I can’t remember the specific year (don’t ask me the name of the joint, either) when I decided to stick my hands inside a pair of boxing gloves, but know some time — possibly six or seven years — has passed since I did. I remember standing outside a building on a busy New York City block as I looked up to see a window with people moving around throwing punches and kicks.

Making my way up the stairs, I arrived at the front desk where I signed “I promise not to sue in the event I get my head knocked off” liability forms and jumped in class. In my mid-twenties, I felt I could likely hold my own seeing as I took ninjitsu for years throughout my youth.

… And then the warm-up happened.

There’s nothing more exhilarating and terrifying quite like having to do a series of squats with a heavy dude on your back. This was one of the few times in my life that no one treated me like “the girl” who was too fragile to take a punch, let alone throw one.

This initial class led to another that led to a membership. I began dedicating a couple days out the week — including Saturday mornings when my boyfriend (now my husband) didn’t have a rugby game to play. There was something about Muay Thai that just clicked. I wanted to learn more and find ways to hone in on the intricacies of the fighting style.

My kru (teacher), Brandon Levi, went on to open his own spot, Evolution Muay Thai, that’s still in business and kicking some major ass. I remember leaving work in the city Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays in a mad dash to make it to Brandon’s business — because if you were late, you paid for it.

The time I spent at Evolution Muay Thai challenged me physically and mentally as I was forced to push past my limitations. It wasn’t uncommon for me to leave in a pool of sweat with developing bruises or say to Brandon, “Show me again” when something didn’t make sense.

I earned the nickname “Mule” at Evolution for my kicks and met so many awesome people — including current Invicta strawweight champion, Angela Hill.

Some how, my life seemed to change course as my pursuit to learn Muay Thai became a past destination in my rearview mirror.

Fast forward a few years, and I once again found myself standing outside of a training facility — only this time, I was married, living in Oklahoma, and had given birth to my second child six months prior. (I had previously been taking kickboxing classes at my gym that was more about cardio than technique. But hey, it was something.)

R-1 MMA was my next stop on my road to reacquainting myself with martial arts. Unlike before, I now had a working knowledge of striking, but still had some what of an uphill battle given years had passed since I stepped foot on a mat.

One of the first people I met there was Sarah Alpar, a flyweight on the rise whose infamous video of submitting a marine inside an octagon continues to wow. “Too sweet” just like her fighting nickname, Sarah cracked a smile before touching my hand and preparing to throw a jab I never saw coming.

Needless to say, I learned two things that evening: not stand in the pocket (and do nothing), and to remember to bring my mouth guard.

(#Southpawpride)

I spent close to eight months at R-1 and saw how dedicated fighters are to make their way to the UFC. It was also around this time that my DVR started filling up with fight nights and UFC shows. It was at R-1 that I vowed to train for the fight that would never happen and got to meet some amazing people.

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Then my husband got a job offer in the Buffalo area that meant packing up and shipping out.

You Might Like: To Oklahoma, The Place I Once Called Home

Before our furniture even reached the state, I made sure I found an MMA place to train at in the area. There have been many things that have come and gone in my life, but martial arts has been a constant — even if we were the type of friends who didn’t see each other on the regular.

It’s been two months since I joined WNY MMA, and I’m so happy I found it. Corey and the other owner(s) created one of the best and most diverse facilities I’ve seen. In addition to my advanced kickboxing (you can train in traditional Muay Thai with one coach or American style kickboxing with another) and boxing classes, I’ve been taking two Brazilian Jiu-jitsu (BJJ) every week that have submitted me and taught me so much.

The way I move is different. My punches have more force. And I’m finally learning the ground game needed to become a well-rounded fighter — who, of course, will never fight in an amateur or professional fight.

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I don’t know what the future holds, but can’t imagine my life (or each week) without MMA. Mixed martial arts has taught me to dig deep within myself and live beyond perceived limitations. I feel stronger as a 32-year-old mom of two tots than I did when I was in my mid-twenties. This combat sport is both a passion and hobby of mine that makes me feel like a super mom in some geeky way.

Mixed martial arts helps balance my life and provides an outlet for me to unleash and unwind. I’m forever grateful and can’t wait to see where this goes.

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