Tag Archives: softball

Fighting Misogyny (updated)

December 15, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“Fighter” is a very connotative word. People hear it and think of large, brutish men knocking each other out for money. They think broken homes, difficult childhoods, and a last resort. Women are an afterthought, usually in the form of the devoted and completely dominated girlfriend or as the victims of domestic violence. The occasional person, when prompted, remembers Ronda Rousey’s infamous loss to Holly Holm—or how hot they both are. Typically, people respond so negatively to the idea of women in combat sports that I don’t even bring up the topic. Upon mentioning an upcoming fight or my training for the first time, the initial question people usually ask is not where do I train, or what’s my record; they ask what my boyfriend thinks of it. The readiness of this question, of the mindset that prioritizes the manner in which I relate to men as the most important part of my identity, is a big part of the reason I fight. The implication of that question answers the usual follow-up question of how I got into mixed martial arts.

I had my first cage fight in January of 2016, at 110 pounds. I invited only four people outside of my team to watch, three of them women. I defeated my opponent via unanimous decision, meaning the fight went the full three rounds but the judges agreed that I was dominant throughout. It felt like a victory for not only myself and my team, but for all the skinny little girls around the city who are constantly being told they are too small or cute to get into any sport rougher than tennis. Afterward, I felt a little better equipped to handle the frequent instances of random men deciding to follow me on a run or asking me to get into the car as they drove by. My only battle wounds were bruised knuckles and a small bump to the left of my eye that quickly faded into a minor, reddish bruise. I loved having the visible symbol of my victory on my face. In part, because combined with the right amount of “resting bitch face,” it seemed to deter creepy strangers from approaching me in coffee shops or while walking down the street.

To me, “fighter” means being relentless, indomitable, dedicated, nurturing, receptive, empathetic, soft spoken, and even-tempered.

But I wasn’t quite able to wear even my minor injuries, symbols of a well-earned victory and a major milestone in my life, with pride like the male fighters can. I remember my boyfriend coming out of his first fight, his only loss to date, with a badly broken nose and blood in his eye. Everyone’s first assumption was that he had been in a fight; I know because strangers approached him, excited to talk about how he had engaged in the most masculine of sports and emerged in reasonably good shape. Where he was met with excitement, I was handed cards with hotline phone numbers from sympathetic gas station employees who didn’t believe my story. For the week or so that my bruise was noticeable, any boy I happened to be walking around with that day was on the receiving end of accusatory glares, head-shaking, and lots of poorly muffled whispers. Outside of the martial arts community in the area, it was like my victory was something I should have hidden behind closed doors. Apparently, even after all those days of getting up at 5 a.m. to train and then spend hours at the gym, I still looked like an easy target. It wasn’t my first time being silenced about something I was proud of. Gradually, I realized that MMA will not change how most people see me, but it has changed how I see myself.

During the month leading up to my second fight—this one at 115 pounds—I still encountered the stereotypical ways that women are perceived in relationship to the word “fighter.” But impositions of societal norms were not my concern during that time. Four weeks out, being a fighter means nothing about gender roles; it means constantly eating. Specifically, it signifies the consumption of a constant stream of protein shakes, eggs that I am beginning to accept will never taste good no matter how many different ways I cook them, supplements, vegetables, and what feels like gallons of water. I have put on close to 10 pounds of muscle since my first fight, in order to be able to cut a few pounds of water to make 115 pounds before weighing in, and then rehydrating back to a heavier weight the night before the fight. Beyond my diet, being a fighter means balancing the commitments of a full-time student working toward a double major, an internship, and a job while doing everything I can to win in the cage.

As a junior in college, fighting means training at an offensively early hour so I can get all my studying done before morning classes, so I can get school and work knocked out before maybe having time to eat an actual dinner, all so I can focus on working out and night training. It means trying to get to bed around 10 p.m. so my body can recover and I can do it all again the next day with a little more weight added to every lift and a little more of a push to get my 3.57 GPA up to a 3.6. It means discipline, and making adjustments when I need to study. I love my routine right now. I love training and then letting whatever Jiu Jitsu or kickboxing techniques I learned simmer in the back of my mind while I study, then letting my brain process information about Renaissance Europe and sonnets while I lift. My interests in academia and in sports complement each other, and I have heard the same from other fighters—contrary to the myth that fighters tend to be uneducated.

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With all of these things considered, people wonder why I would choose to be a fighter. I grew up playing softball and soccer, and have no formal background in combat sports. I am attending college on full academic scholarships and do not fit the stereotype of a cage fighter. So why would I, at 19 years old, decide to add cage fighting to my resume alongside mission trips and semesters on the dean’s list? I guess I can see how on the surface the choice might seem a little incongruous, but to me mixed martial arts is the most natural thing in the world to pursue. The long answer as to why I fight is that I live in a world where I once didn’t get hired because I wasn’t “willing to consider leaving my boyfriend” (according to the man who was interviewing me). With such experiences in mind, I don’t get how becoming a fighter could be anything but a logical course of action. In a world where women are still considered annoying if they speak, people listen to me when they see MMA on my resume. The short answer is that I like it, just as I like soccer and softball. The sport fits my personality.

Random men still follow me and yell rude comments if I’m downtown at night. Realistically, I don’t think there’s much I will ever be able to do about that. Even as I’m writing this, there’s a boy I’ve never met at the table behind me yelling “hey” every time I stop typing, but no matter if they’re a heavyweight (205 pounds and up) or a third-degree black belt in taekwondo, almost everyone I have encountered in the MMA community has shown me nothing but respect. Yes, I train ground game and standup with men, but I have never had another fighter follow me to my place of work, stand outside the door, and yell for the girl in the dress. Even if I do look like an easy target, instances of disrespect I have experienced in this most “masculine” of sports are nothing compared to the disrespect I get from men on the street on a daily basis. I think there’s a lesson there, with regard to our society’s skewed perception of what it means to be masculine. The guys I fight with are not the same guys who are treating women like inferior beings on the street or in their relationships.

The fundamental message that fighters fight to convey is simple: “I will not be dominated.” To me “fighter” is not a word synonymous with troubled home life or hyper-masculinity or misogyny. To me it means being relentless, indomitable, dedicated, nurturing, receptive, empathetic, soft spoken, even-tempered—I think all of these words describe most fighters better than whatever people think of when trying to come up with reasons I shouldn’t be one. With all due respect to those trying to look out for me, I don’t see how it’s unsafe for me to be locked in a cage with another woman my size compared to how dangerous it is for me to walk down the street. Or to, in general, be a woman who physically exists and takes up space in the world. Silencing my interests won’t fix the real problem.

“Hey” boy just invited himself to have a seat at my table. He has started talking to me despite having been pointedly ignored for at least 10 minutes and the fact that I am obviously in the middle of something. I am not polite in response. I have no interest in being dominated by a culture that puts women in boxes and has taunts at the ready in case they try to fight back. I have no interest in being quiet about my sport in order to protect people from a discomfort that I’m guessing doesn’t compare to the discomfort of a 14 year old having her ass grabbed by a stranger. I don’t care if it’s “inappropriate” for me as a “young lady” to be excited to get into a cage and physically beat another girl. I’d rather autonomously lock myself in a cage than be folded neatly into a gender role. I don’t care what your perceptions are of what it means to be a fighter, or what you think it means to be a size 0 and 20 years old with blue eyes. As my coaches and training partners are constantly reminding me, I’m not here to apologize. I’m here to dominate.

“Fighting Misogyny” was originally published Friday, Oct. 14 online at omahamagazine.com.     

Postscript

At Ralston Arena (on Friday, Oct. 14), I lost my second career fight via TKO in the final 10 seconds of the final round. The following Saturday morning by 8:30 a.m., I was back in the gym and on my way to becoming a stronger fighter.

I am not happy about losing, but I am also not devastated by getting punched in the face. I’m not fighting for perfection. I’m not perfect, and an imperfect record does not end my ambition in the cage. Rather, I’m fighting for all the girls who have contacted me to give support or share their story of fighting misogyny in their lives. I’m fighting for everyone who has told me it empowers them to see me get in the cage at all.

I want to take this opportunity to thank my incredible coaches, Mauro Siso and Sergio Rangel, and everyone at Legacy Martial Arts for supporting me on this journey. With lessons learned from defeat, we are making changes in my training regimen for the next fight.

Visit facebook.com/pg/lmaomaha for more information.

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The Reinvention of Retirement

February 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In the past, many people began to contemplate retirement as they approached age 60. However, today’s Boomer generation is taking much the same approach to retirement as they did toward life and career choices in their 20s: They sought out jobs that would make them happy, fruitful, and independent.

And since today’s Baby Boomers are now in their 60s, as well as being 78 million strong, they have over a quarter of their lives yet to live. They are living life with the very same passion that they had in their 20s. Carbon copies of former retiring generations they are not. Instead, they are reinventing their lives and changing what we used to call retirement. Many are branching out into second careers with zest and highly anticipated enthusiasm. Personal choice, freedom, and individuality mark the Boomer generation in 2013.

One such person is Pastor Larry Peterson, 65, who was the executive pastor at Bellevue Christian Center from 2004 to 2011. He then stepped down to pastor the 250-300 seniors in his church community. He also presides over the faculty and business aspects of the church and center. Formerly, he had successful military and business careers that allowed him to travel to many places.

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Larry Peterson, former pastor

“Despite my life experiences, I felt that there was a void that I just couldn’t explain nor fulfill,” says Peterson. After settling in Bellevue, his soul and faith in humankind deepened as a result of everything that he had previously learned in his earlier careers. It was that enlightenment that became the vessel that would lead him onto his next journey.

Now in his third career path, he has truly found his calling in life.

Photography is also a passion of Peterson’s. That’s just one more path that he travels. Peterson keeps active by playing softball on a team for seniors called “Midwest Express.” His team recently placed fifth in the nation.

Another boomer who decided to follow her dreams and to transform her life is Dr. Kathy DeFord, 60, who now has her own dental practice in Papillion, DeFord Family Dental.

Her first career started out as a stay-at-home mom to four children. “When our children were all in school, I got a part-time job working in a dental office doing light office work. Occasionally, the dentist would have me help him with a patient when his dental assistant was busy. I loved those times. I asked him if he would train me in dental assisting and he agreed.

Kathy DeFord, D.D.S.

Kathy DeFord, D.D.S.

“One evening when my husband, David, and I were sitting at the dinner table chatting about the days’ events, I mentioned casually that if I could have any job, I would work as a dentist.

“At that moment, I had a silent but strong impression that this was something that I should pursue. I had not been in school for over 20 years. I enrolled in Houston Community College to brush up and eventually was accepted into the Honors’ College at the University of Houston in Houston, Texas. I graduated from Creighton School of Dentistry in 2001; the same year two of our sons graduated from college and our youngest son graduated from high school. I spent several years with a group dental practice, Dundee Family Dental, before opening DeFord Family Dental in Papillion. I really enjoy my work,” DeFord says with a smile. “This is my heartfelt destiny.”

Having her own dental practice has been extremely rewarding, DeFord shares, “I have always loved working with my hands and helping people.”

DeFord spends her spare time keeping active visiting her four children that are spread out all over the country. Every three years she plans a family reunion at a different destination. A quiet retirement at home for her…no way!

Many potential retirees are pursuing new businesses ventures late in life as well. Mark Leichtle, 61, has gone from firm administrator in a large Omaha law firm to becoming the proprietor of the Old World Oil and Vinegar store in Rockbrock Village shopping center.

Leichtle has dozens upon dozens of mouth-watering flavored vinegars and oils to delight your palette and expand your cooking and eating pleasure. He also has many varieties of dried exotic mushrooms and special sea salts from all over the world.

“In my younger years, I was a maitre d’ and chef at a restaurant that did much of its cooking tableside. It was there that I learned about various cooking oils and special vinegars that would enhance and enliven foods to the delight of the customers.” – Mark Leichtle, owner of Old World Oil & Vinegar

When asked how he decided to go into this type of business after a long and fruitful career, Leichtle says that several things in his life had led him to what he’s now doing (and loving it!).

“In my younger years, I was a maitre d’ and chef at a restaurant that did much of its cooking tableside. It was there that I learned about various cooking oils and special vinegars that would enhance and enliven foods to the delight of the customers,” says Leichtle. “I enjoyed it so much and never forgot the wonderful experience of making food so delicious.”

Leichtle and his wife have a daughter in Minneapolis who showed them many stores that carried fine olive oils and aromatic vinegars. This awakened his love for cooking and using those special vinegars and fine oils that he once used in his earlier years. It was then that he began a quest for finding more specialty food stores all over the country and learning more about the newest and most delectable oils, vinegars, mushrooms, and sea salts available. Thus, came the inspiration for his store.

As you have read above, Omaha’s boomers are truly forever young and fervent about recreating and reinventing their retirement years. They have new career paths, vitality, enjoyment, and most of all, time to seek out passions and fall in love again with life.