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Ashley Curry: Fighting for country, in Muay Thai, and against MS

Posted on April 19, 2017 by Society Nine | 1 comment

Ashley Curry served in the U.S. Navy for six years as an underwater mine expert. After being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, she was medically retired and is now a Behavioral Therapist for children with autism and is also a Muay Thai fighter. Her personal passion is to encourage those who feel lost after a diagnosis or anyone dealing with an illness. Her goal is to remind them to never give up. 

This is her story.

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My name is Ashley Curry and I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in December of 2011.

One morning, while serving in the US Navy and stationed in Japan, I woke up and my right hand was frozen still. I went to the doctor and they suggested I get an MRI of my head and spine. Immediately I was called back into the office for my results. As I looked across from the doctor, I could see an image of a brain with "white spots" on it and was sure he was violating someone else's privacy by still having it open when I walked in. He soon told me that it was my own brain and it was suggested that I had a rare brain tumor. I was sent to Hawaii to have them removed. As the doctor told me how the procedure would go, she asked me for my precious MRI images. I quickly remembered that I had left them in Japan, so she put in for me to have another one. The next day, I was sent to see another doctor as they told me I would have to have a spinal tap. Confused, I asked why this needed to be done. The doctor explained to me that the "white spots" in my brain weren't tumors, but lesions and they needed to find out why. I received my spinal tap and it was the most painful thing I had ever endured in my life. I was later called back into the office for my results. I sat in the office, awaiting my appointment, when started reading pamphlets about a disease called multiple sclerosis. I didn't know what it was, but I distinctly remember saying to myself, "Wow, I'm glad I don't have this." While sitting across from the doctor, I heard the words that would forever change my life. "You have multiple sclerosis."

My heart sank as I kept my composure. I was later transferred back to America because they didn't have the means in that small urban town in Japan. While back in America, depression and anxiety became my everyday routine after dealing with pain, treatments, wheelchairs and limited use of parts of my body. I finally decided enough was enough and I needed help. I saw a psychologist and she suggested I find something to do. Something to make me happy. Instantly, I remembered that I used to do Muay Thai and it was something fun to do. My car practically drove itself to a Muay Thai gym I had once visited. At first, it was fun, and gave me a reason to get healthier until I realized my body was changing. I no longer had to use my cane to navigate through life and opening bottles were becoming more possible.

I realized at that moment in time that if others decide to give up on themselves the way that I did, they would never get to this point, a point of deliverance. It became my mission, my duty, to encourage anyone who would listen to fight for their life. Fighting for my life, for me, is just that; the actual form of fighting through Muay Thai, but I actually want others to fight for their lives to live in whatever that means to them. When dealing with a silent illness, it can be very disheartening when it comes to dealing with others because the illness cannot be seen, therefore it doesn't make sense to people. So, we often keep our thoughts and feeling to ourselves, trapping our minds in a prison we made to keep from breaking.

It's been a painful and exhausting journey, but I wouldn't have it any other way. In a way, this diagnosis was a blessing because it gave me a platform. It's hard to take advice from someone that doesn't know what it's like to give up on their life or to be given a "hidden" diagnosis, but because I have, others are more likely to take into consideration the example presented to them. My body wants to reject all that I do to it. I am not supposed to be able to do what I do. I wasn't supposed to get out of that wheelchair. I wasn't supposed to be able to take care of myself, but I did because I literally fought for it. I don't fight for self gratification. I don't fight to be the number one champion that ever lived. I fight because someone, somewhere is waiting for me to say, "Take it from me, don't give up."

Posted in MS, muay thai, multiple sclerosis, US navy

Amy Stufflebeam: From Baby Deer to Finding My Fight Within

Posted on April 14, 2017 by Society Nine | 0 comments

Amy is a kickboxing enthusiast and licensed esthetician living in Atlanta, Georgia. She enjoys strength training, piña coladas in the rain and hanging with her two grumpy cats, Italics and Buckley. When she isn't hitting the bag at VESTA Movement or hanging out with her cats she is working on her feminist lit series, the Bleux Stockings Society (you can check it out on Instagram @bleuxstockingssociety).

This is her story.

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I’ve always been more of an indoor cat; I have zero hand-eye coordination, I was picked last for team sports and I failed gym because I refused to dress out for an entire semester. Given the choice between a friendly game of Red Rover (which, let’s face it, is a total oxymoron) and being grounded for a week, I’d happily take the latter. My mother, a lifelong fan and participant of every sport, was baffled at this alien child she’d somehow created, but supported my bookish tendencies anyway. With the exception of a short stint on the neighborhood swim team, I successfully avoided sweat-inducing activities my entire childhood.

This worked out okay until high school. I picked up smoking when I was fifteen, a habit that would take ten years to break. I learned to rely on junk food--particularly chocolate--to get through a bad day. Once I turned twenty-one, I practically lived off of pub food, cheap beer and a pack a day. No surprise, I felt terrible all the time. I didn’t sleep well, my energy was low and my skin was sallow and parched. So long as I maintained my weight, I didn’t care.

It continued on like this for several years until I was just too tired to keep going at the same pace. I finally quit smoking when I was twenty-five after months of concerted effort. I was ready to get my life on some kind of healthier track, though I had no idea what that looked like. I tried gym after gym, but never found the motivation to go more than once or twice. That Christmas, I stepped on a scale at my family’s house and almost passed out from shock: I had gained thirty pounds. Don’t get me wrong, I knew I’d added on some weight and I felt terrible about my body, but I had no idea I’d let it get so far. Desperate and freshly out of holiday leftovers, I signed up for my first kickboxing class.

 

The only way I can describe my fighting “style” in that first class is “newborn baby deer.” I had no idea how to throw a punch, let alone a kick. Basic footwork was a total enigma to me and I’m sure I looked like a world class idiot, but damn if I’d ever felt better in my entire life. I was pouring sweat, grinning from ear to ear. I felt like Rocky Balboa. (Or in my case Rocky GALboa.) I felt strong for the first time and I knew I could never go back to my old ways.

After that, kickboxing took over my life. I couldn’t stay out too late drinking because I had a class the next day. I couldn’t eat as much garbage, because I’d lose the progress I had made so far. I bonded with my community of lady fighters, and we encouraged each other to push ourselves to the absolute limit, to be better each and every day. Months passed and I began to feel more and more confident in myself. The bad habits (and extra pounds) just melted away. Muscles started forming where none had ever been and when I threw my elbow into the bag, I did it with gusto.

I was addicted to the challenge and endorphins that I got from kickboxing and I wanted more. I started doing everything I could think of to chase that feeling: swimming, running, weight training, etc. The more I did, the better I felt. Of course, I had some bad days where my progress felt slow or I couldn’t quite land that kick, but my supportive instructors encouraged and guided me back to a good place. With their help, I gave up on the idea of giving up.

My entire life I’ve felt weak and small, but I’m proud to say those days are over. I’m so grateful for kickboxing for making me stronger and for giving me a sense of purpose. It has so markedly changed my life that I don’t think I can picture a future without it. I have dreams of becoming a personal trainer, of running a marathon and of being the best possible version of myself. I’m a fighter now and always will be.

Posted in

Shannon Kasperson: Choosing To Uncover The Fight Within

Posted on March 31, 2017 by Society Nine | 1 comment

 

Shannon Kasperson is a new(ish) member of the boxing community whose journey truly began when she recognized her ability to choose. With that, she began uncovering her fight within and never looked back. When she isn't getting rounds in at Uppercut Boxing Gym in Minneapolis, she is helping students and veterans navigate the financial barriers of reaching their educational goals.

This is her story.

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I can’t remember a moment in my thirty-two years that I haven’t been overweight.

I’m sure the times are there, but I must have been a child because I have no memories of being at a healthy weight. I wish I could say it was just an extra 15 or 20 pounds I was carrying around, but even on my best days, the times where I was reaping the benefits of months of dieting and hard work at the gym, I was still considered “overweight." Most of the time, if I’m honest, I’ve been obese. Over time, carrying this weight had become my way of life. I learned to live the role of “the fat one” in the group: at work, at school, with friends, even in my own family. You learn where to buy larger sized clothes that aren’t hideous, you wear ugly ass orthopedic shoes that can handle your weight without killing your feet, and you learn to tell yourself that this is just going to be your thing. Everyone has a thing, right? It is something you struggle with that very few people really understand, that you just deal with. Like any thorn in your side that refuses to leave you in peace, you learn to live with it. Because, what other choice is there?

Living with it, for me, meant a lot of things. It meant thinking no one would ever find me attractive. It meant realizing I’d never be running those fun 5K events where you get doused with buckets of paint or wear a stupid tutu across the finish line. It meant giving up on so many things that so many other people enjoy every day without having to think twice about it.

It also meant always watching what I ate. Even when I wasn’t actively losing weight and just trying to stay afloat. It meant I couldn’t put a single thing in my body without having to spend enormous amounts of time either thinking about it, or worse, feeling bad about it. Going to the bar with friends for happy hour drinks after work? Eating a piece of cake for your co-worker’s birthday? Or partaking in the donuts that that one girl in your office brings in all the time? Yeah, not things fat girls can do. Well, okay, you can…but you’ll never get anywhere with your weight loss with habits like that, so we say “oh no thanks, I already ate” and then wait for everyone to tell us how stupid we are because I mean, come on, it’s just one donut, one drink, one piece of cake, one fill-in-the-blank-piece-of-food-someone-can’t-handle-that-you’re-not-eating.

But here’s the thing: “living with it” isn’t really a thing. Trying to forget about it and live the best life you can despite the circumstances, is damn near impossible. Because it’s bullshit. It leaves you pissed off, resentful, and feeling helpless over your life. It leaves you missing out on So.Many.Things. So one day I made the choice that I was done missing out on things. I wanted my life to be beautiful and it was time to figure out how to get that. I wasn’t going to stop eating healthy or pursuing weight loss, but I was going to learn how to do this in a way that was honoring to myself and my life. I needed a way forward that would create less extremes and more balance for long term sustainability.

I was looking around on Pinterest for some inspiring quotes to help me get started, and I came across one with the quote “Losing weight is hard, maintaining weight is hard, staying fat is hard. CHOOSE YOUR HARD.” The words were set over a picture of a girl holding up her arm wearing a boxing glove. She looked strong and powerful, and that is when I realized I wanted to learn how to box... It would take me three years until I finally got the courage to walk into my first class.

I knew I needed something for women only, and something that would work with me where I was at: not physically fit whatsoever. One night I decided to google “women’s boxing in the Twin Cities” to see if I could find something that wasn’t completely terrifying. Even though I’d looked for a place many times before, that night I magically found something called “Pink Gloves Boxing.” Pink Gloves Boxing is a small program for women to learn boxing in a safe, women-focused environment. I found a chapter here in the Twin Cities (MN) and attended two classes before the instructor had a baby and took time off. Four months later, I learned they were permanently ending the chapter. To say I was bummed would be an understatement. It had taken me three years to get the courage to walk into that class, and now it was over before it really started?!

I was facing another decision moment: I either wanted to box or I didn’t. I was either about it or I wasn’t. I had to decide one way or another. So I found one more gym in Minneapolis and decided that if it didn’t work out, then I’d be done with boxing. Uppercut Boxing Gym in Northeast Minneapolis is a legit boxing gym, located in a warehouse down an alley in an industrial part of the city. While this gym is woman-owned, it is co-ed and they are there for one thing: to teach you how to box. No weight loss gimmicks, no “we work with you where you’re at;” they train people for the sport of boxing.

I walked into what I considered the most intimidating place I’ve ever been to in my life, and that first class kicked.my.ass. As did the second, third, fourth and really every single class I’ve taken since. You’re talking to the girl who when she “ran” her final mile in gym class during senior year of high school, actively celebrated that she’d never have to do anything like that ever again. These classes, however, had me doing squats, jumping rope, wall sits, crunches… and I could barely do any of it. Who knew so little of boxing is actually boxing?! And for a plus sized person?

In the beginning I was given little to no instruction on how to do any modifications for my 240lb frame. It felt like this gym was meant for one type of person: the fit person. The person who, while might be new to the sport but could attend for a few classes and get the hang of it and keep up. I am not that person. I can’t hold a plank for 10 seconds let alone 60 seconds. I can’t jump rope for 20 seconds without having to stop and pull up my gym pants from sliding down over my gut. Also, remember when I said it was co-ed? That means I spend each class huffing and puffing my ass off around a bunch of muscle-y, tatted up dudes and super fit, lean women. So it didn’t take me long to feel like I 100% did not belong there.

I felt like I had two options at that point: become the person this gym seems to have been made for (fit athletes) OR bow out now and go back to being “the fat girl” who just had to live with it. This realization led to a breakthrough for me: I could go back to my old way of thinking, giving up and resolving myself to the half-life I was living, or I could fight back. I decided to create a third option: I wanted this world, the fitness and boxing world, to be broad enough to include people like me. For that to happen, I had to fight my fear and ask for what I needed. An acronym for a move on the chalkboard that I’d never heard of? I’d walk right up to the scary trainer and ask them what it meant and to show me how to do it. An exercise my body physically could not handle? I’d ask my teacher for a modification after class and do it the next time around. Whatever I was still struggling with in class, I’d work on privately outside of class at my regular gym or at home. I learned during this time that if you wanted something here, you just had to f*cking take it. It was up to you to make it happen, because no one was going to do it for you. Would they be there to help you when needed it? Absolutely. But, it was up to me to figure out what I needed and wanted, and then chase after it.

I should note that this is all still super super hard. I go to class and look around and feel like an imposter many days. I still feel shame over the fact that people don’t look like me in my classes, and that there are many moves and exercises I cannot perform due to my weight. I’m still scared to walk into this crazy intimidating boxing gym and show up knowing I won’t be able to keep up. But sometimes, the fear won’t go away, so you just have to do it afraid. Sometimes you have to tell that voice in your head to shut the hell up and keep moving.

I started boxing to gain strength. Physical strength yes, but more than anything, mental strength to fight back against a world I’d lived in for so long. Because really? This is not a story about boxing. This is a story about fighting the inner demons inside your head that tell you that there is something wrong with you or that you are not good enough. It’s about persisting even when you don’t fit in, and choosing to make it so you fit in on your own terms, and then owning what that looks like. Having the confidence to identify what you want, and then take it. Sometimes when things are hard, you just have to fight back harder.

Society Nine is for the fight within EVERY woman. I may not be a professional boxer, I may have only started this sport in the last six months but I am fighting for myself, I am a fighter. My fight is against the false things I’ve believed about myself for so long and the resentment, fear, and self-doubt that comes with it.

It’s fitting that Uppercut Gym has us training in front of a wall of mirrors. Every class I stare at myself sweating and working as hard as I can to battle those thoughts and adopt new ones. I fight the idea that I am not good enough, and then punch that shit right in its face. Because I will be victorious. Because either it wins, or I win. And guess what? It’s my turn to win.

Posted in Body Positive, Boxing, Boxing Gym, Choose To Win, Choose Your Hard, Positive Mental Attitude, Self-Doubt, Weight Loss

Farinaz Lari: From being underestimated to becoming the Canadian Flyweight Champion

Posted on February 23, 2017 by Society Nine | 0 comments

Farinaz Lari (@farinazlari) is a BCRPA Personal Trainer, International kickboxing coach, Muay Thai coach, World Kickboxing Champion (WAKO) Athlete Committee member of the International Federation of Muay Thai (IFMA) and a Professional fighter with 20 fights (15-4-1). She's co-owner and one of the head coaches of District Warrior in Vancouver BC.

This is her story.

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I started kickboxing at the age of 18 because my family didn't allow training in martial arts for women, so I had to wait until I was old enough to make the decision to. They said kickboxing is below our family values and martial arts is not for women.

When I went to university, I started working at a clothing store and with my first paycheck I immediately signed up for an all ladies kickboxing class. After a few months of training I realized that this is the sport I want to compete in. My friends told me in order to win, I would have to have a male trainer! I asked around and found a man named Ali Khanjari, who was the best trainer in Iran. When I called, he immediately said he doesn't teach women because they are not serious enough about training!

Finally, after a lot of begging, he agreed and after training with him for some time, I won my first national championships! Shortly after that, I won a few more until I finally got into the national team.

For the first international event, I was sent to Vietnam for the Asian Indoor Games, with the national team of Iran. Iran is an Islamic Republic, and the Hijab is mandatory for all women, even when you get in the ring! So naturally, all of my training was with a hijab.

The night before the fight, I was notified that the President of Iran didn't like the idea of women competing in kickboxing, so after all of that hard work, they said no! I went to his hotel with some officials and begged him to reconsider!

He agreed, but only if I added 5 centimeters to the length of my shorts. They said, "Even with the shorts lengthened, you either win gold or you will never get a chance to compete internationally!" I won silver, and that was devastating. I apologized to the public on national news right after the fight. 

After that event, I was sent to a couple of other international events, every time with a fear of women not being permitted to fight. Every time they would send a team, there were 1/3 of the number of female competitors compared to men, with a good chance of women being eliminated all together.

On September 2013, I became the first Iranian (man or woman) ever to win the World Kickboxing Championships in Brazil. The Iranian officials were horrified, and they barely congratulated me.

I was living in Canada at the time (I still am), and the National Kickboxing Federation of Canada invited me onto their team. However, Iranian officials said I needed to be on probation for TWO years before I could switch teams (which later, I found out was a lie to stop me from competing for Canada!)

Fast forward; now I have been living in Canada for 6 years, and I'm a full time trainer working 9 to 11 hours a day, at a studio owned by me and my coach/ husband. I'm now fighting professionally and recently became the Canadian Flyweight Champion and on April 1st, I fight in Seattle for another world kickboxing title.

I come from a place that women have almost no rights. The thought of a woman competing in combat sports is highly frowned upon, and women teaching combat sports is not taken seriously. Even when I moved to Canada, before opening my own studio, I started training at a gym that didn't even allow women in their "fighter training classes"! The coach once had me in his office and told me: women don't belong here...they need to be in their own corner, doing their little things to get fit!

I responded, "But I want to fight!"

And he said, "What if you get punched and get ugly? What would you do then?"

I know my story is not unique. I know women have struggled a long time to simply have a fair opportunity to train and have had to fight to get equal opportunity to set whatever goals they want to, just as men have the right to do. This reality makes me want to fight even more...to show not just women, but to show everyone that if you put your heart into something, no matter how out of reach it seems, you can achieve it.

Posted in asian indoor games, district warrior, kickboxing, muay thai, national kickboxing federation of canada, world kickboxing championships

Susan Botyrius: Boxing out Parkinson's Disease.

Posted on December 05, 2016 by Society Nine | 0 comments



 

Susan is a mother of two, badass engineer and when she isn't taking life head on she is battling Parkinson's Disease. Diagnosed when her daughters were young, Susan set out to show them that no challenge was too great and to set an example of strength and fight. Along her journey, she was directed to the Rock Steady Program where she found a community of support and her love of boxing.

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I have always used the words of others who said I could/should not reach for a goal because of my gender as motivation to reach that goal. I have taken the path I wanted to take, not the path others told me I should take. Sometimes that path was the conventional one and other times it was not.

Growing up in the suburbs of St. Louis in the 60s and 70s, I never understood why I could not attempt anything I wanted to simply because I was a girl.  When I was a little girl my grandfather nicknamed me Susan B Anthony because I wanted to be the first female cadet at the air force academy. Unfortunately I was born about 6 years too late. Someone else beat me to it.

The idea that anything except an individual’s abilities dictates which paths are open and which are closed to that individual has always rubbed me the wrong way. I believe every individual is unique and deserves to pursue his/her dreams as long as they stay within societal ethics and morality. I am an individualist and this belief still drives me to this day. 

In college I earned degrees in electrical engineering and computer science and turned those into a career as a control systems engineer. I started my career at a small consulting firm in Tallahassee. My boss was a terrific mentor and I learned a lot from him. However, when I went to site, I was the only female working in the production area and the head of maintenance felt I needed a babysitter and proceeded to assign an engineer to stay with me. The reasoning, I was a woman.  

Outside of work I did not fit in very well either, there were very few people I could relate to because of my field. The breaking point came when I was at a barbeque and I was talking to an older couple. They asked me what I did. When I responded that I was an electrical engineer, both the man and woman looked at me as though I had grown another head. Then in a thick southern accent the man said “You must be smart.” And the woman said, “You are a role model for young girls everywhere.”

I did not want to be known just for being smart and I sure as heck did not want to be a role model. The last thing I needed was to be put on a pedestal. I simply wanted to be the best engineer I could be and I wanted to connect with other people like me.  I wanted to have friends that were young and single. I also wanted a job that offered me more opportunities. It was time to move on. 

Eventually I found a job working at a rubber compounding plant in South Carolina for a major tire manufacturer. One of the possibilities that had attracted me was the potential opportunity to work overseas for a period of time. A year and a half later I was asked to go to France as a trainee for six months to be help with the design of a new production line to be added here in the United States.

While I was in France testing the controls at the vendors facility, I saw safety flaws in the design that would pose a serious danger to anyone working on the line. I spent HOURS attempting to explain my stance to co-workers. At first none of them understood what my objections were but I was able to get them to agree that maybe, just maybe, I had a point. But they were not going to change the design. In the end, I refused to accept the design and my boss in France overrode my objections allowing the design to be accepted. I lost the battle in France, but won the war in the United States when the plant maintenance department agreed with me and insisted that the vendor's design be changed. 

In France, I may have struggled to have my views understood but I met the man whom I would marry. He was the only American working for the vendor on the same project. Two years after we returned to the States we married and he moved from New Jersey To South Carolina to be with me. And after our first daughter was born we moved to Pittsburgh and I stayed home and became the traditional Mom. We had another daughter and I continued my Mom role, working intermittently as a contractor. For the most part we were the conventional suburban family.

In 2004 my world changed dramatically when a persistent tremor in my right hand was diagnosed as probable early onset Parkinson’s Disease (aka PD). Parkinson’s Disease is a progressive neurological disorder that causes tremors and other motion control issues for the patient. My oldest daughter was just starting fourth grade and my youngest daughter was just starting first grade. I quickly decided that I would do anything in my power to keep myself active and keep the disease at bay. I did not want my daughters’ memories of me to be those of a person defined by a disease. I wanted them to remember me as me. I also wanted my daughters to see that difficulties can be overcome and you cannot let anything stop you.

I have watched my daughters grow up from little girls to big girls to teenage girls to amazing young women. I cannot begin to say how proud I am of them. During this time my diagnosis has been confirmed as early onset Parkinson’s. I am a lucky one as it is still a very mild form. Parkinson’s disease predisposes a person to depression and that has been a challenge for me. To help overcome, my neurologist suggested I visit a counselor and also try a program called Rock Steady. That was a turning point for me.  

Ding, Ding, Ding, Ding, Ding goes the bell and then the instructor yells into the mike,  
“ARE YOU READY?”  
“ARE YOU READY?”
“ARE YOU READY TO ROCK STEADY?”
Everyone in the class moves to a heavy bag and round 1 begins.

Rock Steady is a boxing class for people diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease (PD). The Rock Steady program is specifically designed to improve the quality of life for people with PD by mitigating the symptoms using boxing. Boxing helps PD patients in two ways. Firstly, the whole body coordination required for boxing helps combat the loss of movement control prevalent in PD patients. Secondly, intense exercise has been found to help the brain use dopamine more efficiently and PD patients do not produce enough dopamine, so using the dopamine more efficiently results in an improvement in symptoms.  

I began The Rock Steady program at Fit4Boxing in Pittsburgh and I can speak to how it does much more than just help with the physical symptoms I am fighting to overcome. Every Thursday before the class starts there is a discussion and anyone who has read about or heard about anything that might help others is free to bring it up for discussion. Several members of the group have a medical background and are able to explain why certain protocols are used. The staff has worked hard to cultivate a family like atmosphere in which every person is valued. All the participants in the program support each other.  

I have found that boxing has helped alleviate my physical symptoms while the support and camaraderie of my fellow patients and the staff at Fit4Boxing has improved my mental state. It’s pretty incredible that the sport that has been blamed for multiple cases of PD, including Muhammad Ali’s, has also been found to be one of the best activities for helping people cope with the disease. I doubt that I will ever actually participate in a true boxing match. But by practicing as though I will, I hope to prevent or slow further progression of the disease. My end goal is TO KICK PARKINSON’S ASS.

Posted in badass women, Boxing, community, Depression, Engineering, fight like a woman, Fit4Boxing, Mom, Muhammad Ali, Parkinson's Disease, Pittsburgh, Rock Steady, society nine, Society Nine Storytellers, The Rock Steady Program, women's boxing, women's boxing gloves

Emilee Hoffman: Becoming a stronger me every day

Posted on July 25, 2016 by Society Nine | 1 comment

Emilee is a single mom that strives to set an example of strength for her daughter by pursuing her passion for BJJ, Muay Thai and MMA. Her journey began with BJJ but as her love for combat sports has grown so has her arsenal as she set her sights on entering the cage someday in the near future. She believes that any woman can achieve what she sets her mind to and that failure is only an opportunity to dust yourself off and try again.

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Being a girl with a big brother and no other girls in my neighborhood, I grew up playing football in the front yard and jumping my bike off of dirt ramps we spent weeks building. Even though I was allowed to play with the boys, I was always told I couldn't do what they could. I wasn't fast enough or strong enough. But, of course, being who I am I had to prove them wrong. I played other sports like volleyball and track, but it wasn't until I found wrestling that I felt alive, free, like I was born for this. Again, people looked at me like I was crazy. They kept telling me I was too pretty to fight, to compete, etc. which made me want to do it even more.

I was 19 when I had my sweet baby girl. By the grace of God I had my families support to get me through the tough times. Being a single mom, trying to balance not only being a good mother but a father as well, is harder than anyone can imagine. I commend and applaud those women who do it. I decided early on that I wanted to teach my beautiful girl how to be strong and independent, but also compassionate and sweet. To demonstrate and instill in her that she can accomplish whatever she sets her mind to, and if you fail you get back up because you learn from your failures. Trying to live by example, I fail at times and have to try to do better the next go round. It's hard to balance kids, work, your dreams and aspirations but I work to do it every day.


I found Brazilian jiu jitsu many years later and fell in love all over again.  After watching a few MMA fights I knew what I wanted to do, I wanted to fight. I wanted to push myself where I didn't think I could, and to show others how great I am; that I'm more than meets the eye. Fighting/ grappling gives me the power to not just get through my struggles in the cage but outside of it as well.


I come from a family where the women are strong and independent, and those are the women I have strive to emulate. After I lost my aunt to stage four pancreatic cancer, it put so many things in prospective for me. That I needed to be free and open about my feelings, because you never know how long you really have with someone. Having a absent father, I had a hard time finding myself and my self-worth. In my life I have struggled with depression and anxiety. In those struggles I had to fight for my life; everyday was a battle with myself to keep going. To keep pushing forward. Fear of failure was always hanging over my head. It has been a fight with myself to figure out where I belonged, if people really wanted me for me. Trying to show people that I was great and always coming up short and not realizing I need to be happy with myself first.


When I started Jiu Jitsu, I wanted desperately to prove myself worthy and every time I failed, I fell apart. Once I realized I needed to calm myself and learn from my mistakes I started to evolve. I became more confident in myself and in my training. I started to do better in the competitions I entered, coming out on top by placing first in each division. Now that my aspirations have expanded to MMA I have learned to calm my mind, breathe, and do the best I can. I have learned that I can succeed and learn from each experience I encounter. That I can get knocked down over and over again, but I can always choose to get back up, learn from my mistakes, and come back fighting harder. I have learned that I need to get out of my head, since over-thinking in the moment can cause me to hesitate. I'm still a work in progress but I am happy I have emerged from the darkness. There are many people I can thank for guiding me there.

I recently had my first Muay Thai hard sparring event. I admit I was nervous. My anxiety was creeping up, but I managed to keep myself calm. My opponent was bigger and a bit more experienced than me which I didn't know until afterward. I was surprised to be awarded a Mongkol, which are only given by Khru when they see someone who shows good technique, toughness, and a lot of dedication to the art of Muay Thai. I am proud of myself because I didn't break down and I did my best.


I fight to defeat myself, the person I couldn't defeat the day before. I push and push until I can't push anymore and then I move onto the next day and do it again. I am proud to be a fighter. And I'm so excited to see where my journey will take me.

Posted in bjj, brazilian jiu-jitsu, ibjjf, khru, mma, mongkol, motherhood, muay thai, wmma

Nellie Neves: The battle no one can see

Posted on April 12, 2016 by Society Nine | 4 comments

Nellie is an independent author out of Madera, California. She lives on a small ranch with her husband and daughter. Nellie is passionate about spreading awareness concerning multiple sclerosis. She understands first hand many of the struggles and frustrations concerning the stigma and preconceptions people face with this disease. Ten percent of all profits from the Lindy Johnson Series go to National Multiple Sclerosis Society.  You can follow Nellie’s blog about writing and her life with MS at http://nellieknevesauthor.blogspot.com/ or you can follow her on Instagram: @nellieknevesauthor

Both of her books can be found on Amazon in digital and soft cover:
Caskets & Conspiracies
Nightwatch 

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I don’t look like a fighter; I never have. I’m just another mom late to pick up her first-grader because I was stuck in traffic, or because I couldn’t find the pink-eyed Beanie Boo I promised her for hitting her super reader goal. My hair is usually frazzled. My jeans are typically splotched with dirt from work on the ranch. I don’t wear accessories like the other moms. I don’t do scarves or cute sandals that glint in the sun. I’m here. Some days that’s all I have. But you can’t see that.

Almost four years ago, I woke up and my left arm felt as though I had slept on it wrong and it had fallen asleep. I waited for it to wake up all day longnothing. I had full control over my arm; I still took my daughter to the park. I still cleaned the bathroom, washed the dishes, cooked a quick dinner, and headed for work as a fitness instructor.

Half way through class, I felt the numb sensation start to spread. I could feel its reach slowly inch over my skin, as though it was sludge or it had laced inside my veins. It was as if the left side of my face had disappeared. I looked at my class to see if there was some sense of shock or horror. Honestly, I thought I was having a stroke, and if my face had fallen they might have screamed. Nothingjust kept on side-lunging and working up that sweat. They didn’t stop, so I didn’t either.

By the time I returned home, I was scared. It was as if a line had been drawn down the center of my body and the entire left side was without feeling. That was the start of testing: MRI’s, sensitivity, walk the line like a sobriety check—all of it. Ideas were tossed around: aneurism, stroke, diabetes. But, finally, my neurologist landed on the answer: Relapsing Remitting Multiple Sclerosis.  

One of the formats I was teaching as a fitness instructor at the time had a mixed martial arts component to it. I had always loved it; being able to visualize my opponent was a strength of mine and with a new pit of anger to draw on, my body responded with vigor. Still, I had to claw my way through every jab, every upper cut, and every squat and push up. I was determined not to let anyone see that I had changed. I hid the monster away and locked him in a cage so that no one could see his destruction, but that doesn’t mean he stopped destroying; it just meant that I faced it alone.

I still have weak days, times when my body does not respond when I ask, but I refuse to be a victim anymore. These years spent alone without anyone knowing what I was fighting against have been pointless. What good is a victory if I cannot share it? What can I learn from a defeat if it won’t benefit others? No. I will reach out and lift those that need me.

I have hard days. Days when my legs buckle and I stumble, but I will not give in to the monster. Those are the days that I fight back. It felt impossible to fight something like MS. There is no face, there are no fists to avoid, but my rage is real, my frustration and anger and helplessness are real.

I use kickboxing as a therapy to help me. Beyond the normal capacity of exercise, kickboxing helps me to find my inner strength. As I wrap my hands and prepare for battle, I can feel the monster quiver inside of me because he knows I’m still stronger than he is. He knows I refuse to sink. When my fists connect and I feel it, I know I’m in control. The pain, the excitement, the exhilaration that my completely numb leg just made an eighty-pound bag swing is therapeutic. Even in my weakness, I am still strong. Every kick I land, every punch I throw is a testament to this diseaseI will not surrender. I may find myself on the ropes at times, it might feel like there is no way out, and I let those hits keep coming. But I know it is only a matter of time before I rally and fight back. I am stronger and I will not concede to this disease. I am not a victim. I am a warrior. A victim is attacked, but they do not fight back. A warrior is attacked, but they always retaliate. Every minute I spend fighting my monster is another brick in the walls that guard me from his rampage. I will not give in; I will not break down. I will fight until my last breath.

I believe that every woman is a fighter in her own right.

As an author, this is the reason that I write about strong women, women who won’t give up and won’t give in. Just like the warrior inside all of us, they have flaws, but their power runs deep. As I started my latest project, The Lindy Johnson Series, I faced a decision: I had an opportunity to give the main character the same monster I faced every day, but it meant sharing the secret parts of me in order to do it. Writing about a character with multiple sclerosis who still lives a normal life is another way I fight back. I won’t let the monster silence me in shame. As I wrote, spoke to others, and researched the emotional aspects of this disease, I felt empowered by the knowledge that I was not alone and excited that I could share that with my fellow warriors. As the reviews have come back since the release of Caskets & Conspiracies, I have been happy to hear how many say they had no idea what MS was about, but they now have a glimpse into the world of a sister, a mother, or a friend. Knowledge is power. Understanding is freedom.

The more vocal I have become about my fight, the more I have come to meet others who cower in the shadows. MS is not the only monster that lurks without a face. Depression, anxiety, chronic fatigue, heartache, addiction— the list goes on and on. All warriors that are also fighting for their lives in a body that doesn’t necessarily look sick. While I know what I do is not for everyone, I know it works for me.

I don’t look like a fighter. I may never step into the ring or deliver a knockout punch, but that doesn’t mean I don’t fight every day of my life. I’ve never fit in with other womentoo loud for the quiet ones, too introspective for the outgoing ones. But among fighters, I feel the courage and the power surge within me. I am part of a society of strengtha legacy of hope and survival. I may just look like another mom on the block, but if you happen to pass by my garage late at night, you just might hear me fighting my monsters because I am a warrior.

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