ATHLETE INTERVIEW

Alexandra Ballou

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For Alex, becoming a professional MMA fighter was always her biggest dream, although she felt that it took a long time for it to come together. She used to watch the UFC and thought it was incredible that people fought for a living and loved what they did. At that point, women’s MMA was in its beginning stages and there were no women’s divisions in the UFC. She was 21 when the UFC incorporated the women’s Bantamweight division. This gave rise to Ronda Rousey’s title run as well as other women’s weight classes, including her’s, Flyweight (125). This was also the year she started training Brazilian Jiujitsu. Alex had been working numerous jobs mostly in sales and was very unhappy with the direction her life was going in. One day she reached a breaking point while stuck in traffic during her morning commute. She felt broken and couldn’t bring herself to go to work. She called out, turned around, and went home. At home, she spent the afternoon thinking about two things: “what made me happy in life, and what was I good at?”.

This is when she truly realized that she was happiest while training, and at 25 years old, she felt that it was now or never if she was going to pursue her MMA dream.

FOLLOW ALEX ON IG: @alexandrathegreatmma


Q&A with Alexandra

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1) Can you share your ACL story?

I had my second professional fight scheduled for Bellator MMA on February 16th at Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut and I was deep in the grind of training. It was January 12th and I woke up at 5:30 a.m. to get ready for my two-and-a-half-hour drive to train in Easton, Massachusetts. I arrived at the gym of UFC lightweight Joe Lauzon and braced myself for the next few hours of grappling, sparring, and situational drilling. During a drill I was attempting to escape a back take and as I stood up the girl who was on my back fell on the outside of my knee.

Her weight forced my knee inward followed by an audible crack and immense pain. I was in complete agony for about five minutes and after it subsided the swelling followed. Four or five days later I felt fine and the swelling was mostly gone, but the MRI results confirmed everyone’s worst fears. My ACL and meniscus were completely torn and my MCL was badly sprained.

I had to make the decision to pull out of my upcoming fight and I had reconstructive surgery on February 5, 2019. We chose the patellar graft for its durability and at this point all I wanted to do was get it over with. The procedure went smoothly and I woke up two hours later with a new ACL.

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2) What was the hardest part of the injury?

I’ve never been injured before and I’ve never had major surgery. As a fighter we push through cuts, bruises, pain, and fatigue etc. The hardest part about recovery and this whole situation is the realization that this isn’t something I could push through. No matter how great I feel or how quickly I’m progressing, this is a process that will take time.

The post-op pain fades quickly and the leg strength and mobility come back but I’m still months away from stepping back in the cage. I feel that not many people talk openly about how difficult this injury is from a mental and emotional perspective. I have good days and I have bad days. One of the biggest things I struggle with is the feeling of getting left behind and having my career be put on hold. There’s always the anxiety of re-injury or worrying if my knee will ever be at one hundred percent capacity again.

Training has been a source of comfort and an outlet for me. I’ve had to learn to shift my focus and learn to work around it and try and do the little things I can.

3) What advice would you share with other athletes recovering from similar injuries?

When I found out I tore my ACL, I still had every intention of taking the fight and getting the surgery after. My team gave me some perspective and I had to take a step back and weigh the choice to fight or do what’s best for my career in the long run. I still don’t feel great about pulling out of the fight, but I know I made the right decision. I pour my energy into physical therapy and getting back to doing what I love. If you are going through an injury or ACL surgery, just know that you will recover.

Do what’s best for your body and the longevity of your career. Focus on small, daily improvements and on physical therapy. Staying physically active anyway possible, seeking mental and emotional support, and studying your craft in other capacities make the process easier.

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4) How is your recovery going and how do you stay motivated?

It’s amazing how rapidly our bodies recover and adapt. Little things like being able to squat, hit the heavy bag, or simply walking up and down stairs effortlessly make a huge difference. I’m just about to hit the eight-week post-op mark but in terms of my physical abilities and progression I’ve been told I’m ahead of schedule. In one more month they’ll take x-rays to examine the healing points of my graft. My main motivation is getting cleared and getting another fight as soon as possible. The sooner I recover, the sooner I’ll fight again. That keeps me in a positive mindset and gets me to every physical therapy appointment. I also have an amazing support system. My managers, coaches, boyfriend, family, and training partners all support me and check in on me constantly. They are all on this journey with me.

5) What are your dreams after making a comeback?

My dream is to be a world champion. I’ve dedicated so much time and blood, sweat, and tears in the pursuit of my goals. I didn’t plan on tearing my ACL or ever having to withdraw from a fight, but this is just a temporary setback. I’ve learned so much about myself and I will continue to grow as a fighter and an athlete. My immediate goal is to fight before the end of 2019 and then I will turn my attentions toward a UFC contract. Part of being an athlete is learning to adapt and overcome obstacles and an ACL injury is just one more obstacle. On my journey I’ve come to find that with enough persistence and determination anything is possible.

Thank you Alexandra for sharing your experience and helping to inspire athletes across the globe!