by Christine Allen
You often hear the term ‘role model’ being thrown around on a daily basis, yet up until very recently; I can’t say I ever truly had one.
Sure I’d idolised pop stars while growing up, but it wasn’t before the age of 28 that I began to admire someone of real substance in my life (apart from family members that is.)
At the end of last year I became familiar with two female athletes who from afar, and unbeknownst to them, had a dramatically positive impact on my life.
Let’s start with the former UFC bantamweight champion, the ‘Rowdy one’, Ronda Rousey.
Despite hearing her name being mentioned in conjunction with our very own UFC superstar Conor Mc Gregor, it wasn’t until I read her bestselling autobiography, ‘My Fight, Your Fight’, that both Ronda Rousey and in turn mixed martial arts came on my radar.
Battling with a speech disorder throughout childhood and the grief that accompanied the tragic loss of her father due to suicide, Ronda Rousey went on to become an Olympic medallist in Judo for team U.S, dominate the women’s bantamweight division of the UFC and take Hollywood by storm.
The drive and passion that lit up the pages of her autobiography and her straight shooting personality immediately had me hooked.
Yet it wasn’t just her success that resonated so powerfully with me.
The ‘Rowdy’ one’s undefeated streak had been halted in devastating fashion at the end of 2015 by multiple time world championship boxer, ‘the preachers daughter’, Holly Holm.
As part of the narrative of her return to the Octagon in December 2016, a motivational video which you can see at the top of this piece, depicting Rousey training with the aim of winning her belt back, struck a major chord when I stumbled across it online.
Having been struggling with low mood and anxiety at the time, it felt like I was watching my own comeback, my own fight to get back on top of my own struggles.
To the disappointment of Rousey fans worldwide, UFC 207 ended in defeat, the fight being stopped after 48 seconds when Brazilian knockout artist Amanda Nunes stunned Ronda with a flurry of thunderous strikes.
Yet rather than focusing on her defeat, I saw the courage it must have taken to step back into that Octagon after such a shocking loss (a loss to which she confessed left her feeling suicidal), not to mention the media circus and social media abuse that followed and continues to do so.
I looked to instances where she had and continues to champion equality and liberty, along with her decision to place herself in the spotlight shortly afterwards by jumping into another high profile acting role with little experience.
With her retirement yet to be announced, the Rowdy one may still return to the UFC and prove the naysayers wrong, yet whether she does or does not doesn’t change her status as a role model who has empowered both young men and women to set goals and achieve them, no matter the obstacles that they face.
It is thanks to her tenacity and fearlessness that the UFC even recognises female fighters, and as of yet nobody has been able to retain the bantamweight championship belt – a feat she can most certainly boast.
Looking closer to home, Milford camogie player and Cork captain Ashling Thompson is another young woman that I look up to – and not just due to the silverware that she has led teams to achieving.
Undoubtedly stunning and recognised by global companies such as Red Bull due to her success in her sport, Aisling is pretty much the embodiment of cool, while her resolve, skill and doggedness on the field is undeniable.
The now 27 year old has also recently spoken publicly about her struggle with depression and how sport played a pivotal role in her recovery.
By coming out and taking the courageous step of sharing her experience with depression, which was triggered by a car crash in 2009 and the suicide of her partner and friend a few years later, Thompson and well known sporting figures like her not only help to decrease the stigma of mental health, but shine a light on that dark figure that people may often envisage when they think of mental health ‘sufferers.’
And so I’ve taken many lessons from both Thompson and Rousey. For one, how powerful sport and fitness in general can be in terms of personal fulfilment.
This realisation has led me to become involved in different sporting activities, including martial arts, and it is this involvement which has changed my life for the better.
But most importantly what I’ve learned from these two talented female athletes is that setbacks are merely a moment in time, that while loss may be inevitable, it’s how we respond to adversity that shapes us.
Christine works as an IT Support Engineer in Dublin, and has written for thejournal.ie and Gay Community News in the past. She is a strong believer in the benefits that partaking in sport and fitness brings in relation to mental health and general wellbeing. She is a big fan of the UFC, her favourite fighters being Dominick Cruz and Ronda Rousey (no surprises there.)