Ending the year as a Champion

On Sunday the main event took place. I successfully completed my first Challenge of the Champions tournament with Tiger Schulmanns. I took second place in Grappling and third place in kickboxing.
The tail end of last week I was extremely stressed about making weight because I had gained weight over the last couple months, most likely from muscle gain. Sunday morning I woke up much earlier than I needed to and felt a weird calm as I got prepared, I had a clear mind and was laser focused. The calm immediately went out the window the minute we pulled into the venue parking lot.
As I was walking into the venue reality sunk in that I was about to fight in my first fighting competition and all my insecurities of not being fully prepared started to fill my mind. I got checked in, immediately weighed in with 3 lbs to spare and started to fuel myself. As everybody asked if I was ready my answer was no. The closer the time was creeping up to 10 am the more anxious I was getting and the more I was starting to pace.
Next thing you know it was time for my event and I was on the mat with Sensei Arce reviewing the rules with us. I was second up so I watched my competition go at it very intensely, as I tried not to outwardly show my nerves. Now it was my turn to get on the mat and compete, while the nerves were still very much present, once I got into position I was able to keep myself very calm and focused. As soon as Sensei Arce said go I was down to business with full determination. That determination was fueled by adrenaline and I immediately swept my opponent and got mount. “WHOA HOO!” Celebrating in my head but still remaining focused on not allowing her to get out. First two minutes is up and I am in the lead, one problem I got so excited I totally forgot we had to switch positions and get right back to it. The rest of the matches were more exhausting because I had depleted so much energy right from the beginning but it all paid off. I left that event feeling proud of myself.
Fast forward a couple hours and now it is time for kickboxing. I thought I’d be a little more calm since I had already completed one event, but sparring is something I have always struggled with both confidence and stamina so I knew this event was going to be much more challenging. Again as I sit all geared up being instructed how the event would go I tried to sit still and not alert anybody with just how terrified I was to get in that ring and fight. However again as soon as it was time to start I managed to focus my energy positively and be fueled by adrenaline. I shocked myself with the different moves I was successful with that I had never pulled off in any classes, even though we worked them regularly. After winning the first fight I find out I have a minimum of two more fights to complete, and my arms are already burning away! I lost the next fight but made a comeback for the final fight.
Competing in this tournament has brought so many emotions throughout the journey. During training I mostly felt frustrated and unprepared, due to training with more advanced students. Even though I knew that about my training it never made it easier mentally because I was constantly losing. On Sunday I experience fear, anxiety, excitement, and pure happiness. All of the hard work and frustrations encountered during training paid off in a big way. I am most proud of the fact that I got out there, facing my fears by pushing myself as far out of my comfort zone as possible. Leaving with two medals felt amazing but the real win was the valuable life lessons I got out of this. It helped bring some of my fighting and tenacious spirit back that years of life struggles had taken away. Served as my reminder that I can be successful at whatever I put my mind to and pushing myself out of my comfort zone can be great. Looking back at my videos, even in the rounds I lost I can see how far I have come in this journey and see how hard I worked and it allows me to still celebrate those “failures”.
Many of you are wondering how do I feel after pushing my body through all of these physical challenges. The truth is my body feels great, I have been stiff and recovering all week, but nothing different from everybody else pushing their body the same way. The more I push the less I notice side effects like tingling and numbness, and I didn’t experience any of those sensations on Sunday. I will continue to push my body in new ways as I continue my journey to getting stronger and pushing myself to be better. The question many have already asked is will I do it again? That is yet to be determined, as I progress in ranking it will become more challenging but I plan to train like that is the plan and will take it one step at a time. One thing I know is this journey isn’t over. I need to focus on is strength training to get stronger to help me be more successful in my training. I am thankful for my Tiger Schulmann’s Princeton family and helping me push through my diagnosis and not letting me give up on my training. Without the support of Sensei, Danielle, Joshu, and my TSMMA brothers and sisters this year could have turned out very different. Thank you for being my inspiration. This was the best possible way to celebrate a year since my diagnosis, which is fast approaching over the next couple of weeks.

Grappling Round 1
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Final Stretch

The final stretch is here, only 3 more days until the big day! After pushing Friday and Saturday morning I took the next couple days off to get some extra rest and let my body recover. The problem with all that resting, it had a negative impact on my sleep schedule.
Working out helps me release all of my daily stresses and extra energy which allows me to sleep more sound. Between my determination on achieving goals at work for this week and the realization of how fast approaching the tournament is I had my body in stress sleeping mode! Last night I ended break time and got in two hours of training, I got quality sleep back in my life.
I also am reminded the importance of proper water intake daily. As soon as I drop below 100 ounces of day I retain water and put on extra weight. It is amazing how much the body fluctuates from just water weight. Yesterday I drank 140 oz of water with same eating habits and dropped 2 lbs from the day before. I am trying to maintain the higher end of my weight class but I have gotten a little too close for comfort.
I constantly encourage people around me to drink enough water, but recognize that actually executing can be a challenge. It requires a commitment throughout the day as well as focus. I find I am most successful when I bring a gallon or 100 oz container with me to work so I can see where I am versus keeping track of the ounces by adding up my number of water bottle refills. Which is exactly what I will be doing to commit myself to drinking my gallon each day to prevent anymore last minute stress. I will stay focused on this habit because it helps with my energy levels, my workout performance, and keeps my skin clear. I joke it is my most successful skin care regimen but it is 100% true.
The hardest part of the next three days is going to be keeping my nerves in check and believing that I can do this. My favorite way to distract myself, keep myself busy with other things! Like spending sometime catching up on things by the pool!

Overcoming Hesitations

Since tomorrow marks one week until show time, last night was my last opportunity to get some extra training and sparring in. I did my first late night Friday training session after training in my two normal intermediate classes. It was great to get the extra time in but extremely exhausting.
However I used the night to overcome one more step in my training, sparring with guys. To date I have only sparred with my female peers. However last night there were only two of us and it was an important night for me so I overcame that hesitation. I started with one of the guys that is newer to sparring like myself to get a better feel for what it is like to spar with a beginner since all the ladies are more advanced than me!
Once I made the initial jump everybody got excited and eager to train with me for a round. It was a great experience because they were gentle but pushed me. Encouraging me the whole time and helping guide me to work on different areas I lack in, especially kicks. I definitely lost steam at the end which is going to be the biggest obstacle for me to overcome next Sunday especially depending on how many rounds I may have. I need to make sure I stay focused on the task and not how exhausting it all is. Easy to say, extremely hard to execute!
This weekend I will continue conditioning, however the rest of the week I will just do my normal weekly classes. Proper rest and eating will be important as well. I have myself at my ideal weight to be on the higher end of my class but not worried about cutting it too close. While I can’t say I’m feeling much more confident, last night was a great way to end the intense training!

Reality

Throughout this journey of dealing with MS and being fit, I have to try to decipher what is a side effect of a chronic disease versus what is just a normal side effect of working out. The hardest part knowing when it is necessary to slow down, especially training amongst a group of strong peers that train with arms in slings, fractured tibias, sick, and the list goes on! Sensei Billings creates an amazing environment that as long as you show up, he will help you work around any limitations and still train hard. Which is why we are all comfortable showing up when the rest of the world thinks we are crazy.
With MS one of the biggest obstacles is dealing with extreme fatigue. For me I have always been great at living on borrowed energy and then I just crash for a day and start over, however when MS fatigue hits it is not that easy. Last year this was my first clue that I easily ignored because… ah it’s just my hectic life and I just need to figure out how to restructure my schedule to keep going. Going into the tournament this was my biggest fear because it is the one thing I can’t ignore. I still have to attend to my other life responsibilities including being a highly functional leader.
I have read some other people describe their MS fatigue and I can relate similarly to it. The reason why it is a concern is because it becomes crippling. I can sleep for 12 hours a night for an entire week and still feel like a walking zombie. I lose some cognitive function having trouble focusing and becoming forgetful, which becomes frustrating for me because my memory is my one my greatest life strengths.
The last few weeks I have been feeling a little sluggish and trying to chalk it up to my body adjusting to working out extra hours. I have been averaging about 9 hours of sleep a night so giving myself sufficient rest. Last week I really started to feel like I couldn’t ignore it, no matter how much I slept I still just wanted to sleep more. Yesterday for the first time in 7 months I completely forgot to do my injection for my MS medication in the morning, even forgetting to take it out of the fridge on Sunday night. These are details I never forget, so it has become a true reality. In the end I had to sacrifice my grappling training to get home earlier otherwise I would have been off schedule for the next two weeks.
As the summer progresses and it gets hotter this will become more intense. I will need to find the right balance of still getting to enjoy my favorite season, keeping to my routine, and managing this side effect without more medications.

Two Weeks to Go!

Today marks exactly two weeks until the COC, and was the final day of Sunday training. Although I still have some additional grappling time, tomorrow will be my last day of being able to spar in a class, which makes it all feel so real and the nerves are starting to set in.
This week is my last week to push as hard as possible in training both on and off the mat. My goal this week is to train as much as possible, so the following week I can continue training on the mat, but limit the extra workouts and get as much rest to allow my body to be it’s strongest for the tournament.
Today I took a few really good hits to the gut, which made me stumble and slow down. As much as it is easy to want to ignore, it is also very challenging to put into action. I am very stubborn, and usually when it comes to being purely determined I manage to pull off things that seemed impossible. Channeling this side of me is going to be the most important part of June 4th. That means training to make myself uncomfortable and work to push through it.
I am glad I have some extra time to work with grappling, some days I feel great and other days I train with the more advanced students causing me to feel like I completely suck.
In beginner I now pick things up much quicker than I previously did and that helps me realize that I have grown. Especially when I am able to demonstrate the moves on Sensei! One of the “perks” of being the small one in class you get to demonstrate the reality of an attacker being larger.
Focusing on these small growth measures helps me stress a little less. I want to know that I have given it my best effort at the end of the day and with any other approaching deadline I keep asking myself have I done enough?

Relax and Breathe

In many aspects of my life I am told to “relax,” from visits to my doctor to something as relaxing as a massage. My body is always in a constant state of tension or stress. Kickboxing is no exception to this way of life for me.
One of my initial reasons for enjoying kickboxing so much was because it was the first time in my life I could keep my brain turned off and focused on only one task. Only because the task requires me to pay attention to all the aspects, but the minute it’s time to stretch my brain goes back to its normal noisy self. I’ve been trying to re-train it for years but have continued to be unsuccessful there.
This is now one of my biggest challenges while fighting. While at this point I have a decent amount of tools in the toolbox it’s about utilizing them properly, but I am always so focused on the task I have in mind that when the person I’m fighting does something different I immediately get stressed in my head or just stay committed to my initial intention that may no longer be a great option. Because I let myself get stressed about it it also causes me to tense up more. So now I have my body feeling like I have rigor mortis I’m so stiff.
Newest goal is figure out how to relax, and stop going “oh shit” in my head most of the two minute round. I know a big part of this is just practice, as the rest of my life I can keep a million things together as once because everything else in my life is like groundhog day. I know more moves than I think, even if I don’t remember them perfectly, the issue is I forget about them until it’s too late, if I relax I will be able to think more clearly! This will also allow me to increase my stamina because I might actually remember to breathe!

The Countdown Begins

Today I ran for the first time in probably close to a year. Typically my treadmill cardio consists of interval training because I don’t get bored as quick, however I felt the need to switch it up. Normally my happy place is 5.5 mph, today I started out at 6.0 mph and it was a leisurely speed so I kept increasing, ending with an average of 6.5 mph for a two mile run. I finished it off with 8.0 mph for the last two minutes to see how far I could push myself and my goal was two minutes because that’s the length of a fight round. It was extremely hard but I just kept chanting in my head you can do this stay strong and I was successful.
I have been feeling so out of shape because two minutes of fighting winds me so quick, but after today it is a reminder that my heart is stronger than ever I just have to keep pushing and try to keep my nerves calmer. I feel the time crunch with the minimum amount of classes to work on sparring to accomplish this.
I’ve been really focusing in a totally different way when I train on the bags, trying to picture it more in a real life setting and focus on maintaining speed but also hitting as strong as possible. It felt pretty amazing last night to get so many positive praises from Sensei last night with this approach! That means it’s working and I’m getting better!
24 Days until the big day!

Starting My Day off Strong

With a little less than a month to go it is starting to feel like crunch time. I’m feeling more confident with the ability to accomplish the goal, but I have to stay extremely focused. This week starts a couple weeks of a better balance in my schedule to allow me extra focus. Started today out with a great HIIT session. The focus for the next couple weeks is building stamina / endurance.
I use to laugh that a treadmill minute was the longest minute ever, and then I started fighting and that treadmill minute is nothing now! I just have to be able to keep going and ignore everything else for two minutes.
I also fell a little off the wagon with meal prep and fueling my body with the right foods letting life get in the way the last couple weeks, this week I will also get that back in check. Fueling my body with the right anti inflammatory foods helps keep my body feeling better and minimizes crazy sensations going through my body. I’m still trying to find the right recipe to keep tingling at bay while running, I may never find it and just have to keep pretending like running is a good time. I will say it is well worth it though, I always have the best days when I do some cardio to start off my day!

Bruised and Proud

As I was checking out my bruise tally this morning I feel like I can officially say I train in Martial Arts. The rest of the world unfamiliar with my lifestyle may perceive it as I’m being abused at home, but I wear the bruises with pride! To me they mean I was fighting hard or maybe just getting beat up, either way they represent the courage I had to train in a way I never imagined possible for me.

The other day somebody was asking how I can be friends with my fellow TSMMA peers as we are fighting each other. The greatest feeling during training is going hard fighting each other and hugging it out in the end to celebrate all the hard work. It may seem weird to others but it really is just about respect and support. As you train with people for weeks, months, and years you get to see the transformation each person goes through. For me it has been slower than many others but everybody has a different set of motivation and determination.

For me I’ve always dedicated a lot of my energy to things other than myself. But after realizing that I can’t take certain things for granted anymore my motivation has changed. Taking care of me is a priority now and while fighting may seem like a weird way to do that, the lessons I am learning throughout this journey are ones that will carry throughout all aspects of my life. I have changed how I look at training in all levels of classes, which is making me a better partner, more aware of the other person, and it takes a great level of trust in each other to have the most successful training sessions.

My TSMMA family was a huge part of my support system during my diagnosis but they continue to help me grow into a better, stronger person everyday. With a month left and each class putting me one step closer, I am getting more excited because I’m feeling more comfortable but also more nervous because I always feel the pressure of a deadline approaching.

Back in the Game

After a few weeks of sporadic training I finally got my momentum back this week. My reward for my dedication this week was lots of inchworms, bruises, and an intense running session to warm up this morning at Sunday training. I haven’t had many MS side effects on the mat lately other than some muscle spasms here and there after a few days back to back. However running typically triggers tingling and this morning was no exception, including loss of feeling in my feet.
In one ear I had my doctors who have told me not to worry about tingling unless I lose sensation but the other ear had my Sensei talking about being strong, and since he tends to be louder that voice won and I pushed through it. I am very glad I did because I felt great after about 10 minutes of recovery.
I was finally feeling more confident during sparring today as well. Still feel like I have so much to learn but I am relaxing more which is allowing me to perform stronger. I can now recognize when I have left myself open and think about what I need to do to block the next time. Doesn’t mean I am successful but I’m feeling more confident, just need more practice to perfect.
My goals to achieve over the next month to help make me more successful, as much practice in sparring and grappling as possible, incorporating at least 3 HIIT cardio sessions a week on top of my training as well as some additional strength training, and still try to average 8 hours of sleep a week. This will take a ton of discipline on my part on top of maintaining the rest of life’s responsibilities. However it will all be worth it on June 4th, otherwise the day will be full of stress and regrets!