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They are the most common, most oft-used words in sports, to the point they barely register in meaning, when we hear an athlete say: I love what I do. Couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I’d do anything to keep playing.

Really? The next time I hear that I’ll ask the following questions.

Would you lose 17 pounds in eight days to compete?

Would you sleep in your car for six months to continue to play your sport?

Would you work as a bouncer, a cleaning lady, a barista at a coffee shop, a front desk office worker ALL AT THE SAME TIME, all part-time jobs so you could fit in daily multiple training sessions?

Would you keep all this from your mother, who you wouldn’t want to worry and who wouldn’t approve anyway?

Would you still want to play your sport after you suffered so many concussions, you can’t remember how many?

Would you still compete after a titanium plate was inserted under and around your right eye?

Sure, you would, if you’re Kelly Faszholz, the first woman from Sonoma County to make it to UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship). Pick a word — dedication, obsession, love — and Faszholz, 32, will cop to all of them. That single-minded focus to succeed is never more obvious than her reaction to what happened at her most recent fight in Portland.

Faszholz lost a split decision to Brazil’s Ketlen Vieira at UFC Fight Night 96. Afterward, in a fight she thought she’d win, she apologized for her performance. Faszholz came out lethargic, less than aggressive. Mystified she was. Never saw it coming. Had nine months to prepare. “I came out flat,” she said. “I was worried about making a mistake. That’s never going to happen again.”

One look at her backstory and this sentence — “Life has hit me harder than this” — is all the explanation necessary to know Faszholz will never fight tentative again. She didn’t reach UFC by being tentative. Some of her skill, of course, is pure physical. She’s 5-foot-8, 145 pounds, lean, well-chiseled, blonde, agile, owning a punch, which feels like a thrown brick — “They say I have a heavy hand.”

That sentence in itself is remarkable for the contrast in comparing it to the next two sentences.

“I didn’t like to sweat,” said Faszholz, a Cotati resident who grew up in Dallas. “I played with dolls, stuff like that.”

The movies made her first aware of her future. She saw “Karate Kid” and Arnold Schwarzenegger cracking heads. She was intrigued. But she was a girl and there were expectations. As she grew into a teenager Faszholz saw her brothers compete in karate but that was 20 years ago, when women delivering sidekicks were not the rage. She knew her mother, Lorre, would disapprove.

“What would people say?” mom said. It was a question, in multiple variations, Faszholz would hear that more than once. Not wanting to irritate as well as trouble her mother, contact sports became her secret, especially in 2009 when Faszholz went to jiu-jitsu class in Dallas for the first time. She became enraptured. She had earned her degree in kinesiology from the University of North Texas five years earlier but a 9-to-5 office job held little appeal.

For the next three years Faszholz trained in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, experienced success but found the discipline, while immensely satisfying, provided little financial stability. “I would get a medal and the status of saying I won,” she said. However, such acclaim couldn’t buy a bagel. Needing to train multiple times daily spliced between jobs she became physically and mentally exhausted. Her apartment lease expired. Her red Ford Escape became her home.

In the back seat Faszholz had set up shelving units to store clothing. She scouted parking lots as thoroughly as a NFL scout examines college talent. Had to be secluded from the cops but not too secluded that it could make her vulnerable to creeps. She always slept on the driver’s side. Just in case she needed to make a quick getaway. One morning she did.

“You know how you can feel someone is watching you?” Faszholz said. “I woke up and there’s this guy staring through the window. But he’s not looking at me. Like he’s looking above me. I start the car and go. I look back in the rear view mirror and he’s running after me.”

Faszholz would get off her job as a bouncer at 1:30, sleep for three hours and go a coffee shop. She’d work there, break for a luncheon workout, clean a house, work out at the gym, answer the phones at the gym, work out again before going back to the coffee shop to start her routine all over again. Rarely did she sleep more than three hours at a time.

Enough of this nonsense, she finally thought to herself. Jiu-jitsu is not worth this crazy schedule. I need to make money in a martial arts sport. That’s when she heard about David Terrell and his NorCal Fighting Alliance operation in Santa Rosa. As what has happened with so many interested in the martial arts, Faszholz found Terrell and his teachings the home she needed.

Faszholz moved to Santa Rosa in February 2012 and began training at NCFA. She turned pro in June 2013. In March of the next year in training for her second MMA fight, she sustained multiple concussions. She would throw a punch in training, hit a mitt and “it felt like I hit myself.” She had issues with vertigo and flash headaches. She was advised by a doctor never to fight again. Don’t even run. Faszholz didn’t quit. She took some time off. For her that’s a workable compromise.

On Feb. 13 of this year Faszholz was offered her first UFC fight. Only problem: The fight against Lauren Murphy was in eight days. Faszholz weighed 152. Could she cut to 135? Sure she could, especially if she ate a bag of arugula for her entire meal intake on the third day. Yes, a bag of lettuce, one bag of lettuce, to sustain her. While she ran 5 miles a day.

Which sounds like torture. It was. Until she stepped into the octagon with Murphy, a UFC veteran. Started pleasant enough.

“Felt like I got hit by a truck,” was how Murphy referred to Faszholz’s right hand in the first round.

Then the reality of being a rookie took over. Find “UFC Fight Night 83” and notice Faszholz’s face by the third round. Looked like she got hit with two gallons of tomato sauce.

“I don’t remember the third round,” Faszholz admitted.

With just five seconds left, the fight was stopped and Murphy declared the winner. In one respect Faszholz was declared the winner as well — she received the $50,000 prize for “Fight of the Night.” She paid off her student loan. She got a car. So impressed UFC signed her to a three-fight contract.

“It showed me what I had in me,” Faszholz said proudly.

It also showed the surgeons what they needed to do. Murphy hit the left side of Faszholz’ face so hard and so often that not only was her nose broken but the orbital floor bone surrounding her right eye was fractured. A titanium structure replaced the fracture.

“The doctor advised I shouldn’t fight again,” Faszholz said. Ah, as we know by now, this young woman is not so easily discouraged. For six months she did nothing, not even running.

“My face looked like a chipmunk’s face,” said Faszholz, who works as a service assistant at the Marin County jail.

Her mother?

“She didn’t speak to me for a month,” Faszholz said.

Lorre was in Portland to see her daughter fight. While not exactly throwing dollar bills in the air because she’s so overjoyed, mom is coming around. Lorre is being convinced her daughter is not experiencing some whimsical impulse, a pre-mid-life crisis or an insane desire to get attention.

Kelly Faszholz is the true competitor, no more, no less than a pro football player. She wants to be tested, pushed to her limit and beyond. She wants the mixed martial arts to reveal her core. She is convinced there is more in her than she knows. And while some may take yoga to find that Faszholz knows nothing will gain her attention and insight more than the threat of a sidekick to her face.

“You face your fears,” she said. “There’s no one out there to help you.”

No finger pointing. No excuses. No time-out to catch your breath. It’s survival. It’s basic, elementary and the way Kelly Faszholz sees it, it sure as heck a lot more fun than sleeping in a car. She’ll never be more alive and, for her, that makes all the difference.

To contact Bob Padecky email him at bobpadecky@gmail.com.

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