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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.
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.
Maria Khwaja is currently an English teacher and is training to hopefully fight as an amateur kickboxer in 2016.
She is also the founder of Elun (www.teachelun.org), a nonprofit dedicated to providing free teacher education to schools in the developing world. Elun has completed several projects in Rwanda, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Tanzania. Maria is also a freelance writer for the Fair Observer, focusing on issues related to educational development and Muslim women.