story involving a former police officer that ends up fighting in a costume under the alias “Panther” is one relegated to comic books. But for professional boxer, stuntwoman, and actress Corinne van Ryck deGroot, it’s her actual, true to life, origin story.
After earning her degree in criminology, Corinne knew right away that she didn’t want to ply her trade in a courtroom. Instead, she wanted to be more hands on. So she signed up to be a cop in her hometown of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, where she was introduced to kickboxing (the Ottawa PD was trained by Canadian World Kickboxing Champion Jean-Yves Thériault!). It was then that Corinne realized she had a special set of skills…or fists, at the case may be.
Becoming a professional boxer would eventually lead her to the reality series The Next Action Star and the 2008 reboot of American Gladiators, and then to her current career of balancing acting, stunt work, and ESPN hosting duties, in addition to being a trainer for Openfit’s Rough Around The Edges workout program.
The very definition of grit and determination, Corinne has navigated street-level crime, the male-dominated sporting world, and Hollywood with an unwavering commitment to strength and fitness.
Openfit: How does one go from being a police officer to a professional fighter?
Corinne Van Ryck Degroot: I got a degree in criminology but didn’t want to go to law school, so I joined the police force. While in the police force, I started kickboxing. I realized, though, that I didn’t like throwing my feet, but I was doing well with punching and winning fights with that. Then I saw Christy Martin on TV and decided I wanted to be a professional boxer. So I moved to America, even though I didn’t know anybody, and I just met people and I started training.
Where did you start?
My first training camp was with Fernando Vargas, Andrew Golota, and their whole team. And then my career kind of blossomed from there. In 2004, I did a reality show called The Next Action Star. Me and another guy won that and then it became about acting and stunt work for me.
The stunt guys that worked on that show kinda started to take me under their wing – started hiring me. So that’s how I began doing stunt work, but along the way I was still primarily boxing professionally.
Did American Gladiators find you through The Next Action Star?
Part way through the show, the audition for American Gladiators came up. It was a cattle call initially, and I didn’t want to go. But one of my friends was doing something with the show and she said, “Hey come in and meet the producers we need another girl…” so I went and met them that morning.
That afternoon they brought me back in and I ended up getting the spot, and within two days I was on the show training with the other American Gladiators. I was “Panther.” I was also still boxing and I owned a gym with my fiancée at the time, so you know, just very busy!
How was it maintaining a boxing career through all of this?
I went from Ottawa to Los Angeles, then from Los Angeles I went to Atlanta – I ended up dealing with Mike Tyson’s people and I fought on two Mike Tyson cards. I fought on Roy Jones Jr.’s card. It was rough as a woman in a male-dominated sport, but I was able to get onto those big cards and make the right connections and have my career flourish.
What was the hardest part about navigating that world?
This is going to sound crazy, but I’m not an ugly woman, and I’m not a butch woman, and it’s kind of a butch, male-dominated sport. So this turned out to be my advantage because I was always underestimated just based off of the way that I looked. I wasn’t taken seriously for my skills, but after about four or five fights people were like, “OK…”
Do you think the perception and the treatment of women is improving at all?
I think there’s always that thing with women in general – if you’re a pretty woman who’s intelligent, even in corporate America, you have to work twice as hard for people to really see your value. But I love it. I don’t feel like a victim at all. I love to prove people wrong and working and achieving everything that I’ve achieved.
How did your training evolve throughout all of this?
When I got to Atlanta, I started training for boxing and I still primarily train that way. I do a lot of speed and agility work. That training has stayed the same for me because it works. It’s effective and you get results. Once I started boxing, everything has remained pretty consistent.
For my typical day, I box and I spar two or three times a week. It’s just my lifestyle now. I like training at that level. I’m a workout junkie.
Did you have to acquire any other skills to do stunt work?
Oh yeah, you have to learn how to do wire work, you have to learn how to fall, you have to learn how to fall down stairs, how to take a car hit…there’s a lot of training. Lots and lots of training that goes into it because it’s very specific.
Is there anything you still find daunting?
The most daunting thing I’ve had to do as a stuntwoman are falls – I’m not a fall girl. I don’t do a lot of high falls, but I had to do a fall backwards off a high platform and I’ll always remember that. That was horrible.
Do you have a least favorite form of exercise?
Yoga. Ugh. I need yoga in my life but I’m very tight, muscle-y kind of build – and I hate to stretch even though I know I need to stretch. I love yoga because it’s so spiritual, but I hate the stretching because it hurts. And it’s very slow. Normally I’m very tat tat tat tat tat!
Were you athletic growing up?
Oh yeah, from the time I was six I played soccer, and I had scholarships for college and university. We also played ice hockey, field hockey, road hockey – everything’s hockey in Canada. But my sport through high school and university and college was soccer. I did cross-country running when I was in high school, as well.
How has your diet evolved over the years?
I don’t ingest dairy, I don’t ingest meat, and I don’t ingest any animal products except for fish. Everything else in my diet is plant-based — every source that you can imagine outside of meat is where I get my protein.
I don’t drink any soda, I don’t drink any juice. I have a cup of coffee in the morning, but then everything else is water. I put Crystal Light in my water to make it flavorful because I drink so much of it.
It can’t be easy juggling everything you do – where do you find motivation on those tough days?
On a day when I’m just exhausted and I don’t feel like going to the gym – I just don’t go to the gym. I’m in the gym five to six days a week, so I’ll just take a day off.
I think about what my goals are and what I want to accomplish in my life and who I want to be – that’s what gives me the motivation. Me presenting myself in the best light.
Do you have any advice for people who need that extra push?
My best advice is to write your goal down on a piece of paper – write what you want to be, draw a triangle – then everything that you need to achieve step by step. The bottom of the triangle being all those things, and then the next step, the next step…until you get to that top. Figure out what you want to look like how you want to feel and then make those adjustments in your lifestyle and make adjustments in your eating habits.
You have to choose to be the best version of yourself that you can be. And you have to invest in that. If it’s not important to you, you’ll make excuses.