During a four-year span in elementary school and middle school while living in Italy, La Plata resident Sarah Bonney was diagnosed with an immune deficiency that essentially eliminated any sort of athletic prowess she may have displayed.
Years later, Bonney, who turned 26 on Thursday, has not only overcome Juvenile Dermatomyositis, an immune disorder that causes skin and muscle inflammation, she has more than compensated for years of being athletically challenged to becoming a rising star in amateur kick boxing and mixed martial arts. In August, she garnered the gold medal at the WKA U.S. National Kickboxing Championships at Harrington Raceway in Delaware.
“When I was 8 to 12 years old, I suffered from Juvenile Dermatomyositis,” Bonney said. “So, I was basically the weakest, slowest kid in my class. I never really liked sports or watched sports, but it was still difficult being that slow and that weak. By the time I got to high school and college I was past the deficiency, but I was always overweight.”
When Bonney first began her rapid ascension through the fighting ranks, first as a boxer then moving on to kickboxing, she weighed over 200 pounds and had a lucrative, full-time job. But once she discovered fighting, she spent so much time training in the gym that she lost weight quickly and opted to forgo her previous job to begin working at Kaizen MMA in Virginia.
“Initially, I was just working out once a week,” Bonney said. “But once I realized how much I love training and sparring, I started going four times a week, then six times and now 12 times a week. I loved it so much I decided to trade in my previous full-time job and take a huge pay cut and start working at Kaizen so I can train every day.”
Born into a military family, Bonney spent much of her youth and high school in Venice, Italy and attended Vicenza American High School there, then her family returned to the United States and she graduated from Brigham Young University in 2016. But the lure of a lucrative job never satisfied her curiosity or ambition and once she stepped into the ring her life changed instantly.
“Really, this whole pursuit only started two years ago,” said Bonney, who fights under the name of Valkyrie in honor of her European and Viking heritage. “I wanted to get in better shape and I wanted to stay active. I’ve lost over 90 pounds since I started and now I’m very conscience about my calorie intake and my weight. I would like to get down to 145 pounds and maybe even 135 pounds by next year.”
Bonney, who noted MMA professional fighters Michele Waterston and Meagan Anderson as her role models, credits Kaizen MMA coach/founder and owner, Sensei Nima Mazhari and boxing coach Gustavo Abel Tutera with teaching her the fundamentals and the discipline to stay focused, could have another fight this weekend and is expected to compete in a tournament in Frederick next weekend.
“When you sign up for a fight, sometimes you don’t know until the day of the fight if you can get the ring,” said Bonney, who still maintains a fondness for burgers and pizza. “I’ll be there [on Saturday] in my street clothes and if they need me to fight, then I’ll get changed and get in the ring. The next weekend, I am competing in a tournament and next year I want to compete in the Asia-Pacific Games in Thailand in March.”
Bonney, who admits to having little interest in watching sports, is typically one of only two women among the 40-plus fighters who train every day at Kaizen MMA. But she has hardly received any special treatment from her instructors over the last two years and she would not accept any such generosity.
“To be a professional fighter you can’t fight part-time,” Mazhuri said. “This is why we set up a training camp where fighters train every day with other fighters. Training is hard and intense with a lot of drills and the goal is to get everyone ready for their upcoming fights.”