When I first came home from Thailand at the beginning of this year I found myself in a place of limbo both personally and professionally. While I was letting the dust settle and trying to decide what my future would look like, I began driving for Lyft and Uber on the weekends to bring in some extra money (another post later on how that ended up being a wonderful blessing in disguise). If you're not familiar with Lyft and Uber, they are ride-share companies that have nearly replaced taxi cab services in some areas. Through an app on your smart phone that utilizes GPS for your location, with a simple tap of your screen you can request a pick up which will be sent to the closest driver to your location which, depending on your city, is often no more than five to ten minutes away.
While this is certainly no long-term career path for me, driving on the weekends has given me the opportunity to meet thousands of people. Since the duration of most ride requests is somewhere between ten and thirty minutes, small talk is about as deep as the conversation gets. Most drivers have second jobs, something the majority of passengers seem to know, so one of the first questions I get, aside from "How's your night going?", is "So do you do something else besides drive?" While I could get long-winded in my answer and list ALL the things I do aside from driving, I decided from the beginning that I would just stick to the most interesting and probably unique response options of "I'm a professional fighter", knowing this would easily lead to enough talk to fill the duration of the ride, something that as an introvert I was concerned about accomplishing in the beginning. After a few surprised exclamations from the passenger, the follow-up question they almost always ask is, "So what got you into that?!"
Since attending the TEDx Mile High 2016 event this past June and listening to fellow Easton Training Center member Scott Strode of Phoenix Multisport discuss the power of community in achieving his sobriety, the significance of community has been heavy in my thoughts. Aside from the string of events that led me to one day enter the ring, the catalyst to my fitness journey was a strong need for community. After graduating high school, between the years 2000 and 2009, I spent much of my free time sitting at a computer pursuing my dream of becoming a writer (and snacking absentmindedly while I did so). During these years I also gave birth to my two sons and, as a result of two pregnancies and a pretty sedentary lifestyle, I found myself overweight and out of shape. However, I didn't come from an athletic family, so while I didn't exactly know HOW I was going to change my circumstances, I knew I wanted to. So I went to my local weight lifting gym in April of 2009 and began blindly lifting weights and learning to despise what I called the "hamster wheel cardio machines".
By 2009, I was also in my fourth year of owning a rehabilitative massage business, was teaching the massage program at Heritage College, and was actively pursuing my degree in elementary education through online studies. While I adored both practicing and teaching massage and found a lot of personal satisfaction out of self-employment and continuing my education, I had effectively built a life that catered almost too well to my introverted nature. Fraternizing with students, clients or employees was against my personal and professional ethics, and building any bonds with my fellow peers in school wasn't possible since I had chosen online studies to better cater to my needs as a mother. I found myself beginning to feel pretty isolated, and the icing on the cake came in the dissolution of my marriage in February of 2009.
By October of 2009, I had accomplished very little progress in my fitness goals from blindly training myself without the proper education to do so, and found myself growing bored and lonely with a growing need for a sense of community. I wanted to feel like I belonged somewhere. Around that time I was having a conversation with a gym acquaintance about how inane I felt the cardio machines were and how I just couldn't talk myself into enjoying an hour of effort to go essentially no where. He gave me the name of a local martial arts gym and suggested I give kickboxing a try to accomplish my cardio needs. I didn't feel like kickboxing was really "my thing", but after looking up the gym I saw that they did have a youth program and thought my oldest son, who at that time was seven years old, could benefit from getting involved in something like that so we checked the gym out and soon after signed him up.
The gym ran their youth program at the same time as a separate adult program so while I was there watching my oldest son train, I would get glimpses of the adult program running in the other room as well. One of the things that impressed upon me immediately was the obvious friendships between the members of the fight team. The handful of members who were on this "elite" team seemed to do everything together, were looked up to by the rest of the gym, and were given top-notch treatment and attention from the coach, compared to the rest of the members who were lucky if he made the effort to even learn our names. I wanted to be a part of that "elite" group. In addition, there were two women in particular on this team that really stood out to me: the gym's prized MMA fighter Michelle Blalock and top grappler Shannon Sinn (then Culpepper). I had never seen any woman as athletically built as them. In fact, despite spending the last six months at a weight lifting gym, being built like that had never even crossed my mind as an option to work towards. After watching them train for a few week, my fitness goals became more defined. I wanted to be able to move with the ease and athletic grace they moved with, something that I struggled to accomplish with the combination of a lack of mind-body connection and my then out of shape body.
So in January of 2010, I decided to start training. Not because I wanted to be a professional fighter, or even because I had taken an interest in competing in grappling (which is what I would later spend the first year of my martial arts journey participating in). I started training because I had developed a particular set of fitness goals, and because I was immensely in need of a place where I felt like I belonged. I was searching for my own community.
Later in 2014, community became even more important in my life. As mentioned in a previous blog post, the end of 2014 found me in a pretty dark place personally and professionally and it was the community in my life that I felt saved me. After a change of gyms, the community and friendships I built among my teammates at Easton Training Center served as a lighthouse for me in troubled times. My community not only kept me training, it kept me hopeful for brighter days ahead. Hundreds of students fill the mats at the various Easton gyms throughout Colorado, and while I developed close ties with some of the members I trained with personally, it wasn't just those friendships that made me feel at home. It was those ties to the greater Easton community that made me feel connected as well because whether we knew each other personally or not, we were all a team and there is a lot of power in the word "team".
Just last week I was announcing an upcoming in-house tournament to my students at Easton Martial Arts Academy where I coach boxing and kickboxing. Our location is the newest of the Easton gyms and we are just beginning to grow our striking program so many of the students there have not yet been introduced to the greater Easton community that they belong to. We will have our first two students competing in the tournament and as I was asking that all our students show up to support them, I impressed upon them what a great feeling it is to show up and see the hundreds of other people who they will share the common bond of calling Easton their home. I will never forget the first time I saw a picture of the 2015 summer belt promotion full of smiling Easton members crowding onto the mat. I proudly thought, "Wow, I belong to that?" The picture was so powerful in fact that my oldest son, who wasn't even at that particular belt promotion, chose that picture to be the screen saver on his computer.
When discussing training with new students, I always suggest they bring a friend. Community made sticking to my fitness goals easier. We all have days where, no matter how much we love what we're pursing, we just don't feel like pursuing it. Even once I began competing professionally I would wake up some days with a groan in anticipation of the training schedule that awaited me. On these days there were two things that helped: 1) reminding myself that not training was giving my opponent the upper hand, but more influential was 2) if I don't go to training I wouldn't see my friends and I would feel like I missed out on something. In fact, when discussing how to stay the course on any fitness journey, the power of community is number one on my list above talks on dedication, proper nutrition, or various training regimens.
Community is important and plays a much bigger role in the success of achieving our goals than many of us might accredit to it. Community is what made me feel at home in a situation that normally would have triggered my social anxiety. Community is what made me feel a part of something greater in this world. Community is what reminded me that no matter how tough my life got, I was never alone. Community keeps me going. Not only do I feel it is a major factor in staying the course on a fitness journey, I believe it is crucial to a person's overall quality of life. Whether you choose to find YOUR sense of community through the martial arts as I did, or you find it in a chess club, a camping group, an improv group, or a book club, do yourself a favor and prioritize your innate need for community. Humans are tribal creatures. We NEED our tribe and it is our community that becomes that tribe.
Thank you to my own tribe: Easton Training Center.
A lover of words, magic, and the idea of changing the world by encouraging the pursuit of one dream at a time. Living the dream myself as a professional boxer, kickboxer, and MMA fighter.