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.