"Go, Mom! C'mon, Ma! Get up, old lady, get up!"
The shouts are compulsive. They calm my trembling and clenched fists. They keep the tears in my eyes from rolling down my cheeks — fat, shiny testaments to my emotional investment in this fight.
I am watching my mom's second amateur MMA fight. She has always lived life her own unapologetic way, so it is not entirely surprising that she's landed here, in a cage in Chatham, throwing punches and with all of her supporters from the gym screaming her name. I am almost certainly the only one screaming "MOM!" at this fight, though.
It's a real ride to try to process the emotions of pride and joy and fear and confusion that are associated with watching your mother step into the cage. It has gotten easier each time, and most recently, I've just lost my voice from screaming instead of clasping the hand of a friend from the gym while I cry.
I don't know where to start when I'm talking about my mom. She's been unable to help me move before, because she was at Burning Man or climbing Machu Picchu. When I had friends over in high school, she'd be playing her drums or at the theater hanging lights for an upcoming show she was directing. She raised me as a single mom, and I never knew how poor we were until I was a teenager, because she never let on that we were.
She can drive a tractor and bale hay, pilots her kayak through the lakes of Northern Ontario, maintains her home in small town Ontario all by her lonesome (she's the one who taught me to use a butter knife as a screwdriver in a pinch), has a fantastic assortment of tattoos, and most recently, earned her blue belt in tae kwon do and is hitting the amateur MMA circuit as a 44-year-old novice.
It all started with an obsession with Everest — the extreme physical toll of climbing the mountain, the mental game, how many people have died on the slopes. Between financial constraints and a sense of realism, she opted instead to train to climb Island Peak, a few kilometers from Everest. She found Dave Reeves at Phoenix Performance Center in Mount Forest, Ontario, and started training. One day, after a particularly rough session, he suggested she throw some punches — and like that, she was hooked.
I've neglected to mention that, when she started, she was fat (a term she herself has used). She has lost well over 50 pounds on her journey.
The nom de guerre of Little Killer came about during a seminar with MMA pro Chad Laprise. It stuck. She traveled to Ireland not long after to take a cutman course and amplify her involvement in the sport by being able to work fights wrapping hands and treating nosebleeds; she's currently working on a project that will bring fighters to the forefront of their sport, involving them in working at other fights and learning how to work wrapping hands and treating wounds.
Greta has never had a fear of being a woman in male-dominated spaces, and consequently, neither do I. My own job of cooking is an industry rife with male egotism, sexism (either blatant or accidental), and complaints of sexual harassment, inequality between sexes, pay gaps, and failure to recognize talent in women. Dealing with the egos of male fighters, coaches, and MMA fans is a challenge — although compared to the egos of chefs, it's relatively easy. I've learned a certain fearlessness from my mother. I watch her walking through the crowd with her arms raised, face scowling, Social Distortion blasting in the background, and I think I can do anything, because she is doing this.
In the cage, her poorly fitted head gear flies off. The ref stops the fight while she recovers. She's taking punches and throwing punches and throwing kicks and taking kicks and it's all sort of a blur to me. Two men sitting beside me, cheering for their hometown girl, ask me if Little Killer is my mom. I am barely able to answer, because I am screaming in despair for her to "GET OFF THE FUCKING FLOOR, MOM!" but they are great sports and are soon cheering for Greta alongside me.
After the fight, she's adrenaline-high and cries profusely when I hand her a single, slightly squished sour cream glazed donut. People are walking by, fist bumping her and congratulating her, even though she lost by arm bar at the end of the third round. It was a good fight — much better than the last one, and the next one will be even better. She's 20 years older than the women she's fighting and has a little over a year and a half of martial arts experience to her name, compared to, in some cases, many years. Regardless, she's done well and she knows it. A woman she spars with on the weekend in Hamilton is on the card, too, and their joy and pride for each other is evident.
I have to wait after fights and after belt testings while people approach her to congratulate her, to thank her, to tell her she is inspiring. To me, that's just who she is. While the setting is different, she's always been capable of anything, and nothing really surprises me anymore.
Of course she is inspiring to me, and of course I look up to her. She has shown me not only to approach life without restraint, but to give it your all and keep on swinging. She's shown me that every time you're knocked down or you lose, you learn from it and do better the next time around. That you should always try to learn new things, regardless of your age, and follow your heart and see where it takes you.