Ronda Rousey – Focus
“People are always looking for the secret to success. There isn’t a secret. Success is the result of hard work, busting your ass every day for years on end without cutting corners or taking shortcuts.”
Ronda Rousey has been a fighter her entire life. Even as she entered this world, she was deprived of air when her mother’s umbilical cord had inadvertently wrapped around her neck. The doctors quickly cut the cord, unraveled it from Ronda’s neck and gave her life-saving CPR. A few minutes later, Ronda fought for her first breath and her heart started beating. Shortly thereafter, her doctor confided his private thoughts to Mrs. Rousey: “In most cases like this, she would not have survived. I have no idea what the future holds, but this one certainly is a fighter.”
Ronda’s fight was far from over. The lack of oxygen at her birth negatively impacted several parts of her brain. This resulted in a verbal disorder called apraxia. At 3 years of age, she had not yet uttered a word. Ronda simply could not connect her thoughts to her mouth. However, at about this time, her mother completed her Ph.D. and accepted a job at Minot State University. So, Dad, Mom, Ronda and her two older sisters uprooted their lives and moved from California to North Dakota. The new job also meant that the family would have much-needed medical benefits and Ronda would be able to get intensive speech therapy.
This new life was all working out. But then, one winter day, the family went sledding in the snow-covered hills. Dad went down the hill first to make sure it was safe for the little ones. When he reached the bottom, he didn’t move. In an instant, he had broken his back. What followed was five months in the hospital, tremendous pain, and a devastating prognosis. In the end, the pain was too much for him. So, when Ronda was eight years old her father decided to end his life. His suicide altered every aspect of Ronda’s life. Indeed, in her autobiography, Ronda separated her life into “everything before that day” and “everything after that day.”
Before that day, Ronda was an excellent swimmer. However, swimming is an introspective sport that provides athletes with ample time to think. Ronda’s life was too painful and she had little desire to analyze her life. So, she quit. Then one day she stepped into a dojo to learn judo. This is a sport that requires 100% focus at all times and Ronda recalled “The very first time I stepped on the judo mat I fell in love with the sport.”
With the teachings and tough love from her mother – a former US champion in judo – Ronda quickly rose to the top of the judo rankings. At age 16 she became the #1 ranked junior in the country. She also became the first American to win two Junior World medals. She bested all Americans at the 2004 Olympic trials, and became the youngest judoka at the Olympics. Unfortunately, she lost her opening match and finished 9th. This loss devastated Ronda. But it also motivated her to become the best. “From the moment I stepped off the mat in Athens, I had been driven by a singular goal: Win the Olympics,” Rhonda said. “It consumed me.”
So, for the next four years Ronda rededicated herself to the craft. As an amateur athlete, she barely had enough money to pay a coach and afford rent. She often lived with other athletes in crowded houses. Although these athletes were more interested in partying and hooking up, Ronda spent her time in the gym inventing new moves to use in competition. Then, in 2008, she once again represented America in the Olympic games. This time she won her first two matches and then lost a close match on a controversial call. She remained focused, determined to bring home the Bronze — the first Olympic medal in her sport to America. Years later, she reflected on that crucial match: “This match was going to end one of two ways,” she stated emphatically. “With me on the podium or dead on the mat.” With that level of focus, it is no surprise that she won that match convincingly.
When Ronda looked to the stands, she spotted her mother who was waiving an American flag. It was the same flag that had been draped over the coffin of Ronda’s father some 13 years earlier. It was a glorious moment; Ronda had come full circle. However, that wonderful feeling was short-lived. Ronda arrived back in the States with $6,000 in her pocket from having won the bronze medal, minimal education, and little prospects for a career beyond judo. This former Olympian now took jobs as a cocktail waitress and a bartender. It was a difficult time for Ronda. “I spent the whole year lost,” she lamented. “I couldn’t figure out what it was, but there was something missing.”
While Ronda worked at local bars, the customers often watched a relatively new sport on the large screen TV’s. The sport was called Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). MMA is a brutal sport that takes place in an octagon-shaped cage. The rules are minimal and somewhat barbaric. Two fighters fight each other with their bare hands until one fighter is either unconscious or surrenders by “tapping out.” Up until this time, it was mainly a contest between two male athletes, but as she watched from the bar, Ronda would say out loud, “I could totally do that.” The bar patrons would laugh at her. Ronda never laughed back.
So, at the ripe old age of 23, Ronda got back into the gym. Only this time, it was to become an MMA fighter. Not only did she need to learn an entirely new discipline, but she also had to change the entire MMA culture to embrace women. Women did participate, but it was always as an under-draw. As an example, when Ronda won her first fight, she only earned $100 for her efforts.
MMA is a violent and vicious sport. Fortunately, Ronda’s brutal fighting style matched up well with this sport. Her goal was to annihilate, embarrass, and hurt her opponent. “No girl will ever look into my eyes and see the fear I see when I stare across the Octagon at the beginning of a fight,” Ronda stated. Her first fight lasted 23 seconds. The next fight was 25 seconds. The next fight lasted 49 seconds. This is going to sound gruesome, but she won each of her first 10 fights by using a move called an arm bar. Once she applied this maneuver, her opponent would either “tap out” or, if not, Ronda would proceed to break her arm. Either way, the fight ended quickly.
The audience apparently appreciated Ronda’s aggressive style of fighting. She was called up from the minor leagues to Strikeforce, the highest level of competition thus far for female fighters. She dominated again and again and again. After she received $18,000 for one fight, Ronda was able to quit her bartending jobs and move out of her condemned apartment. Next, the president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) made Ronda a legitimate big-time offer. “About a year ago, I told TMZ that women would never be in the UFC,” said UFC President Dana White. “I brought you here tonight to tell you that you’re going to be the first woman in the UFC.”
In terms of MMA fighting, this is as big as it gets. UFC featured Ronda Rousey vs. Liz Carmouche in the headline fight on February 23, 2013. The only surprising outcome of that fight was that Ronda needed 4:49 seconds to win the title. Ronda would go on to successfully defend her title five times over the next several years. In that same time she had only spent 1077 seconds in the octagon-shaped cage and she also made over $1,000,000 in the process. Moreover, her fame led to leading roles in movies and features in various magazines. Therefore, Ronda was able to retire from MMA and enjoy an even more lucrative but less demanding career with WWE wrestling.
It’s true that not many Americans pay attention to judo. Likewise, many find the sport of MMA difficult to watch. Still, no one can deny the focus it took to become a champion at both. Ronda has always been a fighter. And, when she combined her unique skill set with her work ethic, she was nearly impossible to stop. She also broke barriers for the women who will certainly follow in her footsteps. Finally, she taught us all to dream big. As she put it, “If you can’t dream big, ridiculous dreams, what’s the point in dreaming at all.”
Check out the Student Athlete Program
Ronda Rousey is one of the 144 “Wednesday Role Models” featured in the Student Athlete Program. This program is designed to improve the character, leadership and sportsmanship of high school athletes. To learn more about this program and how you can implement it in your school: