Pull back the curtain and see how a suspense writer puts the thrills and chills together.


Dream Realized

When you step in the ring, you really are on your own.

As I prepared to enter the ring for my very first muay thai fight on Saturday, November 5th, I was not afraid. I was not worried. I wasn’t the slightest bit jumpy, or even anxious.

I should have known something was wrong.

I did have a moment of–call it trepidation, call it detached panic–when they taped on my boxing gloves.

“I guess I can’t get out of this now, can I?” I joked. Yes, I was still joking. The entire day (we showed up at 3:30 in the afternoon for our medicals, and didn’t fight until after 7 p.m.) was a surreal blur of waiting, laughing, and chatting. It felt more like a social event than impending doom. The weigh-ins had felt more nerve-wracking than this.

I’d come prepared with pages of inspirational writing and advice from fighter friends and angry music on my iPod, but I didn’t have the chance to use either. Everyone was hanging out in the multipurpose room, talking. It was just like any other day.

This feeling of unreality persisted after my name was called and I walked into the darkened gym to the beat of Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger (when in doubt, go with a classic). I thought I’d look angry and be completely focused on beating the crap out of my opponent at this point. Instead, one of the first things I saw was two hand-drawn posters with my name on them, held aloft by dear friends. The entire gymnasium was crowded with friendly faces, and the cheering was deafening. How can anyone be angry in such a show of love and support? I’m sure I walked to the ring with a big goofy grin on my face. I believe I even fist-bumped my boyfriend on the way in.

Once in the ring, things got a little more confusing. I thought there would be clear direction over what to do, but I had to ask permission to seal the ring (a traditional act of respect in muay thai), because there was no other indicator or instruction. When the ref explained the rules, that was my first opportunity to finally get clarity on what was or was not allowed in a K-1 match. Thankfully, he was patient with my questions. And then suddenly, it was time to fight. There was no touching of gloves, no nod to the opponent–just this woman rushing at me looking ready to kill.

“Oh, I guess we’re fighting,” I thought.

I was in a daze. My body would not obey my mind, and even my mind didn’t seem to be working properly. I could hear my coaches screaming at me to kick, but I couldn’t process what they were saying. More than anything, I could hear her coach, who until recently had been one of my coaches, another complicating factor. I couldn’t seem to shut out his voice, and he never stopped yelling instructions.

Now, throughout this fight camp and beyond, I’ve had very tough sparring partners. And I’ve proven, without a doubt, that I can take a lot of punishment. So, when she lunged in and started hitting and kicking, I prepared to experience some pain. But to my surprise, I didn’t feel a thing. The first two rounds sped by while I tried to punch and kick through the fog that encompassed my brain. I’m nervous to watch my fight, because I can’t imagine that I did anything right in the initial four minutes. It was like being intoxicated, but worse. Where was I? What the heck was going on? Who was this person coming at me? I never heard a single end-of-round bell–now I know why there’s a referee to stop the fighting.

During the break, Olivia put a stool under me, gave me water, and hammered me with instructions. I could see her lips moving, and I struggled to listen to what she was saying, but I couldn’t make sense of it. My mind was whirling.

I looked up at Kru Kelly, who stayed mostly silent during the breaks. (Olivia was talking for both of them.)

“Am I doing okay, Kelly?”

“Yes, you are. You’re doing great.”

“There’s something wrong. It doesn’t hurt. Nothing she throws at me hurts.”

I think they could have dropped a piano on my head at that point, and I would have thought a mosquito bit me. It was crazy.

I finally started coming out of the haze in the third round, but by then, I was too far behind on points. (I found out later that I was in shock for the first two rounds.) Still, I didn’t back down, I didn’t turtle, and I didn’t run from her. Even in my stupor, I had that elusive quality I had always hoped for–heart. You can teach a fighter skill and aggression, but you can’t teach him heart. You either have it or you don’t.

When the last bell rang, I knew my opponent had won the match. And the truth was, I didn’t care.

I used to think that losing this fight was the worst thing that could possibly happen, but I was wrong. When my opponent’s name was announced as the winner, I smiled. As I climbed out of the ring to overwhelming cheers and applause, I was just…happy. So many people told me they were proud of me. So many people took the time to come out and show their support. There was no way I could feel like a loser.

And I have plenty of time to win a fight. This time around, getting in the ring and going the distance was enough.

Winning isn’t about hitting hard. It’s about how many hits you can take and still get up and keep going. – Rocky

My coach sent out an email to all the fighters afterwards, and this is an excerpt from what he said to me:

Under the most extreme pressure you still worried about other people’s feelings, that says a lot about who you are.

I’m not sure what he’s referring to, but I’m thinking that fighting teaches you a lot about yourself. In the heat of the moment, under that kind of pressure, you get to find out exactly who you are.

And if I’ve found out I’m a happy-go-lucky person who cracks jokes in a tense situation, cares about others, and doesn’t back down, that’s more than good enough for me.

Thanks to Kelly Westerlund and Olivia Gerula for training me, to all the members of fight camp for the support and advice and the shared experience, and to every single one of my wonderful friends who wrote, called, came to the fight, or cheered me on in any number of ways. I love you for being there. Thank you for joining me on this journey. And last but definitely not least, to Chris for going through this with me, every step of the way. I couldn’t have done it without you.

Thanks for reading!
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  1. Kim

    Congratulations! No one ever meets their potential in their first event. I’m sure that getting in the ring will be culture shock. And you think back on it later, and you dream about it and you can see where you could have got more aggressive and the next time you’re there, you remember not to back down or hesitate. That is what experience is about.

    In a race I did really well in last year, I could have sworn we only did 4 laps. I have distinct memories from 4 laps. I wrote my blog about it and talked about each of those 4 laps. When I saw the results a few days later, I found out there were actually 7 laps, I had to have done. What the hell happened to the other 3 in my memory? I do remember during one of the laps that I looked back and saw someone behind me who was usually ahead of me and remember thinking, I had no idea when I passed her. When your body goes into fight or flight, it pushes the blood where it is needed for survival. But it is so baffling to look back and feel in a fog.

    Well done. Do it again. You need to do it again. I know you want to.

  2. Story Teller

    Thanks, Kim. I appreciate your perspective. I’m not sure I could have been more aggressive when I was that out of it. The feeling of being “off” persisted for the rest of the evening–Chris described me as “spacey”. Hopefully that won’t happen the next time.

    And yes, I’m sure there will be a next time. 🙂

  3. V Y-C

    I’ve been waiting for this post to come up. I am so glad that you achieved your goal after so many years.

    You asked me “Did I disappoint you?” I think the fact that you trained so hard and actually put your foot in the ring was a huge accomplishement. The only person you need to please is yourself.

    It was very interesting how you were so calm before the fight. I guess it is true, the toughest part is the training.

    I want to know, what is the first indulgence you had now that you are off the fight diet? I’d love to hear about that.

    See you at the gym.

  4. Michelle Davidson Argyle

    Wow, wow, wow, this post is deliciously beautiful. Thank you so much for writing about this! It made me think of a lot of things while I was reading it and how it applies to so many things in our lives. I am so proud of you! I wish I could have been there to see you. It sounds like it was a phenomenal experience, and one you will carry with you forever.

    And I have plenty of time to win a fight. This time around, getting in the ring and going the distance was enough.

    That rings so true for me. No pun intended. 🙂

  5. Story Teller

    Thanks for your comments, ladies! Much appreciated.

    @ Vanessa – I do remember asking you that. I was okay with losing, but I wasn’t sure my Kwest friends were okay with it. Overall, though, they’ve been over-the-top with the compliments and praise. It’s been mindblowing. What a loving, supportive place Kwest is!

    I will always be more concerned for others’ feelings than my own. It’s just how I am. I’ve grown comfortable with the fact that this aspect of my personality just isn’t going to change at this point.

    Well, after the weigh-in, we went to the Olive Garden with Wayne and Char, and I had chicken & shrimp carbonara, which I’d been dreaming of for awhile. But I couldn’t eat that much of it–it made me feel sick. The real indulgence the next day, and something I’d been dreaming of, was a fruit explosion muffin from Tim Horton’s. I’m taking this week easy, and getting “back on the horse” next week.

    @ Michelle – thanks so much for the kind words. I wish you’d been there, too. I’m glad you can find some relevance to things that are happening in your own life. It’s always my hope that people will see there’s more to fighting than fighting.

    I watched a ton of Rocky movies while training for this fight, and I found it interesting that Rocky rarely wins the big fight. That is never his goal–his goal is to go the distance. That made sense to me, because when it comes down to points, a lot of the judging is subjective. You can’t always control the outcome. But if you can always go the distance, that is something to be proud of.

    What I’m hoping is that no challenge in life is ever going to throw me now. What could be scarier than stepping into that ring?

  6. Lisa

    Congratulations Holli!

    I can only imagine what you’ve learned, and continue to learn, from this experience.

    The end of one journey only means the beginning of another. Best of luck as this chapter closes and a new one starts.

  7. Story Teller

    Thanks, Lisa. I’m already planning a bunch of new challenges to keep myself occupied. Stay tuned! 🙂

  8. Chris

    Congratulations again, Holli. I’m glad you find success in the journey, not the destination. There’s so many ways to get to any one place! Whether you fight again, or focus on your novel, or come up with some new challenge, I know you’ll give it your all and hit it out of the park.

  9. Story Teller

    Thanks, Chris. Both the journey AND the destination were a success to me. I won in so many ways that have nothing to do with winning the actual fight by judge’s decision.

    As for fighting again, focusing on my novel, or coming up with a new challenge, let’s try for all three! Why bother settling for less? 😉


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