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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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
This is the sixteenth profile in our Society Nine Storytellers series where badass female fighters across all sports, media and culture in our community share their definitions of femininity, strength and empowerment and discuss what they fight for.