Athlete stories

Stories from the Stars

Samah Hawa

Judo:
Samah Hawa

Samah began her Judo journey when she was 9, a shy girl, she went along with a friend to a Judo class. As a bigger and taller girl than many of her friends, she found confidence in Judo because she fitted in with her weight class and her size became an attribute. Now 25, she has 16 years of experience behind her. She received her black belt at the age of 15 and became full time when she was 17, training and competing at the highest level. 

Claudia Doval

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu:
Claudia Doval

We invited BJJ champion Claudia do Val to talk about an important issue that is prevalent in the BJJ community. We wanted to find out her thoughts on moving forward, on changing attitudes and what we can all do to contribute in a positive way and condemn prejudice.

 
Heather Hardy Black and White

Boxer:
Heather Hardy

She remembers walking into the ring thinking ‘why are you doing this?’, when her cousin John grabbed her through the ropes and said ‘I want you to act like there’s a tiger in there, and one of you is not getting out.’ She beat the girl and won the fight, and it was the start of everything. Hardy said it was the first time she ever felt like she was good at something and she wanted to get better. Everyday she couldn’t wait to get into the dojo, and 10 years later she still feels the same way. 

Ruth Raper Young sitting

Boxer:
Ruth Raper

Ruth told us she wished someone had told her to be patient, although she’s not sure she would have listened, and it is something she tries to emphasise with her students. “You need to be guided, to be told when to be patient and when to get your shit together.” As a teenage amateur boxer you are expected to be an adult, and Ruth believes that if she had been more in tune with herself, things might have been different.

Kat Hill

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu:
Kat Hill

Kat Hill is not only an international BJJ champion but also a successful academic, teaching and writing in London. Training out of Carlson Gracie HQ she has many accolades to her name. Recently for International Women’s Day she wrote some of her story for Women Who Fight, as we celebrated women’s true stories and the journey’s they have been on. We found her story profound, her struggle with depression and how she copes, the turning points, the lows and highs. We thought it was important and followed up with an interview. 

Kate Bacik in Thailand

Muay Thai:
Kate Bacik

Training martial arts stopped me from fighting on the streets and leading a very shitty lifestyle. I managed to finish two different degrees with honours despite having to work sometimes three different jobs whilst studying full time. Soon after that I decided to train and fight full time and I’ve been doing that for the past 4 years or so and no matter how hard it gets I’m not willing to give up on chasing my dreams

April 2020

Ffion Eira Davies

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu:
Ffion Davies

‘My journey through Jiu-Jitsu helped my confidence grow because I wanted to try these things that I wasn’t good at, whereas at school I just would give up. In BJJ I didn’t mind flailing around like a dead fish.’

To support herself in Cardiff, she became a Bouncer. ‘The hours are great but you will never sleep. I would work until 6 am, and then teach a class at 11, sleeping around it.’ She now trains full time in Dublin, ‘when I won UAE I won five grand which was amazing. It’s great that there are competitions that support athletes by giving prizes to women as well as men, and yes it’s not as much, but it’s something.’

April 2020

Erin Cathrine Nygren

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu:
Erin Cathrine Nygren

Eirin Cathrine Nygren is a Norwegian BJJ competitor. She has been four times European Champion in belts Blue, Purple and Brown (twice). She received her black belt in 2017 and since then has opened up her own BJJ gym in Örebro, Sweden, which is part of Frontline Academy. She always is looking to improve her game, incorporating new techniques and learning from the losses. Her attitude to fighting her superstar opponents is ‘they are incredible so there’s nothing to lose, you go in there and you try to think that it’s a win-win situation.” She has an indiscriminate attitude towards rolling partners, as she simply wants to roll with everyone! We can learn a lot from her positive attitude and love of this sport.

June 2018

Liz Carmouche MMA

MMA:
Liz Carmouche

Liz Carmouche is a veteran on the MMA scene and has fought numerous times against opponents including Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate. Originally part the Marine Corps, she has a strong sense of discipline and has the ability to overcome adversity. The first women to be openly gay in professional MMA and an advocate of CBD oil for its therapeutic benefits for athletes, she talks to us about the challenges she has faced and her experiences in a relatively young sport for women.

June 2018

Cris Cyborg

MMA:
Cris Cyborg

Cris Cyborg is a force to be reckoned with when she steps into the Octagon. Her aggressive style is renowned and she has won every fight she has fought since 2005. It is not surprising then that many potential opponents have made excuses to avoid meeting her in the cage, but who could blame them? She is the most powerful female MMA fighter and doesn’t give a moments relief from the start of the fight until the end, many of which have been TKO.

July 2018

Photo Credit: Parilloboxing

Michelle Nicolini preparing to fight

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu:
Michelle Nicolini

“When I used to compete BJJ, I hated to lose, but it was important as it made me strong and determined to win the next one. I used to train more, not focusing on my opponent but trying to make my game better. Sometimes when I lost, it felt like I didn’t do anything in the fight, other times it felt like it had been a good fight, so the result didn’t matter so much. I think most of my fights are exciting to watch, even when I lose. So I do my best, with all the hard days of training, everything I gave up to be there, putting everything I have on the mats. If I lose, at least I did all I could and have no regrets.”

July 2018

Margot Ciccarelli posing for @hyperfly @unityjiujitsu @wantvsneed @thenomadicid

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu:
Margot Ciccarelli

Margot is one of the elite competitors on the BJJ scene, travelling worldwide and leading a nomadic BJJ lifestyle she is an advocate for cross training Jiu Jitsu as part of the evolution of the sport. Her vision is to expand and develop the women’s BJJ scene in Hong Kong and to forge connections with people all around the world. Her attitude to anything new or challenging is always positive. The creator of Nomadic ID her mission is to connect ‘like minded individuals together who think in the same artistic wavelength’ believing that ‘art fulfills a part of the soul like nothing else can.’

June 2018

Brittney Elkin Weigh in

MMA:
Brittney Elkin

Brittney ‘Big Bird’ Elkin began her MMA journey at the age of 21. Inspired by the fights coming to Denver, she tried her hand at the MMA game and fell in love. She has worked and raised her son while continuing the intensive training required to become the successful athlete that she is. Only in the last three years, has she had a full team of people working with her in her MMA career. For Elkin time management ‘was key’, she told us that losing is her biggest motivator as she truly believes she has the ability to beat her opponents. In speaking to her it is clear she has a wonderfully positive attitude to challenges and a seemingly unquenchable self-belief.

June 2018

Maiken training in Thailand

Muay Thai:
Maiken Aannerud​

Prior to being a professional fighter, Aannerud was a Hairdresser and Makeup Artist, travelling around Norway for work. A kickboxer since the age of 12, she decided to try training full time Muay Thai in Thailand two and half years ago, only intending it to be for a couple of months. Now she is a professional fighter, fighting out of Tiger Muay Thai. The decision to remain in Thailand and train full time is a scary one, but Aannerud had fallen in love with Muay Thai, and explained that if she returned to Norway, things would have continued as before; training part time kickboxing was no longer enough.

September 2018

Samantha Cook competing at Polaris professional in the UK

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu:
Sam Cook

“Being a role model is a by product of trying to achieve your goals. Being a good person, making some mistakes. I want to humanise myself, we pour our hearts out on the mat.’’

“I don’t believe you have to be suffering and sacrificing everything to be a world champion. I find the male Cyborg really inspiring. [He believes] you have to take responsibility for your learning and what works for you, but it’s about being smart in Jiu Jitsu not about training hard every single day.”

September 2018

Nicole Evangelista competing at IBJJF Pan Ams in 2017

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu:
Nicole Evengelista

Nicole is a bubbly and energetic young woman, who has a strong work ethic and mature outlook which has all contributed to her successes both in the BJJ scene and out. Nicole first competed in BJJ when she was 9, in a local competition where she was the only child. Her dad asked if she could fight in the women’s division, and the women said yes. Her father’s advice was, ‘you’re not here to win, you’re here to do your best.’ Her dad taught her to believe that she could do anything if she wanted to.

October 2018

Jackie Galloway posing for GAP

Taekwondo:
Jackie Galloway

Jackie Galloway is a source of calm inspiration. Taking it all as it comes, not thinking beyond the challenges in front, she seemed to us unworried and ready to take on the world. Her attitude stems from her environment growing up, with her father being a strong role model, and her parents encouraging her to follow her dream. At the age of 16 she had the opportunity to train in Mexico for a few months, and this experience seems to have helped her build such a strong mindset.

We spoke to her about what it takes to be a world champion, and about how she deals with the failure that comes as well as the wins. She told us that it is all part of sport, and that’s the risk when you take a step into the ring. She lives by Roosevelt’s ‘man in the arena’ speech, where at least if you fail you fail greatly.

October 2018

Angelica Galvao competing

Brazilian JIu Jitsu:
Angelica Galvao

Angelica Galvao is a leading competitor on the BJJ scene. Mother, wife and Athlete, she is a wonderful role model with a strong belief in hard work with the experience of winning several tournaments, most recently becoming a UAEJJF Abu Dhabi Pro Champion (2018).

November 2018

Sophie Cox in a gi

Judo:
Sophie Cox

Sophie is lovely, very chatty and down to earth. We spoke to her on a Wednesday, her day off. She was sipping a beer, and the sun was out. A far cry from the intensity of the Judo matches she has fought in her career. We were inspired by her way of life, having designed it around her strengths; a part-time coach for England’s under 21’s Judo team; part-time mum; part-time club coach at a local level; and a mentor in schools coaching children generally. Importantly she wants to be approachable and show that anyone can do whatever they put their mind to.

November 2018