Valérie Létourneau has been peed on before.
Ronda Rousey talks about how challenging her life was after winning an Olympic medal, how she came back home and had to *gasp* work a regular job.
Holly Holm is the Preacher’s Daughter, in nickname and in reality. From New Mexico, she fought the overwhelming majority of her professional fights in her hometown. Her dad was there, her family – an entire city of support giving out positive vibes.
Joanna Jędrzejczyk had it tougher than Rousey and Holm (if for no other reason than born to regular parents from Poland probably is a more difficult life than being an Olympian as a teenager), but the spark in her eyes – the one that gives her a mischievous charisma – tells me she’s spent a decade enjoying her career as a fighter.
Létourneau got peed on. Now, I don’t know this for a fact, but as a mother for the past decade plus, it’s a safe assumption. I don’t know a parent that hasn’t been peed on.
UFC 193 is a surreal event, where feminism meets fighting. Part a lie – as the show may be billed as 4 women fighting but it’s really carried by Rousey – but part reality: hey, it is 4 women headlining a show in a sport dominated by men, both in and out of the cage. And being a woman is the In Thing these days. Hillary Clinton. Caitlyn Jenner (note: that’s a terrible way to spell a name). The US Women’s National Team winning the World Cup. Lamar Odom ensuring that a Kardashian relationship features the woman – easily – not being the biggest screw up. And, yes, Ronda Rousey. Women have roared loud enough that we’re all hearing them loud and clear.
Létourneau is fouth on the UFC 193 depth chart, which is fine. Rousey is Rousey; Holm is fighting Rousey so she’ll naturally get a lot of attention; Jędrzejczyk is the Strawweight Champion so she’s in the running for second place herself. Létourneau is the one that doesn’t fit. She’s older than the other three, not just in years, but in life experience. You get that when you spend your adult life as a mother.
It’s one thing to wake up early, feeling the normal aches and pains of being a fighter on the way up. It’s another to do so and know that it’s irrelevant how you feel because your daughter is there and she comes first. It isn’t just that Létourneau is a mother, those have been in the UFC before. It’s that she’s been a single mom since she was 19 – the entirety of her fighting career has seen her balance putting on gloves and putting on diapers. Hell, she went from being a child directly to being a mom – no middle ground. When I was 19 I was budgeting how much to spend on comic books and how much to spend on food, in between deciding if I was going to sleep through all of my morning classes or just some of them. The closest I’ve ever come to being responsible for a life is making sure my dogs eat.
Létourneau herself was the daughter of a single mom, as Létourneau was born when her own mother was just 16. True to form, sons are their father’s reflection, daughters their mother’s. No, it isn’t that Létourneau had a child at a young age, it was the steadfast determination to do it her way. Létourneau has spoken of how her daughter’s father was baffled that she would/could fight – she was a mom, that was now her job in life. Perhaps well-meaning, perhaps paternalistic (in every sense of the word), it didn’t matter to Valérie. The iron will of her mom flowed through her veins: no man would determine her future for her.
In that, there is a beautiful contrast. A quick perusal of Létourneau’s Twitter shows she isn’t hiding her daughter, nor is she exploiting her for “likes” and “clicks” – rather, she’s a mom. She looks goofy and dumb and happy. If you didn’t know better, you’d never guess she made a living stepping inside a steel cage and punching people. She’ll go from looking pretty before a fight starts to battered and bruised immediately thereafter. And then days later she’s posting pictures of herself laughing and smiling on Twitter with her bruised face next to an equally happy and laughing daughter.
No doubt, Létourneau has a full support staff these days but she’s still a strawweight fighter in a developing division in a sport where a long career is rare. Even at American Top Team, where Létourneau makes her home these days, it isn’t as if things are perfect. She will struggle to find appropriate training partners at a minimum. When she finds a training partner, someone she clicks with, USADA announces she’s banned from associating with him due to the new draconian UFC PED policy.
And when everyone else relaxes after practice she has to check homework and make sure a healthy dinner was eaten. When she wakes up for a morning run, she has to make sure her daughter is ready for school. She doesn’t just do homework on an opponent, she checks the homework of her daughter. That she’s a single mom is her choice. She left her home of Montreal, that was her choice. ATT over Tri-Star was her choice. She chose to have her daughter. She chose to not be defined by a daughter’s father. She chose to grind away at becoming a fighter when for some time there wasn’t necessarily a light at the end of the tunnel.
There will no doubt be numerous single mothers in the UFC in the years to come – just as there have been single dads for years past. That doesn’t make her story any less special. On a card filled with unique, intriguing fighters – all of whom have a story to tell – her’s is one to respect a bit more. And, yes, it’s simply because she’s a mom. I know my mom. One of my closest friends is a mother to a 4 year old boy (send your prayers for patience whenever you want). I knew my dad. I’ve known lots of dads. Sorry, guys, but I’m pretty sure being a mom is tougher. Dads throw you around and wrestle and do fun stuff until you run inside muddy and mom has to make sure you’re clean – and these days, mom does this after working all day, coming home, making dinner, and doing laundry. As the old saying goes, “A woman has to do things twice as well to get half the recognition.” For over a decade, she’s been mom and dad, fighter, provider, everything to one person and only now is anyone learning her name.
Fighting is tough. There are pressures. There are nerves. And when you fight someone as dangerous as Joanna Jędrzejczyk, maybe even moreso. Jędrzejczyk is tough. Jędrzejczyk might beat up Létourneau but Jędrzejczyk isn’t a human being dependent on you. Létourneau chooses to fight every day knowing she’s it: she’s all her daughter has. That’s a whole different ballpark of pressure.
Everyone has some battle in life. Some trial. Some roadblock they had to get past before they became successful (except for Paige VanZant). Ronda Rousey had her arm broke in the Olympics and Holly Holm and Joanna Jędrzejczyk have been punched in the face. But Valérie Létourneau? She was peed on. And that makes her more ready than any of them.