When I went home for Christmas last year, I’m not going to lie, I was tempted to stay. The lull of the beautiful beaches and sunsets had lost its fade and I was missing having some consistency in my life. I get homesick – A LOT. I watch my fight family at home kicking goals and I want to be there kicking goals with them. My niece is growing up quicker than I can fathom, and life on the island has more challenges than I thought possible.
After much debate and conversation, I decided that I would be foolish to quit now. I had already given 2 years of my life to this, and I thought I had found myself in the care of one of the greatest coaches in the world. He was going to make me a world champion. He was going to turn me into one of the greatest female fighters to date. I believed it, and so I returned.
I used the month I had at home to treat existing injuries, to spend time with my loved ones, and to eat drink and not train. That’s right. A whole months of no training. I thought I would go mad, but I didn’t realise how badly I needed it. 24 fights over an 18 month period, my body and my mind was exhausted! I slept. I drank. I ate. I let my body heal itself a little getting ready to come back for the year of my life.
I was so motivated when I returned; I was ready for anything. 2016 was going to be my b*tch! My friends knew it, I knew it, I felt like the whole world knew it.
Now of course, when you take a significant break from training, your first week back SUCKS. You wonder if you’ll ever be fit and strong again, even though you know that EVENTUALLY it will happen. And it did. Sooner than I had expected. It literally took me about a week of solid, hard training which really surprised me. The rest had done my body wonders.
We were all set for me to head to Sydney to make my MMA debut. March 12. We were ready. Surely enough, not 2 weeks into camp, I broke my finger. Not, in the way where you have kind of broken you finger. I was kicked in the hand, had my finger dislocated at a 90 degree angle, snapped off the top part of the bottom bone and fractured the middle bone. For realisies.
While I attempted to train around my hand, my motivation dwindled. I kept pushing forward and the next thing I knew, my gym was shutting it’s doors. Everyday I woke up thinking ‘what the hell is going on???’
As my team mates moved on, and in my heart I knew I should too, I waited for our coach to return to no avail. Eventually I had to make a decision. Where to from here?
A friend encouraged me to head over to Dragon Muay Thai as he had some great time there with two brothers who he knew would look after me. I didn’t hesitate. I needed to get back in shape and get ready to fight again. My hand was about a week away from being able to put in a glove again so there was no reason to not start pushing hard.
When I went for my first session at Dragon, the trainers recognised me immediately. I had fought and beat one of their fighters last year. A well know girl, Nung Ning. They immediately asked me if I wanted to fight and I told them that I couldn’t.
I wanted to scream yes, but I was stalling. I still didn’t know what was going on with my other coach. Was I allowed to book a fight with another gym? I hadn’t heard a word from him yet I still felt like I was betraying him so I waited.
I decided to take off to Vietnam for a week. I was scheduled for a visa run anyway, and my friend had told me about this amazing facility in Saigon. I figured it might be a good chance to do a little travel and a little training and to see my friend who had just finished her time in Phuket.
The reset was EXACTLY what I thought I needed. I got to train with some amazing people who welcomed me with open arms. The coaching at the Saigon Sports Club is incredible and I don’t say this because they asked me to, or because they are giving me anything. They had one of the most decadent facilities I have ever walked into, with carefully selected coaches all so willing to work with me and pass on their knowledge. I was in heaven!
I made sure to take some time to explore a little, including a visit to the War Remanents Museum and a trip out to the Cu Chi tunnels used during the Vietnam war.
When I packed my bags and returned to Phuket I felt ready to come back, but I still didn’t know where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do.
I had weighed my options carefully, options both in Phuket and in other areas of Thailand and beyond. I had seriously considered the other MMA gyms in Phuket and after some long chats with a friend, I was reminded of why I was here.
I came here to fight. I came here to become a Muay Thai World Champion. Had I strayed too far from the real reason I was here. This time spent away from home to not achieve what I came here for? Was it all a waste?
I finally had decided that returning to Muay Thai was the best option for me. It was probably too late, especially at my age, to be changing to MMA and I was already in Muay Thai land so why not go back to what I know.
As I started to prepare for my next Muay Thai fight, a women causes a bike accident causing me to fall off my bike. Nothing too serious, but enough gravel rash to stop me from grappling and sparring for a few weeks. Yet another set back. Frustration was consuming me and I had a little meltdown to one of my friends. I just couldn’t believe that it was the end of March and I had done nothing but gain a few kg’s this year. What was I still doing here?
Then, out of all the strangest things to have happened so far this year, I was offered a sponsored spot back at AKA, for both MMA and Muay Thai. That was really what I wanted. But was going back to AKA going to be the right call? A lot of my reasons for leave AKA, were no longer reasons. It seemed on a social level that people were very happy to have me back, claiming it’s where I belong.
Out of all the stories I’ve heard in Phuket, I don’t know that this has ever happened. That a gym re-opened their doors to a former fighter or that one has returned. It’s very unusual for Phuket.
It certainly was something that took much consideration. It meant I could fight Muay Thai and still explore the MMA path. It appeared to be leaving doors wide open. Management seemed eager to have me back, for a variety of reasons, but after much debate and lengthy conversations and negotiations, I agreed to return.
After a week in, still training at Dragon for a Muay Thai fight, and getting back into the ground work at AKA, all around my gravel rash, I discovered more aftermath of my previous coach. My original opponent for April 12 had pulled out, and all the local stadiums were full up with female fights. I asked if we could fight in Patong and the coaches at Dragon paused. “Gemma. You remember last year, you come and book and fight, but then you go to Australia and the promoter can not replace you. He is very angry and doesn’t want you to fight there anymore.” What. The. Freaking. Hell?
I had tried to get a fight last year but I was told it wasn’t happening. I pestered and pestered for information and nothing. It seems like my previous coach had booked at fight for me and withdrew me 2 days before the fight. The promoter couldn’t replace me and was so angry that he never wants me back again.
When I returned to AKA, I asked one of the head Thai trainers if this was fixable, and he basically said it wasn’t. Even though it wasn’t my fault, there was not point trying to fix the situation. “It’s just the Thai way” he said to me.
Last week I fell horribly ill with a virus – we assume it was influenza. It’s officially the sickest I’ve ever been in my life and I am still recovering now. I slept for days and had multiple IV bags of fluid to speed up the process but it really took me out.
Is everyone reading this on the same page? Could you follow the chain of events? Admittedly, writing this made my head roll a little!
Everyone always says “it’s so cool! You’re living the dream”. I just wanted everyone to see what the reality of that dream can really be like.
I am so grateful to be out here doing what I am doing. It’s something many fighters dream of and I fully understand that. But it’s not always what it’s cracked up to be. I don’t go to the beach everyday because I don’t have time. I’m not enjoying cocktails at sunset and this year has definitely not been my ‘dream’. Being a fighter is hard work and doing that while living in Thailand comes with its own unique sets of challenges – I’m proud that I’ve managed to navigate my way through most of these things.
I still don’t know what this year has in store for me, and after spending the last week laid up in bed, ridden with a virus, I haven’t had time to get back into the swing of things yet. I’m on the mend and looking forward to heading back to training next year. Things can only get better from here!