In an effort to help the sport grow we will be featuring outstanding fighters and personalities in the world of Muay Thai. We are all fighting for something, each with our own story, from the 40 year old trying to get in shape or beat depression, to the young professional athlete attempting to live out a dream. Here is your opportunity to let it be known.
An impressive record. An entertaining fight. A name that influences others. Rightfully so, respect must be given when deserved and earned. However, we must also remember that it is important to acknowledge those who are fighting battles in the dark, and setting an example for others without the press and spotlight that some big name fighters receive.
Muay Thai is often viewed as a combat sport, but only a small percentage of the community actually competes in the ring professionally. Most practitioners use it as a form of mental healing, as a way to stay in shape or to present themselves with an evolving challenge.
Rachel Saurman, an amateur fighter from Ohio found her love in Muay Thai because of its intensity and focus on technical movement. What she didn’t plan for is the way it changed her life around:
“I began suffering from depression and panic attacks, in addition to a severe state of OCD. Muay Thai was one of things that I pushed myself to keep doing, even when I was at my worst, and it helped to pull me back. I also found that training for fights kept me motivated, with concrete goals I could reach. The act of stepping in the ring was something that would free me. In those moments I could be completely unaware of my previous anxiety, depression, etc and focus solely on the fight. It was a liberating feeling, that helped to keep me grounded even in the midst of my mental issues. I want others who may be struggling with these issues to know that something like Muay Thai is worth pushing yourself for, and to not give up hope.”
Rachel grew up incredibaly poor in rural New Mexico. Her parents couldn’t afford pay for martial arts classes or for a college education. Despite a hard road, Rachel never gave up. She worked day and night to receive a number of academic scholarships. This enabled her to take a college Judo course and begin her journey in the world of martial arts.
I find this story very intriguing as I have met a number of individuals who can’t get past the barrier anxiety, depression, and OCD provides. Some don’t have an outlet, some may feel like they do not have a reason to dig themselves out, and some don’t have a team of people supportive enough.
Muay Thai provides the answer to all three of these issues. Often the atmosphere in a Thai Boxing gym has a supportive family vibe, a place where others hold you accountable, where they want you to not only be okay, but to face your fears.
As I said before, I was intrigued by Rachel’s story and had to ask a few questions:
Q: What is your major in school?
A: I originally got my BA in anthropology. Then I went back to school to become a certified veterinary technician, and I got my AAS in that.
My OCD is definitely a double edged sword. On one hand, it helps me to be very structured and self disciplined, which you have to be to be an amateur fighter. No one else is going to hold you as accountable as you. Since it also gives me that desire to be perfect, it drives me to train and get my technique to be as flawless as possible. On the other hand, that drive for perfection leaves me disappointed a lot if I fall short on anything. Often that makes me doubt myself and lowers my desire to train because I feel I am not good enough. My biggest fear is letting down my instructors or my team. It is really tricky to balance those two sides and find a happy medium. Sometimes I find that just even in doing drills, I can kind of lose my mind to the technique, and it acts like a reset button. It brings me back out of that loop of doubt.
I think that others with anxiety should realize that the Muay Thai community is one of the most non-judge mental groups out there. Every place I have trained I have seen instructors accommodate new folks with scaled exercises and constructive advice. I think that no matter your background, you can succeed in Muay Thai if you find that family atmosphere in your team, and you push yourself to practice. Sometimes I just have to tell myself that nothing is going to get better if I don’t jump in and do it.
On that note, I think that being part of a great team has been the best motivation for me. I used to train at Easton Training Center in Denver with Duane Ludwig, Tyler Toner, and Sean Madden as coaches. Now I train at World Kickboxing Academy in Stow, Ohio with Ryan Madigan. All of my instructors and team mates throughout the years have pushed me to be the best. That desire to make them proud is what keeps me going. My partner Cathy is also wonderful, and she is great at pushing me to never get up and keep doing the things I love.
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Paul Banasiak is a Muay Thai fighter/addict, 6x champion, trainer, and fitness professional. After leaving medical school without looking back, he decided to fully follow his passion of helping others become the best version of themselves, creating MuayThaiAthlete.com. A website for those who are already passionate individuals who want to take their life&training to the next level.
Today we begin forging our bodies and
strengthening our minds.
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