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On the challenge of Society Nine’s Founder, Lynn Le, and in the spirit of exploring the “why” behind people stepping into the ring or cage, and maybe being a little self indulgent during this #weightcutstruggle, I am going to explore the four ‘whys’ that drove me to want to compete in Muay Thai.
I am a competitor
As long as I can remember, I have been determined, passionate and maybe a bit desperate to carve out my own space in the world. During my 10 years competing as a rower, I was lucky enough to represent the United States at a Junior World Championships, attend university on a scholarship, travel around the country and world to compete and even at one time call myself an Olympic hopeful. When a back injury never healed quite right, I was forced to walk away from the sport and I felt lost without a looming competition or goal to define myself. I tried running half marathons and intramural sports but it didn’t scratch my competitive itch. I didn’t have to train for them and honestly, it kind of bugged me that everyone got a medal.
The first time my now husband held Thai pads for me, I was so bad (seriously, it was bad) but I felt that jolt that I had felt when I was a 15 year old wandering into a boathouse. At the time I was my husband’s Strength and Conditioning Coach for an upcoming fight and I got a front row seat to the journey that fighters take and the passion they instill in every decision. It was spartan, emotional, a challenge to never stop learning and everything I had missed about being a rower. I may not have said it out loud just yet but, within a week of that first pad session I was determined to compete.
Because someone told me I couldn’t/shouldn’t
Since I started on my Muay Thai journey I have trained at a decent number of gyms. Not because I am a ‘gym hopper,’ but because we have moved a lot and the struggle as a woman - let alone a plus sized woman - to find a gym that will treat you as the athlete you see within yourself is very real. It seemed to me that even as my skills progressed, few family members, peers or coaches seemed eager to offer me the opportunity to even think about representing a school.
No one ever said it explicitly but the feeling was an all too familiar one of not fitting the physical mold and therefore being denied a leg up. Was it because I was a girl? Was it because I did not look like Ronda Rousey? I don’t know, because no one ever said that directly to me, but as I watched the men who I trained alongside with, and sometimes trained more than, be given opportunities, the desire to prove them wrong and the purpose in my training sessions grew. Now I am at a gym that is dedicated to creating a female fight team and my first fight is about 24 hours away, I am beyond excited to prove to myself and to anyone that has doubted me, that, win or lose, I at the very least deserve a chance to try.
To Test Myself
I think a lot of people say they want to fight because they think it is cool, or maybe they think you have to want to fight to train in a combat sport. First of all, you can practice a combat sport out of pure enjoyment and second of all, I am not 100% sure what is cool about accepting you are going to get punched and kicked. I could get into the ring on Saturday night and realize I hate everything, I could straight up freak out. My gut tells me I won’t but it could happen. That is another reason I want to compete, to test myself.
The most important lessons Muay Thai has taught me is that you never stop learning, never stop growing and always work hard. Over the past four years, I have been very lucky to have some amazing supportive coaches: My husband, Dion Sekone-Fraser; Kru Reese at Stout Training Pittsburgh; Alex Branom and Robin Woods at World Class Athletics, and Mr. Burke at Burke Camp. They have each spent a lot of time imparting respect, skills, wisdom and passion for this sport into me. I have spent countless hours shadowboxing, hitting the heavy bag, drilling pads and sparring. On Saturday I have the opportunity to put these lessons to use against unknowns. I will get to show my respect for the time and energy my coaches have spent teaching me and maybe most importantly uncover opportunities for me to improve.
To create a path for others
The final ‘why’ for wanting to compete may be a bit connected to those that thought I wouldn’t get here. I want to be a part of creating diversity within the female fighting world, even if it is just within my own piece of the community. As a plus sized woman, there are few, if any, examples of women my size in the competitive space. Everyone loves Mark Hunt and Daniel Cormier but most combat sports’ competitive women’s divisions do not reach past 145lbs. Not everyone looks like Ronda Rousey or Holly Holm, but because those are the only female fighters women know, they do not see themselves reflected in that world. There is no path carved for them.
Sometimes when I drop into new gyms the instructors will ignore me. I don’t tell them I want to compete or that I have trained for a few years because I want to show them my abilities and take note of how they react to my work ethic and intensity. When I am ignored by instructors it tells me two things: 1. they only see my appearance, and 2. that they probably do this to other women. It hurts me when I hear women say they are “too intimidated to start” they “need to lose weight,” or they don’t think they have the ability. I don’t think it is fair that the way a woman looks has any impact on what others deem her capable of doing. By pushing and testing myself I hope to challenge what those women and those coaches consider the body of a fighter and maybe inspire the women that think they are ‘too big’ to try.
I think everyone is a fighter. As women we are expected by society to be great mothers, daughters, friends; to be strong, meek, confident, humble, sexy, but not too much; to want a career but put family first and to also maintain the ‘perfect’ body. Everyday women face constant attacks and pressures, just like a fighter in the ring. I believe this Saturday seems simple in comparison to the realities so many face and that is what makes combat sports so beautiful to me. Be the student, stay humble, be the change you want to see and have some fun along the way.