The Octagon: 8 Times MMA Surprised Me

Waiting outside the doors of Casino NB on a very cold and snowy Saturday night, I felt out of my comfort zone. As the doors opened and I cleared security and made it past the door-people to the ballroom (they did NOT ask to see my ID, by the way), I felt wayyyyy out of my comfort zone. There it was at the centre of the front of the room: the focus of the event and the subject of my little adventure in challenging one of my judgements (of which we all have several, amiright?) The Octagon.

I felt like a fish out of water in that ballroom in Moncton. As you all know, I’m a runner not a fighter, and here I was about to lose my mixed martial arts virginity.  I walked in there, took my seat, feeling awkward and shy, and even prepared for a little blood. The Elite1MMA “Bitter Rivals” event didn’t disappoint and I’ll admit that I left with a newfound perspective on the sport.

If you are a dedicated reader (thanks Mom) you’ll recall that I wrote about fighting last week in my discussion on judging other sports and athletes. While the gal in the full-length leopard print faux-fur coat and all of the TapOut shirts didn’t contradict any stereotypes about fight fans, after chatting with Cory “The Warrior” Vern on the morning of fight day and watching the bouts one-after-the-other, I am reformed.

 

1. Not Every Fight Results in Bloodshed

The only time I saw blood (from where I was sitting anyway) was during the final of 8 fights.

2. Fighters Are Not All Beefcakes

I know I should be ashamed in thinking that one needs to be tall and muscle-bound to be a fighter, but then I stood next to Cory who is a bit shorter and weighs less than I do but had no issues dropping his opponent. Go figure, maybe there’s a future for me in MMA?

3. Fights Are Full of Ritual

I grew up Catholic and I felt like I was attending a sacred mass: there was carefully chosen entrance music and a processional through the room to a dais where the fighter was then de-frocked and blessed by the High Priest with the Holy Chrism of Mixed Martial Arts before ascending to the altar that is The Octagon. Silent prayers are offered up and it begins.

4. Not All Fighters Are Loud and Aggressive

Yes, I pictured fighters as loud and obnoxious meatheads, and while there was at least one fighter who matches that description at the event on Saturday, Alderic “The Coroner” Keith and Ryan “Weapon X” Goguen both graciously responded to my comments on social media and my friend, Cory, has to be one of the quietest and most gentle guys I know.

5. It’s Not About Rage

The match between Scott MacKinnon and Mike Somerville brought a smile to my face because they both had smiles on theirs. It was a great feeling to see two athletes truly enjoy their chosen sport and you could feel the camaraderie between them.

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6. It Is a Rather Quiet Sport

I don’t know why I expected to hear lots of grunting and bone crunching but I anticipated lots of noise. Each match was almost serene in a way as there were lots of quiet and still moments: I imagined the fighters to be trash-talking telepathically instead of strategizing and contemplating their next moves.

7. The Best Fighter Doesn’t Necessarily Win

The Main Event match was called a few seconds into the second round on medical advice as one of the fighters had a yucky gash on his right eyelid. The match was called in favour of the fighter whose name I won’t even mention because he doesn’t deserve it. He acted as if his strategy and strength won against his opponent and that wasn’t the case. After being declared the winner, he jumped on top of the cage and riled up the fans which I found distasteful. It would be like celebrating winning the marathon when you were the only one who ran it. In my opinion (and because this is my blog), the better athlete didn’t win the title but he showed the true spirit of the sport.

8. Fighters Aren’t That Different From Runners

I may not be able to drop someone to the ground but I learned that runners and fighters are more similar than we are different.

  • we take our pre-fight/race routine very seriously
  • we have carefully curated playlists that amp us up
  • meditation and solitude figure prominently
  • we compete as individuals where we depend on our own strengths and determination to succeed
  • we train for months leading up to the event, often enforcing strict nutritional guidelines on ourselves
  • we require better than average cardio endurance
  • we wear flashy outfits
  • we both can’t wait for competition to be over so we can enjoy a beer or two

 

I don’t think you’ll see me in a TapOut shirt anytime soon and you won’t find me ringside at every fight that comes to town, but I definitely checked my judgments of mixed martial arts when I left the casino that night. There was beauty in what each fighter (well, almost each fighter) accomplished in the cage. The dedication to training and mental toughness required to engage in battle with an opponent, reminded me that sport is an expression of life,  (I know I’m getting philosophical on ya but it’s true.) We’ve all been called upon at some point to show our true character through strength and determination in a challenging situation.

Who knows, maybe you’re not so different from fighters, either.

Unless you’re an official, stop judging other sports and athletes

As many of you know, I’ve been through a lot of changes over the last 12 months and life is looking very different these days. I’ve received love and support from surprising sources and I’ve received judgment, too. The judgment I wasn’t as prepared for and it got me thinking about my opinions of others and myself and even of the industry I’ve chosen to work in.

As usual, I’ve picked up books on the topic and listened to countless podcast episodes on the subject and I’ve been working hard to check my judgments. I quickly realized I had to check myself or I’d wreck myself (and limit my personal and business growth). I’ve been fortunate enough to have a couple of extraordinary athletes in my network who have been challenging my preconceived ideas about their specific sports, and about the pursuit of athletic success in general.

check yourself before you wreck yourself

Don’t Fight It

During my time as a human kinetics student, I was exposed to the world of sport psychology and mindset training by Terry Orlick  which was quickly followed by my own first-hand experience with head injuries (long story short: I took a hockey puck to the head and suffered a concussion). Since then I have been a sometimes vocal advocate for safety in sports and 99.9% of the time I would advise another human being to avoid being punched in the head. I always wondered what ran through the mind of a fighter  Until I started conversing with an amateur MMA athlete, Cory Vern.

My knee-jerk reaction was to ask him “Why the hell would you take a beating on purpose?” and to assume he grew up an aggressive and angry young man who spent all day punching things. I feel like an idiot for rushing to judge Cory based on my fears surrounding his sport: he’s revealed himself to be a thoughtful and rather sweet, dedicated dad of two who lets me pick his brain at all hours of the day and night (because I often wake up with good questions and ideas and can’t let them go). I’ve learned that fighting for him is like running for me: a peaceful quiet where you feel at your best with the world around you. Turns out he’s a pretty dedicated runner himself: as in it’s nothing for him to run 15k to save himself a cab ride.

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I’m a little intimidated to attend my first MMA event on January 26th.

Finding that we shared something in common as important to me as running, opened the door to discussing the importance of mindset and being able to focus on the goals you set for yourself. Focusing on nutrition and different fighting styles and bouncing back from a tough workout will sound familiar to any athlete, regardless of activity. I’m headed to Moncton, NB next weekend to see him in action and pick his brain on the fight night mindset needed to succeed (because he’s gonna win his match ). Cory The Warrior and I aren’t all that different, really, which made me wonder what else I was judging.

And The Wheels Keep Spinning

Recently, I commented on the Instagram post of a local athlete I had been following since I saw him race before my half-marathon in October last year. I had no idea of this guy’s story, I just knew he was paralyzed and raced a wheelchair like he stole it. We started chatting about protein pancake mixes and racing, and it ended up with him recording an interview the next day for the podcast I co-host with Melissa Kahn. (Seriously, do yourself a favour and listen to it now. Well, after you finish reading this post.)

Ben Brown was in an ATV accident 12 years ago that left him paralyzed from the chest down, but that only slowed him down. Temporarily. Within weeks of his injury, he had decided to do whatever it takes to get back out there on wheels. I thought I had a developed a pretty positive outlook and followed a strong goal-oriented path, but Ben continues to shake my perception of a positive outlook.

Insert Face Palm Here

Aside from realizing how inaccessible so much of our world is, I’ve been challenged to reflect on how ignorant I’ve been. I felt like an idiot after asking how ripped his abs must be (duh…I studied anatomy and physiology and no feeling from the chest down means no ab function. Sorry, Dr. Stothart.) I even asked if he lived alone, because I assumed he was unable to do everything himself. I completely made an ass of myself, but once we got that out of the way, I learned that a paraplegic athlete has different nutritional requirements and even the climate affects him differently. Everyday is #armday for this elite racer, and while those guns may intimidate some newbies at the gym, his dedication to clean eating and honest nutrition only increases my guilt about those Tostitos I ate earlier.

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Ben Brown Wheelchair Racer. Photo Courtesy of East Coast Running Photos

While there are so many differences between his racing path and my own, there are far more similarities. We each bore our family and friends with our talk of distances and interval times and training schedules. Our closets are full of more athletic wear than business wear, and we #fitnessmotivation on the regular. He finds it tricky to get groceries between work and school and training and I find it hard to train between getting groceries and teaching school. I’m just a woman trying to reach her goals and he’s just a man pushing towards his.

 

As a fitpreneur, it’s important to challenge the way you think about the sports and athletes outside of your niche. We’re all just pushing our limits, just in a different ring or race course.

 

I want to thank Cory and Ben for continuing to teach me. With each new podcast guest or person I meet at an event or race, I find myself learning something new and expanding my horizons as a runner and as a human being. Every sport has something to teach us and every athlete even more so.

You can’t make 2019 epic without this

Happy New Year!

I was at a comedy club New Year’s Eve party last night and the comedian asked us to indicate by applause whether 2018 had been good or bad, and there was no hesitation on my part to cheer for good. Sure I have experienced more stress this year than ever before (and my hair is falling out in chunks because of it), but I’ve also experienced more love, support, encouragement, and achievement this year, too. At the end of the night on the last night of the year, those are the things that meant more to me, so that’s what I’ve decided to run into 2019 with.

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And run into 2019 I did!

Amy Leon of https://screamingintothevoid.ca/  and I met up at one of the Running Room’s Resolution Runs today in Halifax. (She and I co-lead the Worth Living Run Amabassador program where runners promote mental health awareness and share their stories of hope and healing. ) 

The drive from New Minas (where I live) to Halifax was snowy and slow and I wondered if I shouldn’t turn around and go back to bed, but 2018 taught me the value of doing the uncomfortable thing. I’ve used the phrase “discipline over motivation” more than a few times these last few months and today was no different. I would much rather have stayed curled up in bed but I’ve come too far and worked too hard to give up on a commitment on the first flipping day of the new year!

I kept driving (slowly) and I ran into the wind and freezing rain pellets (micro-derm abrasion anyone?) Every challenging step through the snow was a reminder that I am where I am because of my refusal to give up in any circumstance. Commitment to my goals wins out over comfort.

BUT…

I did not get to this point on my own and I can’t make 2019 epic without the amazing group of people I’ve been blessed to encounter.

The title for this post came out of a conversation with Jeff  (@rundemtrails on Twitter): he changed his Twitter name to “Jeff Will Make 2019 EPIC”. In speaking with him, we chatted about how doing epic things requires setting scary goals but also having the support of a community. His Birthday Challenge on Twitter created a supportive online community of runners and it was a supportive online community that connected me with Jeff in the first place!

The most influential connection I made in 2018 who is my right hand in making epic sh*t happen is Melissa Kahn of http://www.runheiferrun.com. We somehow started chatting on Twitter about our shared experience with our respective ex-husbands and now we’re co-hosting a podcast together! She has inspired me to get out of my comfort zone and has reminded me of my inherent strength and resilience. The guests we have spoken to so far (like Jeff) have continued to expand my network of supporters and motivation.

I ran my first half marathon in 2018 and while I pounded out the miles myself, there was a run club on my side and cheerleaders all over the country who got me across that finish line.

I couldn’t have left my marriage without my family and group of friends. I borrowed my strength from them to make a complete life change. Their love and support are what have allowed me to continue to kick ass and take names.

Are you ready to make 2019 epic?

HOW TOMake 2019 epic