I shall be telling this with a sigh, Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by,
And That has made all the difference – Robert Frost
In 2009, at the age of 25, Samantha Evans boarded a one-way flight to Tanzania. She travelled alone. Forsaking the traditional paths of work and family, and instead setting out on the Road Less Traveled.
During her time on the Continent, Samantha had some amazing experiences and witnessed some harrowing things, all of which has shaped her outlook on life.
“I had never been somewhere with that level of poverty and difficulty, when you can just see the struggle to survive on a daily basis.”
Last week I got chance to catch up with Samantha and hear her fascinating story.
Relatively new to the world of MMA, Samantha is no stranger to contact sports. Before taking up mixed martial arts, she had a very successful career in Kickboxing. Racking up an impressive 18 fights, ultimately culminating in her winning the World Title in 2014. She is a seasoned and accomplished athlete, but there is so much more to this woman than that.
Samantha works full time for the NSPCC helpline. Taking calls from young people and their guardians and helping them through a wide range of issues. She is also studying for her Masters in Gender Politics and Human Rights. Having always been a “fixer” this draw towards humanitarianism is largely what inspired Samantha to spend time in Africa.
On the surface it might seem that what Samantha does in her professional life is a little at odds with her chosen sports. I couldn’t imagine any other social justice campaigner in the Octagon. However, having spent some time chatting to her, it became clear that these two sides of her are more similar than it first appeared. Both her work and her sport offer her the one thing she seems unable to resist, a challenge. The path of least resistance has no hold over her.
As a woman, I was interested in hearing about how Samantha has been received in the predominantly male environment of her gym. It was so refreshing to hear her talk about how her male counterparts respect her work ethic and passion and are seemingly unconcerned about her gender. The fighters recognise the will to work in each other and respond to that.
As we know, MMA is a weight class sport. I was interested to get Samantha’s thoughts on how this can potentially affect body image and confidence. Although the media and the public can be quick to comment on fighters’ physiques, both male and female, Samantha was eager to underline that MMA is a performance sport and not an aesthetic one.
“Ultimately, for me, it has to be about skill and ability.” Strength, endurance and explosive dynamism are what is required to be successful, not a six pack! “
The reality of it is that “It’s not MMA’s job to promote a healthy body image, it’s MMA’s job to promote fights.”
Samantha went on to say that the work of promoting healthy body image should be done in schools, homes and in our peer groups.
Samantha says that in recent months she has seen an increase of girls training in MMA, which is fantastic. However much like her experience in Kickboxing, the number of women training does not seem to match the number actually fighting. In fact, when I asked Samantha what the hardest part of the sport was for her, she said she thinks it will be getting fights.
Being new to the world of MMA, she is unsure of the mechanics of getting herself to the cage, but she trusts her coaches to seek out every opportunity for her. In the mean time she will “get ready and stay ready.”
After Samantha finished kickboxing, she had a two-year hiatus from serious training. So, getting back into the discipline has been hard. As well as this, time management is a serious concern. She struggles to balance her time so that she can give enough focus to each of her particular goals. Samantha gave me a run down of a typical day for her, and I nearly needed a lie down after it!
I asked Samantha if she had any advice to offer young women who might be thinking about trying combat sports. Her advice was simple and eloquent “just do it!” There will never be a “right time, so just go for it.”
I was getting an opportunity to meet one of my own idols this week, so it was on my mind to ask Samantha is there was anyone in the MMA world who she particularly looked up to for inspiration. I was expecting to hear the usual roll call of big names. However, Samantha surprised me, and not for the first time during the interview, when she said she gets the most inspiration from her own team.
“You look at the people around you, they have all got their own lives going on, but they are in, week in, week out and just grinding it out.”
While Samantha clearly has aspirations, she is very realistic. “Cyborg is a million miles away from where I am right now.” She maintains that the guys and girls around her, and the sense of shared experience, albeit in an individual sport, makes everything a lot easier.
Clan Wars 33 is happening on November 17th, so I was curious to hear about the buzz in the gym with so many of their fighters competing. Samantha admitted, laughingly, to being jealous as she won’t be taking part this time, but she said the atmosphere in the gym is electric. “The guys are looking ridiculous.”
To hear Samantha speak about the hard work and dedication that has gone in to getting the fighters ready, it was clear just how much respect she has for each one of them.
“I know what they can do…they beat the hell out of me every week.” Samantha can’t wait to see her team mates giving their opposition hell this coming weekend.
To see the photos of Samantha fighting, in either discipline, she loves what she does
“All of the other things in life, the complications, your career, what you’re going to do, family, relationships…when I am fighting and when I am training, it all just vanishes and I feel at one, I feel at peace.”
The hardest part of the interview for me was wrapping it up. I enjoyed our conversation so much, I didn’t want to let her off the phone. Conscious of not monopolising her entire evening, I asked Samantha if she had anything else she wanted people to know about her, or thoughts she wished to share. To this question she answered simply that she was hungry to get in there and compete. This woman has a focus and determination the like of which I rarely find. I cannot wait to see her in action in the cage and look forward to following her adventures.