All women are born with a little bit of fight in them. We fight for equality, we fight to be heard, we fight to protect our families, our health, and our rights. We fight for our dreams in a society that has historically said, “You can’t.” We fight to find role models for ourselves and our daughters; women who embody both beauty and strength—who laugh at the notion that we can’t have it all.
Glena Avila is one such woman.
She’s a 39-year-old mother of two—she’s also a professional mixed martial arts fighter with several titles and a critically-acclaimed documentary about to be revealed during the Portland Film Festival on August 26. The film, aptly titled Glena, focuses on her struggle to become an MMA fighter in the face of overwhelming obstacles. Surprisingly, the film is less about cage fighting and more about fighting to follow your dreams—especially as a woman in a “man’s world.”
“People say all the time, ‘How’s it feel being a woman competing in a man’s sport?’ I don’t even know what that means,” said Glena. “I would come back with, ‘Well what is a man’s sport?’ There’s no such thing. The message is that of being strong and following your heart even though there’s all these obstacles and outside sources saying, ‘This is ridiculous—you can’t do it.’ If you have a passion for something—I don’t care what it is—you have to overcome all of that and keep pushing forward.”
Glena was the first female champion of the Full Contact Fighting Federation and remained undefeated as an amateur. As a professional, her record stands three wins and two losses, and she has more fights on the way. Her 14-year-old daughter frequently hangs around Rose City Fitness Center (where Glena does the majority of her training), a first-hand witness to her mom’s dedication.
“My daughter’s always had this attitude where I’m a hero to her,” Glena said. “She gets to brag, ‘My mom’s a champion fighter;’ it’s such a rare opportunity for us to be our child’s hero.”
While some might think an MMA gym is a violent environment for a child, Glena sees it as beneficial. “She watches how hard I work and I feel like whatever she decides to do [with her life], she’s going to know it’s not all sunshine, lollipops and rainbows—you hit those moments where you have to push through it, but in the end it’s always worth it.”
And she might be on to something: public response to Glena has been incredibly positive, especially among women. Glena has received messages from girls thanking her for the inspiration to get in shape, to finish their first novel, to start painting, to pick up old hobbies they had previously forgotten, and to start new ones they had previously thought impossible.
In turn, these women motivate Glena to keep on fighting.
“On days that were particularly hard for me, every time I was at the end of my rope and couldn’t take another step, there’d be that one person or a message that said, ‘I’m your biggest cheerleader, I love what you’re doing, keep doing it for all of us.’ In a sense I felt like I was rowing the boat for more than just myself—I was fighting for the girls that don’t fight, I was fighting for the girls who lost themselves somewhere down the road, and that’s when I decided that this was bigger than me.”
And as for maintaining strength over beauty, Glena doesn’t see the need for a distinction. “Just because I can kick somebody’s ass doesn’t mean I have to look like a man,” she said. “What is a fighter supposed to look like? I don’t try to do anything, I’m just me.”
All women are born with a little bit of fight in them. Some women, like Glena, take that more literally than others, but regardless of what you’re fighting for, the important thing is to keep doing it, keep fighting—for all of us.
Photos courtesy of Paul NelsonPhotography.