This Keeps Me Sane: Mixed Martial Artist BJ Garceau

This Keeps Me Sane: Mixed Martial Artist BJ Garceau

This Keeps Me Sane: BJ Garceau

Interview by Alisha Goslin

BJ Garceau took control of her life and type 1 diabetes with mixed martial arts 

How did you find this activity?

In 2015, my father passed away, and then my grandmother. She was a very strong woman in my life. I had been drinking a lot, partying a lot. Staying out late, after hours scene, hanging around with the wrong people. During this time, I started watching The Walking Dead. I started thinking, could I survive the apocalypse? I thought I was a lot stronger than I was at the time. My wife Mara, who has always been a huge support for me, was working at a coffee shop in downtown Bangor. Chris Young, who owns Young’s MMA, who I fight for, had a lot of fighters who would get coffee from Mara. She tells me that there’s a MMA gym right near us. I had just gotten on an insulin pump, and was gaining better control over my diabetes. I thought, what better time than now? So, I went to a MMA fitness class. It was funny because I never in my life thought I would be a fighter. I was 32, 33 at the time. I just figured I would learn some skills in case of a zombie apocalypse. Some survival techniques. I went to the fitness class, and realized I was not in the shape that I thought I was. So, I just kept going back. I never wanted to be a fighter. But I met some friends there and I really admired the way they were performing in fitness class. Like my buddy, Angie Young, who is an amateur fighter. I saw that she’s really good at punching and defending herself. So, that led to a kickboxing class, which led to a jujitsu class, which then led to me going there literally 5 – 6 times a week. It was like playing chess, my mind was so stimulated by all these things I was learning. After about a year and a half, my coach approached me and asked if I had any desire to fight. I was like, hell yeah! I took that opportunity. I know it’s not my career. A lot of people said, how are you going to do this as a type 1 diabetic? How are you going to do this when you’ve had meningitis and lost over half of your hearing? I’m also asthmatic. And of course, being over 30, you never hear people that age just starting martial arts. I started kind of like a joke, wondering if I could survive the end of the world. I kept training and training, hanging out with amazing people and gaining confidence. I found that with Coach Young and my teammates I was capable of more. They helped me put that in my brain. 

When did you first start?  

2016, 2017. At the height of Young’s MMA career and New England Fights. Kira and Angie, two of my friends, were making their debut. I found it so incredibly amazing that these two women were going out there and I had helped them train. I was like wow, girls are tough, they are badass when they want to be! Everyday is still a struggle, with health insurance, (I had worked in healthcare for 18 years, then COVID hit) and my diabetes. I realized that if I’m not fighting, I’m dying. I have to keep my head above water. 

What would you tell a woman wanting to get into MMA? 

Be open minded. Just try it. It’s so much fun. I think there is a lot of misunderstanding around this sport. In the UFC, you are just seeing people get locked in a cage to beat each other up. But you don’t see the team building or working out with your friends at 6 in the morning and laughing. It’s a lot of work. Just start off with a fitness class or a kickboxing class. It doesn’t matter your size. I mean, I’m 5 feet tall. I was heavier when I first went in. I get to wrestle with people twice my size. It has taught me to be trusting. Just do it. The hardest part of the process is just getting out there. Getting in the car and getting there. For me, honestly, the hardest part of getting out of bed is my mental health. Once you work through your anxieties, once you’re there, it’s much easier. 

How does this activity keep you sane?

When COVID hit, I really realized this, simply because of the fact that I am around healthy people. My coach, he isn’t just my coach, he is my best friend. He sees me at the darkest periods of my life, and the happiest. He has seen me lose fights, he has seen me win fights. But it’s also that connection. When I wake up in the morning, my depression has kind of taken over. I sit there with a cup of coffee, hunched over. But once I get in there, and I finish my workouts, I have this sense of confidence that I can take on the rest of my day. Like this morning, I knew that this conversation would be better because I already have endorphins running through me from my workout. That sense of accomplishment. A lot of us have these daily lists. And me, I have already crossed something off of my list. It gives me a sense of self worth. It keeps me sane in the sense that if I can accomplish a workout in the morning, or accomplish learning how to protect myself, I think I can accomplish the fact that this guy forgot to use a blinker in front of me, and that I shouldn’t get mad at the little things.

Do you feel this is something your life needed?

Yes, absolutely. I am a very passionate person, and if I didn’t put this passion into a healthy activity like this, I don’t think my diabetes would be under control the way it is now. I have had type 1 diabetes for 28 years. I have never been healthier in my life than now. My muscles move in different ways, I’m active, burning calories so I don’t need as much insulin. I think better when my diabetes is in control. I probably wouldn’t be alive today if I didn’t have this.

How is your life different now that this is a part of it?

I grew up in a household that had a view of one man and one woman and mental health was a made up disease. I was 13, and we were seeing my diabetic specialist. I had been diagnosed for about a year. I was very depressed. My doctor looked at my mother and told her ‘we think that Bobbie Jean is depressed, we should get treatment for her.’ My mother ended up yelling at my doctor in front of me about mental illness. My whole life I kind of had it drilled in my head that if we don’t talk about anything, including sexuality, it’s not there. So now, with me being more in the spotlight, and being married to a woman, I’ve just become more accepting of who I am, married to a woman, and a diabetic. Martial arts and finding these activities has put me in the spotlight and made me realize that it’s okay to be who I am. I don’t have to do drugs or drink or put on a fake persona to try to get people to like me. It has allowed me to accept who I am. I know I’m different, but I like who I am. And come to find out, a lot of people are okay with that.

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