Inhabit – At home and the gym with Megan Cawley

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Photos by David Lawrence

Inhabit is a series by local photographer David Lawrence (Website), that shares stories about the people who call Orlando home. It’s an exploration of where people live and spend their days, whether that be at home, in an office, the streets of downtown, or anywhere in between. Lawrence explores who people are and how they ended up where they are.

Every other week we will be sharing Lawrence’s interviews, featuring a different Orlandoan and telling the story of the places they inhabit. Lawrence is available for private photography projects and can be reached through his website, above.

Who are you?

Megan Cawley: I’m Megan Cawley. I’m 25 years old. I’m from Winter Springs, Florida, but I currently live in Orlando. I’m a martial arts fighter, an amateur one.

Where are we currently and what’s important to you about the space?

Megan: We’re currently in my house. This is an important space for me because it’s where I come to relax and have my me time. I don’t get much of it, so when I’m here I really enjoy the time. This is like my safe space. I also spend a lot of time at my MMA gym. That’s actually where I spend the majority of my time, is there. This is where I get to come and decompress and hang out with my roommate and my dog.

What is the name of your gym?

Megan: My gym is The Jungle MMA and Fitness. It’s about a mile down the street from here. It’s also why I took this location. I moved over here so I can be close to the gym. Just so if I wanted to run there, I could run there. If I’m running late I can just hop in my car and go.

How often do you go there?

Megan: I go there every day. Well, I try to go six days a week and I try to give myself one day of rest. Sometimes depending on my body, I’ll go five days a week. It just depends on how I feel, but yes, I usually spend five to six days a week there.

How did you get into fighting?

Megan: I’ve been in the sport since I was a kid. When I was younger, I wanted to play football actually. My mom was like–

That’s pretty badass.

[laughter]

Megan: Yes, my mom was like “No, you’re not doing that”.

So you got into fighting.

Megan: Yes. So she put me in taekwondo– I think I was about eight when I started taekwondo and I got my black belt when I was 11. I competed in a bunch of competitions. I was always doing local tournaments and stuff. I remember from a young age I always wanted to be good at taekwondo. My mom put me in that and I did that until about freshman year of high school. Then I started backing off because I didn’t think it was cool anymore.

Then sophomore year of high school, I went out for the wrestling team. I wrestled for my high school on the boy’s team because Winter Springs didn’t have a girls wrestling team. So there was two girls; me and this other girl, Theresa. [After that] I had stopped wrestling and then in college I was like I want to get back into it.

[Megan’s high school wrestling coach suggested “The Jungle” to her.]

I just walked into this MMA Gym. I had drove by it once and I walked in. It was about four years ago and I’ve never left.

You posted a set on Instagram of before and after photos of yourself; one was taken in 2014 and then one taken in 2016 after you had been fighting for a couple of years. Was part of going to that gym just to get in shape and do something active or did you have the intention of becoming a fighter?

Megan: No, it wasn’t the intention of becoming a fighter. Actually, I felt like in college– I was in college and I was having fun. I went to UCF and I lived over by UCF. I was just eating crap. I was partying and having fun; doing typical college things. Then at one point, I think I was, probably just hit 21 already going on 22, when I was like, “I don’t like the way that I look. I don’t like the life that I’m living. I need to change.”

That’s when I had went to the MMA [gym] and I was like, “Why don’t I just get back to something that I’ve always been passionate about?” I’ve always loved martial arts, I loved wrestling when I did it. It was the hardest thing that I’ve ever done. So I was like, “I need a life change.” I walked in there and I just started going consistently.

I remember my kickboxing coach, Rich. He was like “You’re hitting pretty good. Did you do something before this?” I was like “Yes, I did taekwondo, whatever.” He really encouraged me. I ended up having my first [kickboxing] fight six months later.

Where was that?

Megan: It was here. It was at GILT Nightclub right on Bennett. It was the battle of Siam.

Is that normal to do things like that at a nightclub?

Megan: Yes. A lot of times we’ll do it at nightclubs. I’ve always fought in a nightclub, actually, now that I think of it. I fought at a strip club once.

Crazy. What was that like? Were people dancing? What else was happening?

Megan: Funny story. It was a half strip club, half country bar.

Typical.

Megan: Right. That’s normal. It was in West Palm Beach. The actual cage was in the country bar section but the warm-up room was in the strip club. Literally, you divide the corners. So fighters are put into the red corner and the blue corner, opposing sides. They put a black tarp up across the room and they were literally hanging up on the strip pole, which was so funny. I think I have a picture somewhere on my phone.

You say that you’re an amateur fighter. What is the difference between that and a professional fighter?

Megan: The difference between amateur and pro, simply put, is that professionals get paid and amateurs, basically do it for free. In the state of Florida, you have to have five amateur fights, collective. It could boxing, kickboxing, MMA. Five fights in general, then you can go pro. You could stay amateur as long as you want.

There’s a different rule set in pro. As a pro, you can throw elbows, which are really dangerous. Getting hit with an elbow will split you open. Knees to the face. You can knee somebody in the face instead of just hitting them to the body. The rule set changes a little bit. The biggest difference between pro and amateur is that you’re actually making money to fight. When you’re an amateur, you’re basically putting all your money into fighting, which stinks.

Do you want to go pro?

Megan: Yes. I’m going to go pro very soon, in the near future. Either at the end of the year or beginning of next year. That’s the goal, but I think I’m going to take one more amateur fight. I have five [MMA fights and one kickboxing fight]. I want to get another one and then we’ll look at going pro.

When you’re not fighting what do you typically do? What typically fills your day?

Megan: Work. I’m a nanny, so I spend a lot of time on my job.

Do you work full time doing that?

Megan: No, I’m part time, but it’s Monday through Friday and it’s about five and a half to six hours a day. It’s a lot on top of all my training. I typically go to my job and I try to give it my all, but I’m usually physically and emotionally exhausted at that point.

That makes sense.

Megan: Yes, but I’ve been with that family for about four years and they’re really supportive because the dad of the little girl I nanny, he’s in a band. He knows what it’s like to like be pursuing your dream and working toward something. They’re really understanding with me and really really supportive and they always have my back and they understand when some days I just can’t keep my eyes open. They’re like, “Why don’t you just go take a nap really quick?”

What would you consider to be your biggest win so far over your career?

Megan: I think the biggest one so far is I learned a lot about myself. I’ve proved a lot to myself that I didn’t think I would have before. My last fight was my biggest win on paper. It was for the biggest amateur promotion in the country.

That’s in Las Vegas, right?

Megan: Yes, I fought in Las Vegas. I won the belt, so obviously people think like, “Yes, huge win.” My fight before that is the one that really taught me a lot about myself. It’s a three round fight, I was getting my ass whooped for two rounds. No lie, I’m going to have to show you a picture of my eye.

That was probably the toughest fight of my life because it’s three, three-minute rounds. If you’ve ever fought, fighting for three minutes in itself is a lot. Imagine just getting whooped up on for six minutes of the fight and then in the third round I was getting beat up still and I took her down and I finished her. It’s just proved to me that I’ll never quit. I’ll never give up, no matter what.

I think that’s maybe the big picture. I learned that I’ll never give up because there’s multiple times in my career that I could have.

Whenever I have success, especially after periods of things not going well, I just want to tell everyone, “Man, keep going. Literally, whatever you’re doing, please don’t stop.”

Do you feel you’re supposed to share that sentiment with others?

Megan: I do feel like I do. I do have to share that with others and I make it a point to. Because a lot of times especially in the sport, you get discouraged often. The thing about the sport is, it’s unforgiving. It will humble you.

With success there comes a lot of failure. I feel like a lot of people would give up once it’s failure after failure after failure. It’s like, “No, no, no.” The failure is like, “That’s what molds you. That what makes you better and eventually the success will come.”

I feel like I am a motivator to the team sometimes. I know that fight in particular that I talked about that I came back. I have been told multiple times that that’s the most inspirational performance anybody’s ever seen. Because it really was, I could not even open my eye and I still came back. I fought. I remember seeing [what] looked like a TV screen when there’s no cable connected. Every time I got hit I remember seeing that.

I always constantly tell people you can slow down but you can’t stop. Like in training, when it gets really, really tough and you’re really tired and you still have rounds and rounds to go and you just want to sit out, it’s like, “No. It’s okay to slow down but it’s not okay to quit.” I constantly am telling people that on my team. Especially the new people who don’t know the grit and the grind that it takes. Because a lot of people walk into the gym and they’re like “I want to fight.” Sometimes they get lucky and they win their debut. Sometimes they get lucky and they win their second fight. Then when it comes to having a really, really tough fight, they’re not there. They’re out of it.

It’s just really important to teach people who want to get in this sport or people who are already in this sport like no matter what obstacle, you can overcome it. It’s just about mind over matter. Anything’s possible. I share that with the team often. I feel like because I’ve been through it and because I did start off my career with a losing record, and this is the first time I’ve ever had a winning record, I think that I’m a person to learn from. I think that they respect that and I think that they listen to me. Because not only do they see it pay off in the cage for me, but they see it pay off in training, too. So, yes.

What’s the next thing big thing you have coming up?

Megan: I think I’m going to defend my belt.

What does that mean?

Megan: I won the title. I won the belt. I think somebody is going to challenge me to try and take it away from me.

That’s pretty intense. So you can keep it if you win?

Megan: I’m going to keep it. Yes.

You can keep up with Megan on Instagram at @megancawley

You can also see her crush and destroy in a past fight here.

 

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