A Simple Life

I apologize for keeping everyone out of the loop!  i have had so many little stories to share, but as everyone knows, life doesn’t always allow us the time to sit down and tell a good tale.  I wanted to tell you about my training camp for my UFC debut on 12/12/14, and how the training grounded me and allowed me to get re-centered.  Nothing like preparing for one of the greatest opportunities of my fight career to reignite my passion fully!  Or I would’ve told you all about the experience itself – the thrill of being in the UFC, the excitement of having fans running around, the joy of being surrounded by family and friends that came from all around the US and from two other countries.  i would’ve told you about the unexpected calm that came over me as a result of being surrounded by the familiar faces of the TUF20 cast, and all the events that ensued post fight.

But what I will say now is that the feedback, encouragement and support I received from many of you out there fueled me with more positive energy than I could have mustered on my own.  THANK YOU.

Maybe you have questions about the fight itself- how did I feel when I walked into the cage?  how did I feel fighting my friend and teammate from TUF?  How I feel about the fight itself or the decision loss?  I can answer all of those questions clearly, but most important is how i feel today back in the daily grind of my life – the one true constant in my existence.  While the fighting at times feels like the center of my world, it is not.  The heightened emotions and energies, the enhanced physical state of being, the focus of all resources into the sole purpose of fight preparations…. the support of family and friends, and the increased activity on social media either looking to build me up or break me down, makes it easy to feel like the fight is my one purpose.  It is that experience itself that makes the fight that much more exciting!  But the truth is, the fight is over in less time than a lunch break and all that existed before a fight camp still remains.

I returned to matters of the home and heart, and so many details come back into focus.  I want to throw myself back into my life and be 100% present for everyone once again.  I want somehow to give back to everyone who gave to me.  I want to listen, to offer advice, to travel, to hug people longer, linger in conversations, and make more commitments. However, there is a cadence to life that cannot be manipulated, and as much as i wanted to rush back into my life, life would not let me skip steps to reclaiming a sense of “norm”.  After such an incredible life event, it is always a bit challenging for me to readjust back to my usual routine.  Though I seek adventure, change and spontaneity, I am still a creature of habit, and transitions are rarely seamless.  Friends still catch my gaze drifting during conversations, I worry about getting in my workouts when I say I am going to rest, and I seek ways to fill my days when some stillness would be best. Just when I think I am getting closer to a place of peace, some new unsettling circumstance is exposed and I realize that, while I may be ready to settle back into simple living, life is not promising me anything simple.  So I prepare for a bumpy ride.

In reality, fight camp allowed me to step away from all that was happening around me- but it was still happening. No matter how much I want to believe that things will be easy and relaxing after a fight, it never really is.  In actuality, training for a fight is easier and more relaxing because we have an excuse to be selective with where we put our energies.  We focus so hard that some things are inevitably neglected, and the aftermath of neglect waits for us.  Today, I navigate through some stormy waters… I tell you this here, but I do not post on Facebook or Twitter these challenges.  I would not have anyone believe for a second that my struggles have any more meaning than yours, nor would i have you believe that for one second I am not grateful for all that I have.  Truthfully, I am fortunate to feel a sense of purpose and place in this life, and one such purpose is to find ways to inspire others.  Thanks to all the feedback I receive from friends, family, fans, teammates and strangers, I know that whether I win or lose my fights, I am still achieving my goals.  Whether I am training for a fight, on the other end of fight, or committing myself to other pursuits, i know that somehow my actions are having a positive impact on others.  Among the days of my sometimes crazy life, I find my peace in knowing that in some way I might be inspiring just one new person out there.

Thank you for following me on my journey.  Thank you for letting me know who YOU are and for sharing your thoughts, your journeys, your fears, and your joys with me <3

TUF 20, Episode 5 – “Grudge Match”

Congrats to Felice Herrig for doing an awesome job changing up her game and being aggressive! She definitely deserved the win.

It was certainly hard for most of us on Team Melendez to back up Heather Clark on this one. While Heather made claims, post fight, that she has grown and learned from her experiences, the pre-fight drama was what set the tone for this bout. Leading up to the fight, Heather made it very clear that she didn’t “approve” of the way Felice chooses to gain fans. All the while, Felice seemed a bit baffled as to why Heather had much interest in her to begin with.

Most fans and followers out there love the emotion and drama that gets flung around the house on a daily basis, and though I lived through it, there are many moments in previous episodes where I find myself laughing, cringing or hollering out at the TV in sheer amusement! But this “Grudge Match” between Felice and Heather??? I just can’t get into it. It just doesn’t spark an interest. Maybe its because the drama that Heather highlights with Felice is lacking any real emotion or history. The “grudge” is simply boring, to be honest, but the “match” is another story! I was thrilled to see the fight happen with Felice taking another win and putting this thing to rest!

Penne and Ellis had real history. Heather struggles to find her place among the team. Injuries are popping up everywhere and frustrations around training add to the tension. A Melendez teammate gets another opportunity – but only with team Pettis! Wooohooo!!!! Lets get back to the REAL drama!

For those of you readers who want a bit more depth, read on:

I recently read a quote by Frederich Buechner that states that “you cannot become human on your own.” i interpret this to mean that no person can have a truly human experience in the absence of others. That being said, living together in the TUF house was one of the most “human” experiences a person can have. Being stripped of so many external things that define us, that give us a point of reference in life, and even provide us all with escape, we became raw and primitive – for better or worse. All that we arrived with on the show was ourselves, and the playing field was leveled by having our most basic needs provided for. Beyond that, however, we scrambled ever so cautiously to redefine ourselves in this unique environment in which we are all striving for the same thing – one thing – the championship belt that only one person can walk away with.

Alliances, friendships, and enemies formed, then the circumstances changed, and things would shift. Pay attention to the words and expressions of everyone, and watch as each girl re-establishes herself as she sees fit for survival.

TUF 20 Episode 1

Felice and Heather showcase their dislike for one another right off the bat, and who would expect anything else? Is this the fight that everyone is waiting for? Lets not get too caught up in the drama too early, I promise there will be plenty more to come ;-)  Lets backtrack a minute here.

After arriving at the TUF house, we were quickly swept back into the vans and shuttled to the much anticipated UFC gym! Back at the gym, all 16 of us women had our own form of tryouts for the teams.  I dare say I speak for everyone when I tell you how amped I was to be standing in this gym where history has been made over and over for the past 9 years.  It was an exhilarating experience. I could have let it overwhelm me, but it was time to focus.  Time to meet the coaches.  Team Pettis seemed to want to get into our heads to find out “what we are made of”, and put us through a fitness-focused test.  In contrast, Team Melendez had a more casual, laid-back approach, interviewing us and watching our movements from a comfortably seated position on the cage floor.  My desire to be on Team Melendez was now confirmed.  Gilbert’s attitude said, “you know who you are and what you can do.  I’m not here to babysit or bark orders.  You want to work and get better, then I’m here for you. Let’s do this.”

Though Team Pettis’ #2 pick and #2 seed, Joanne Calderwood, defaulted me to Team Melendez, I was no less thankful for my team.  While I was ranked at #15, I was grateful that I was set to fight Joanne – a sure way to show my team what I am made of.  But with our team’s choice to send Tecia Torres out to fight first, I knew I would have to wait – but maybe not that long.  I had a strong hunch that if the first fight did not go our way, giving Melendez the next fight pick, I would be up next.  Whether it was a sense of urgency to get the first fight out of the way, or the edginess of a tough weight cut, I could see the hunger to fight in Joanne’s face.  I believed that Pettis would give her that fight.  So I turned to my coaches and asked them to get me ready.  Not everyone was convinced, but I was, and that was enough for me.  Thankfully my coaches, Gilbert and Num, honored my request and started working with me in a short time.  They had seen my fights, and they had seen Joanne’s, and they knew what i needed to do in order to beat her.  Num had me working my Muay Thai defense, and Gilbert coached me through changing my attitude and approach to better handle Joanne’s attacks, and to better set up my own.  At first it felt awkward, but I had full faith in my coaches, and that belief allowed me to quickly make the necessary changes.  I started to feel the new rhythm and I loved it.  I was excited!!!

Sure enough, and with little time to spare, Tecia’s fight was over with a decision loss to Randa, and Team Pettis called me out to fight Joanne.  It was on! I was so glad that I had been aware enough to start preparing, and even more thankful that I had known my opponent in advance- even if the announcement was only days prior.  Though I had always felt I would like Joanne as a person, and while I approached her as a friend in the beginning, my warmth toward her would not interfere with our business.  With a belt on the line, and my fight career exposed to the world, it was time to put niceties aside and get to work. Another day in the office, but this day, I’d be looking for a promotion :-)

TUF20Episode1

TUF 20 Premiere - Intro

Not even the sum total of all my experiences was enough to prepare me for the 6 weeks that have now passed, nor was it enough to soften my landing back to the life I knew before TUF20.

An opportunity of a lifetime. A gift and a blessing. A most unique, awesome and unparalleled experience, so challenging that completing it yielded rewards of equal greatness. Life on The Ultimate Fighter Season 20 took me for a ride and put me into situations that I would never have chosen for myself, yet it presented me with fresh and invigorating perspectives that made me a better fighter in the end.

16 women living together for 45 days, isolated under one roof and by the same daily routine, all pursuing the same ultimate goal that only one would achieve – The women’s UFC Strawweight World Championship title and belt. I’m certain that the actual experience was something that none of us had expected. From the moment the teams were determined, alliances were formed and yet nearly every woman seemed to carry herself with a strong sense of focus and professionalism. I got the feeling that women, whether as individuals or in the collective, friend or foe, are all about efficiency. The things that mattered most – food organization, sleeping arrangements, and storage for personal items – were addressed immediately and without much fuss or argument. Everything else just fell into place naturally. Getting started and situated came with surprising ease.

As we navigated through the preliminary fights, there were a number of instances that threatened the balance of Team Melendez, but it was still too early, and everyone too steady, for anyone to be derailed. We clung to our team for a sense of identity–supporting those who won and encouraging those who lost to keep faith for another opportunity.

Dare To Dream Big

It was a Tuesday night, the 10th of December 2013, and I was just shuffling around my home waiting to hear from Shannon Knapp, the president of Invicta FC. I was looking forward to chatting with her about my future with Invicta, when the phone rang. A Vegas number? I was pretty sure that her number was from Kansas.

During the few weeks prior, after Dana White announced he’d be introducing a women’s strawweight division to the UFC, I dared to dream a little bigger. Remembering that I still had one fight left on my Invicta contract, I planned for a victory and hoped for a new contract that would be my path to a title shot with Invicta, and increase my appeal to the UFC. At my age of 32, I considered that my fight career may not be as long as the 20 year-olds getting started, and so I decided to let my future be determined by whether or not I got a shot at a title or the UFC.

When I answered the phone call from the Vegas number, and Dana White (president of the UFC) introduced himself on the line, I lost my breath for a second. Uncertain at first how to respond, or whether or not this was real, I asked a few light-hearted questions until I couldn’t deny it was indeed the unmistakable voice of Dana White. He had called me personally to inform me that he acquired my Invicta contract and that my life was about to change! Dana shared his plans to introduce the women’s strawweight division of the UFC with the first-ever all-female Ultimate Fighter season – TUF20! With that, he made it clear that, at present, I am now an official UFC fighter, and am guaranteed a spot on TUF20. To add to the excitement, Dana decided that the winner of the show would be awarded the women’s UFC strawweight belt and championship title!

With that, the future of my MMA career was set. Not only did I gain the status of UFC fighter and be guaranteed a spot on TUF, which normally requires stressful tryouts, but I ALSO get a shot at a title – UFC strawweight champion!

Until February 2013, when the UFC hosted their first female MMA bout with Ronda Rousey, women could only fantasize about building a career in the UFC. Today, we can stop fantasizing and start dreaming big, working hard alongside the men with the same goal to make our mark in the octagon for the UFC.

14 years ago, and after 18 years of stifling my passion for martial arts, I finally began my martial arts training with no idea where it would lead me. But I followed my passion, trained hard and studied all aspects of the modern and traditional arts. My love for the art and the sport only grew deeper, as it improved, strengthened and molded my character over the years. Many people couldn’t understand my passion as a woman, and my answer to them included the positive life changes I made as a result of my commitment. Today, I am proud to represent the value in following your dreams and passions- especially in the face of social criticism and adversity. Fortunately, I was blessed with close friends and family, and quality coaches that encouraged and supported me, even though they couldn’t fully understand why I had wanted this. Today they understand. Today they see the result of big dreams, dedication, sacrifice and hard work. Today, they deserve to be proud and share in my success because they were all a big part of it 

Flagstaff 50K with Aravaipa Running

As I arrived at the aid station at mile 23, I was greeted with the words “3rd place female.” “Really?!?!?” I exclaimed with a huge grin and a look of total shock across my face.  Never had I imagined that I would be placing in a race, let alone THIS race!

Three weeks prior, I tagged along with a group of new friends to support them in their 50K up in Silverton, CO and offered myself as a volunteer at the start/finish.  There, the race director invited me to race their next 50K in Flagstaff, AZ…. I hadn’t been training, but was still doing my “fun runs” along the La Luz trail in the Sandias, so I figured “why not?”

While I had been offered free entry to the race, I still had needed to find an inexpensive way to get to Flagstaff.  I tried rallying friends to carpool with me and even put posts on craigslist Rideshare, but just a few days before the race I found myself with no affordable option.  Instead, I had accepted the fact that I would not be running the race and took an offer to drive to Colorado to support a friend in his first attempt at a 100-mile race.  Unfortunately for him, he missed the registration deadline, but I had already arrived.  “How about we drive to Flagstaff together?” He suggested. After a couple minutes of mentally scanning the items I had packed and deciding I had enough gear, I replied “oh what the heck! Now it’ll surely be a challenge and adventure!”

So the two of us headed south and arrived in time to pass out for a few solid hours the night before. With our kind hosts, and fellow badass ultra runners Sean Meissner and Kristina Siladi, we left the house long before day break, and arrived at the chilly start. I exchanged a few words with the race director, Jamil Coury, and with a few other women about my crazy and convoluted arrival at the race, told a bit of my MMA career, flashed a zany smile with the words “hope I will finish!” And off we all went!

Now, at mile 23, I was astounded to be in 3rd place! The news fueled me with more energy than the banana, PB&J, and Gatorade! After a brief fuel stop, I darted off on what felt like fresh legs! And then I realized, “did I just leave that 2nd place female behind at the station? Could that be??” I chose to leave that thought behind and focus on bounding away and along the last 9 miles, determined to not be passed. And so it was.

After slogging up the wet, muddy and rocky trail, I crested the hill to find my friend waiting and grinning with excitement at my arrival! He joined me down the most beautiful 600 meter finish- a flat, pebbled runway bordered with wide fields of yellow wildflowers and the finish line dead ahead. Pure bliss.

I coasted into the finish fifteen minutes behind the first female finisher, and was instantly overcome with disbelief and sheer joy. Never had I imagined this for myself. Having tasted the victory of placing in such a long and arduous race, I now know that I will surely be challenging myself again – and to even more miles.

The best part was the child-like giddiness of Sean when he told me this story:

After the race, two guys were standing around and one of them said to the other “Hey, did you see that female MMA fighter in her barefoot shoes and her tiny little handheld waters? She didn’t look prepared at all! I bet she didn’t even finish!!” So Sean turn to them and coyly informed them that in fact I had finished second and had already gone home to take a nap!! Ha!”

It was true. I had only the running clothes I packed, my every’run’ Merrell Barefoot trail running shoes, and my 2 – 8oz Salomon handheld hydration soft flasks. But that was all I needed!

Back at home in Albuquerque, NM I’ve had time to sit and contemplate my entire race experience and what that means for my future of racing, fighting and other endeavors. In the past, I have been pretty hard on myself with high expectations for my physical fitness and appearance, as well as my performance. But today I am ready to give myself a break from my self-criticism and take a moment to embrace all of my accomplishments, and appreciate myself as true professional athlete.

Furthermore, I am forever grateful for all of my friends, my family, and my fans who love and support me every day and in many ways on my journey. Thank you.