The Fight is Constant
Today was supposed to be just another average Tuesday; it wasn’t. After I woke up, I busily shuffled around my kitchen, stuffing something to later be called “lunch” into my backpack before being driven off to school. In no way did I expect to later be writing about the connection between human rights and MMA.
Then I saw a short film documenting the journey of Garrett “G Money” Holeve. Holeve has Down syndrome (breaking the fourth wall-- HE’S AWARE.) As noted in the video, he’s also been a fighter for four years. He had previously been fighting a legal battle for his first sanctioned bout in the state of Florida.
Given that he and his opponent, David “The Cerebral Assassin” Steffan are both disabled (Cerebral Palsy in Steffan’s case) the state prevented the contest through a cease and desist order.
Holeve later went on to have his shot at glory, winning in the second round by rear-naked choke.
Me? I was just left choked up. Why? Both of these warriors did what I have always hoped to do-- not just fight, not just compete, but defy public perception. I also have Cerebral Palsy, and in much the same way as Holeve, am dreaming of working for the UFC ( in a media-related role).
As I continue watching Holeve, memories of this past summer come to mind....
Brighton, Illinois “Hey, my Dad took care of the hotel. Don’t worry about it.” I tell my "brother" (step-cousin) Ian as I stroll into his basement bedroom and sit on his couch with a Coke and a bag of chips in hand. “What?” he asks, bewildered given that we were both collectively freaking out the night before that it was two days before we were going to Chicago and still had no place to sleep. “We’re all good. We’ll split the cost in half and pay him later. All good.” I assure him as I greet our friend Dillon.
A short while later, Harry, the final piece of our fearsome foursome arrives. In true college kid fashion we somehow manage to get him a place on the train with us before going out to party hard. Somehow we all manage to make it through our mundane day-jobs and meet up at Ian’s the following evening. I don’t think I’ve ever hauled a** that fast in my life. We toss four bags into the back of Ian’s tank of a vehicle and make our way to the Alton Amtrak station. We take the first seats we can find and then venture off to find the dining car. What I felt next was an odd combination: elation that months of planning was going to lead to this great experience, yet cheated that I paid seven dollars for a hotdog and Pepsi. After shooting the breeze, listening to music, attempting to watch Netflix, and becoming glued to our seats for hours, the train finally pulled into the station at midnight. We check in and immediately have a pizza sent to our room. Yet again, as life often does, I’m reminded how much I enjoy this motley crew’s existence. The boys went out on the town lookin’ for love while I stayed back, just wanting to sit still and take everything in.
After yet another disappointing meal the next morning, we split up as Ian and I (members of the press) set our sights on “The Madhouse on Madison”, the United Center. The pair of us fumble through communicating with our minimal-English-speaking cabbie and pay him our eight or nine dollar fare before making our way through the press entrance.
“This has GOT to be the ONLY time I’ve been thankful for CP!” I thought, knowing that Ian wouldn’t be here with me without it. Ian helps me attach the neckband to my press badge. “Well this is embarrassing…” Fine motor skill difficulty- whatchya gonna’ do? We made it-- press covering UFC on Fox: Dillashaw vs Barao II ! We eventually find our way to catering (one of my favorite parts of UFC events). As the gaggle of various media outlets meanders about, a head of silver hair approaches and I feel a pat on my shoulder and the all too familiar voice of UFC Octagon Announcer Bruce Buffer (half-brother to the man known for “Let’s get ready to rumble!”, Michael Buffer) acknowledges the presence of easily the youngest person in the room. “Hey, how are ya?” he asks. I shoot Ian a look. “AHHHHH! BRUCE BUFFER!” I say with my eyes. I stammer through a response I don’t remember and he heads out. After we get our food I take a drink and tell Ian, “This is the best damn Coke I’ve ever had.”
Later, we're just seconds from heading out to a crowd of thousands. Like I've seen backstage personnel tell fighters so many times, the voice in my head shouts, "Walk, walk, walk, walk!" and we burst through the curtain...
When the main event is about to go down, with Buffer’s, “IIIIIIIIIIIIITTTTS…..TIME!” catchphrase filling my ears, I look up and think, “I don’t ever want to leave these lights. I’m home.”
I’m very thankful that Holeve’s bout has already taken place so that it’s no longer an issue up for debate. He accomplished his goal as I did one of mine. Why were we able to do so? That is thanks to the fact that those around us didn’t really put limits on us because of our challenges.
Garrett Holeve was wronged by the state of Florida on the basis of what I believe to be nothing more than opinions about what the challenged community can do. Apparently plenty agree because he is now not only sanctioned but legally protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Sure, let's have the brain damage discussion-- but as it stands presently he is aware of his Down Syndrome, is trained, and most importantly, this is something HE wants to do. To not let him live his life how he chooses, in this sense, wouldn't be living.
If he makes it to the UFC is not for me to say. However, he isn’t the only MMA fighter with Down syndrome, his opponent has CP, “Notorious” Nick Newell is signed to Las Vegas-based World Series of Fighting (and has one arm), and UFC veteran Matt Hamill is deaf. Perception is not reality.
Those glances that you thought I didn’t see? - I saw. I always see.
The whispers and hushed laughs that you thought I didn’t hear? - I heard
That girl I didn't ask out because she’s pretty and I’m self-conscious?- Been there, done that.
None of that matters now, not under those lights.
I am a 16-time Special Olympic Medalist (14-time Gold Medalist) in Track & Field and Basketball. In eighth grade I competed in Track against able-bodied runners. I played adaptive hockey (on the practice squad) with the adaptive St. Louis Blues team, wrestled and (dabbled) in Jiu Jitsu.
I covered my first UFC and Bellator events before I was even old enough to have a beer.
Catch my drift?
Never assume what we can do. Let us tell you, let us show you what I can do. No matter what any of us do, if we garner success or attention for it, it becomes magnified/amplified ten fold, so we might as well give those holding magnifying glasses something to look at.
We are the challenged. We are fighters.
Thank you Garrett.
(L-R: Dillon, our friends Brian and Brandon "Sparksy"/"Sparkles" Sparks, myself, our friend Taylor, Harry, and Ian "Soup" Campbell on my birthday)