Thursday, June 24, 2010

MMA and the meaning of life

"They sicken of the calm, who know the storm."
(Dorothy Parker)

My Fairtex gloves are getting old. Nearing five years, and in MMA glove-life, that’s seriously past your prime and nearing the walker-stage of life. But I love these gloves. More than I love my “undefeated” Sprawl shorts. My blue, 4-ounce companions have won with me, they’ve lost with me. They’ve been to hell and back during that one trip to Las Vegas in 2007—and in all the subsequent changes in my life in the past four years, I’ve managed to NOT lose them.

Which is saying a lot if you know me.

They’ve been getting more use lately…especially since I sought out, and got, a fight in August. And so it begins…

People think I’m crazy, and for lots of reasons, I’m pretty sure they’re right. Why on earth would I want to fight after a four-year hiatus? What’s in it for me? It’s not as if Dana White is going to call with a UFC contract just waiting for my signature…and I’m certain that at 31 years old, that’s not my life’s dream, anyway.

So why now? Why after brain surgery and babies and a happily-ever after marriage? What’s left to prove?


Fear is a funny thing. It gives nothing, and seems to take everything. I’ve got a great poker face, but by nature, I’m a fearful person.

Fear of commitment. Fear of conflict. Fear of failing. Fear of people touching the inside of my elbows (true story.) Fear of letting the people I love down. Fear of failing my sons. Fear of always dreaming and never doing. Fear of talking the talk, but never walking the walk.

It’s true. My life so far has been a study in how to address fear in a way that let’s you live your life without limits. Sometimes I get it, sometimes I fail. But at the basis of the crazier things I do in my life, it’s always about identifying some sort of fear and facing it.

I started MMA on a whim in 2006 when I walked into Gracie Barra Alaska. I had a different last name back then that I’ve since returned to its rightful owner (thank god!), and I had no concept of what I wanted out of the sport. I just knew I wanted to give it a try.

Those early days of training were recorded in a story I wrote for the Anchorage Daily News a few weeks before my second fight. You can read the article here. I know, it’s a random location and that story was printed in the STRANGEST places thanks to modern wire news services…I got e-mails from Alabama, Ghana, East London, and the swamps of Florida. Oh, and Sitka, Alaska, too! (Hello, Sitka!)

It was a whirlwind time for me. The ride was fun and all of a sudden, I had a profile on Sherdog, Fight Girls…even MMA (Hahahah! “Babe”….who woulda thought?) I made lots of friends on MySpace that I’d never ever met in real life. I got to go on radio shows at 6 in the morning and sound ridiculous because I was half-asleep.

In October 2006, I entered a four-woman tournament to vie for the women’s belt. I won one of my fights against Mae Osborne. And then….well, I lost. I got hammered and in between rounds, I couldn’t take anymore. My coach tossed in the towel for me. The championship was well-won by a girl who trained her ass off and beat the hell out of me. We became friends and occasional training partners after that. Funny how life happens, right?

Anyway, I took time off and was offered a chance to fight in Las Vegas in early 2007. Against someone way bigger, way tougher, with way more experience. My team was supportive, but I could tell by the look in their eyes, they felt like they were watching a “dead girl walking.”

Hell, when I got to Vegas and saw her, I knew what the outcome would be. She was HUGE. Her shoulders were half the distance of a football field and she had more muscles than Mr. Olympia himself.

But guess what? I got on that plane and showed up anyway. The lead up to the fight with Erin Toughill was an exercise in facing your demons. To me, she was every excuse I’d ever given for not following through with something.

It’s too tough. I can’t do it. She’s too big. I’m too inexperienced. Why should I bother?”

Fear. I was there to battle my fear, win or lose.

I showed up in Las Vegas ready to give it hell and take as big of a piece of her with me as I could. I had no illusions.

God, on the other plan, had other ideas. Two days before the fight the Nevada Athletic Commission called me and told me to go home, back to Alaska. I had a brain aneurism. Game over.

Stunned silence, right? Totally my reaction, too.

I found a doctor that could do a surgery that would require them cracking open my skull like a coconut. I scheduled it. And postponed it. And postponed it some more. And hedged. And hemmed and hawed.

Let’s face it folks, I was scared. What if I didn’t wake up? What if I couldn’t remember my son’s name? What if my motor skills were jacked? Wasn’t a 2 percent chance of it rupturing (increasing 2 percent each year I was alive) a pretty low number? Couldn’t I just ignore it?

But, taking lessons learned from MMA and training, on February 12, 2008, I faced my fear and had brain surgery. The recovery was slow and I lost most of my hair a few weeks out (with no warning from the damn doctor…thanks a lot for that one, dick!) but eventually, it was all over and I had a nice, shiny new brain.

In the time between then and now, I got married to the man of my dreams, my big man started school, our second son joined the party, and I jumped into the deep end of life when I turned 30. None occurred in that particular order, but you get the idea. I spent the past four years living.

But MMA never left me and each summer I’d bug P about “just one more fight…c’mon! Just one more. Pleeeease!”

He finally relented this summer, based on two assumptions:

1) I wouldn’t get dragged back into the drama that usually follows MMA fighters and their careers. I was doing it this summer because Boy Wonder was with his dad—but we all understand the fact that when Fall returns, it’s all about family again. (Fighters have a real “all about me” thing going on right before fights. No kidding.
2) More babies! Yep. It’s true. We want a whole team and I’d be content to fight this summer and go back to the whole beached-whale thing next year. (Seriously, it’s not cute. I’m not a glowing, happy preggo.I’m King Kong.)

Don’t get me wrong…each second up until that “DING DING” sound that comes from outer space to start the fight, I’m terrified. I want to pee my pants. I want to crawl over the cage and join my friends at a table for a beer—I want to do anything BUT fight. But it’s a beast I overcome, one long, neverending second at a time.

The journey you take from training hours and hours each week to the fight itself is long and it’s awful and it’s full of frustrations and anger—but it’s definitely a vision quest.

One that can’t be replicated.

How you react when the cards are stacked against you and you’re out of breath and can’t think straight—it’s a priceless gift the fight game gives you. You learn more about yourself in one round then you ever will by over thinking yourself and pondering “the big questions”.

And fear. Truth be told, you learn to kick it’s ass. And that right there is worth every piece of sh^% second I spend getting punched in the face and knocked around by my teammates.

So there you have it. I’m not crazy for wanting to fight..I consider it a part of me. And whether I never fight again after August 11, I’ll never be far from the sport and I’ll never be the same because of it.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

SharkBaby and the Night of the Living Dead

No, seriously.

Last night poor Boo and I went to war against an unseen enemy and the casualty? Sleep. It didn't have a chance in hell.

Currently, our 16-month old sweet baby is cutting tooth #4,765. That officially classifies him as a shark, right?

I swear the kid has five rows of teeth popping through. And we've felt every single one of those nasties from inception all the way through the raw, gum ravaging end. I think Boo just has to think about teeth (or a mouth, or sleep) and he starts to drool and the hacking cough returns.

The night went something like this:

11 p.m.: Ahhhhh. Mom takes a Melatonin and starts to feel fantastic. And sleepy. And....*#$%$...was that just the baby I heard? Get up. Resettle the baby. Administer pain relief. Administer Baby Vicks for the hellacious cough. Return to bed.

11:23 p.m.: Again? What now? Give baby back the bottle. Tuck him in. Night night, Boobear.

Midnight: No, seriously. Go to sleep kid. Here's your bottle. Sleepy sleepy, k?

1 a.m.: This isn't funny Boo. You better have a gaping chest wound in there. No? Here's your bottle. Go to bed.

1: 34 a.m.: No, no, no, no! Resettle baby. Tuck him in. Promise him his brother's toys if he'll just stay asleep. He can have his bed if it would do the trick...

2 a.m.: I. Hate. My. Life. I love this baby, but I hate my life right now. Take the damn bottle, kid. Hell, take my car keys and drive yourself around the neighborhood at this point, if you'll just let me close my eyes for more than 27 minutes at time.

2:17 a.m.: C'mon... I just laid back down...this baby is doing it on purpose, I swear. He hears me sigh in sweet relief and jumps back up to see if my reaction time is still on point. He's got a stopwatch hiding underneath the blanket and he's charting my progress...

2: 39 a.m.: Dear God, I'll go to church every Sunday if you'll just...

3:07 a.m.: Fragal;alkjda;sldfkjeowelkafna;lsdkjfakl;gj;l....

3:30 a.m.: By this point, I'm in tears and playing possum, lying as still as I can, while he fusses in the next room, hoping in vain that either he'll give up or I'll just fall asleep and it won't matter anyway. P is sympathetic to my over-the-top pity party and gets up, resettles him and the kid sleeps until 9 a.m. (WTF?!?!?)

I quit.

No, I mean it.

Boo and I can be friends again once all his teeth come in, but until then, I'm holding a grudge.

That's a lie. I got up this morning to the world's sweetest baby, complete with a pirate hat and a big toothy grin. It's nature's way of ensuring the survival of these little buggers, isn't it? So damn cute...

I don't remember what Boy Wonder's story was when he was breaking teeth--but I guarantee it is nothing compared to what Boo goes through, as I will never, ever, ever forget this experience (or the other 4,000 teeth pains).

I'm also going to store this in the memory bank for future guilt-inducing uses when the kid is old enough to fall for it. Just watch me...

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Like a stranger in a familiar town

Somedays, when I feel like being really cruel to myself, I browse photos of tropical islands. I look at my pictures from Vegas and the California beaches I visited a few years ago. I look at pictures from my best friend's Facebook profile and dream of finally getting to Italy to visit her and my "nephews." I crack open the Barcelona travel guide I bought for a book I was writing last summer. I paste pictures of Scottish castles as my background on my desktop.

I dream about vacations. I ponder what I'd do with two weeks off and a bank account that didn't threaten mutiny every freakin' three weeks. (Seriously, it's getting old, Alaska USA.)

I mope. I shrug. Whatever, right?

Well, here's a little story about how my husband and Boo opened my eyes this weekend.

Anchorage was beyond beautiful. It was cloudless, sunny days that hovered in the 70s. We'd do our normal morning routine, and when Boo would wake up from nap #1, we'd go. Go go go. Grocery store, Gracie Barra, didn't matter.

On Sunday, we ended up at the Downtown Market. It was empty, compared to the shoulder-to-shoulder nonesense you normally deal with. Everybody was fishing. Everybody was camping. Everybody was, in short, not at the market.

We tried to find Boo one of those bucket hats popular with sunworshippers, but the kid has a man-sized head that hovers between child and grown up. The only toddler sized hats were pink, and we love our child too much to subject him to that sort of treatement.

We love fair food. Love love love it. And althought it's not a fair, per se, the market has that "food row" that smacks of being at a summer fair. Unlike my patient husband, I am unable to walk down one side and up the other before making my selection. I was ready to drop all my money on the grilled corn guy (and his neighbor, Mr. Funnel Cake), but ultimately held out for three more stalls and bought up a plate of fried catfish and hush puppies, complete with Frank's Hot Sauce. Ooohhhhheeeeeee. It was fantastic. (Boo loved Catfish! Boo loved Catfish!)

P got some corn fritters and honey butter and if I thought it might have worked, I would have shoved him off the bench and eaten his lunch, too. 'Cept he's bigger and stronger and better at jiu-jitsu than me. Just sayin'.

When we'd seen all that we could see at the market, I wasn't ready to pile back in to the car yet, so we hoofed around downtown Anchorage. A cruise ship has started docking in Anchorage once or twice a month for the first time in nine years, so there were plenty of middle-aged, fanny-pack and matching T-shirt wearing couples on the streets. Oh, and bums, too. I had to give a holler to my old bus-riding homies in case they wanted to forget the crazy, coffee-wielding chick from the 102 Express. Hi, guys!
Crossing the street, P found a trillion dollar bill. Yes, you heard correctly, One Trillion Dollars (forget that it was some relgious was a TRILLION, baby!). I will no longer be reporting to work at 8 a.m. every morning. You can forward all mail to the Bahamas. Thankeeverramuch.

We found the Alaska Cake Studio as we randomly passed by. Hello. Cupcakes in the window? I am so there.

P got a peanut butter brownie. I got a lemon-lavendar cupcake. (Have you ever heard of one of those before? Me either. It was amazing.)

Boo liked both. I think he liked my frosting best of all, 'cause we sure fought over the yellow, delicious stuff.

So while we sat there in the little bakery, with tourists milling in and out with salted caramels and margarita cupcakes, it struck me. The three of us had just spent the last two hours as Anchorage tourists. We saw downtown through their eyes. We explored new stores. We ate obnoxious fair food and paid way too much for it and we were happy to do it!

Spending less than $35, I got an afternoon with my husband (and one son!) that I'll smile about for months to come.

Sitting there with P and with Boo in his little man stroller, it hit me. I don't have to go far to feel like I'm getting away from it all. I just need the right frame of mind, a little adventure in the spirit, and the right company.

Consider me schooled, World.