One Step at a Time: One Fighter's Homage to Running

USA TODAY Sports

UFC Middleweight Josh Samman details his affair with a distinctly different sport than the one you may know him from.

There’s a six mile stretch from my home in Hollywood, Florida to I-95. There’s nothing particularly special about it; it’s merely sidewalk along Sheridan Road. At certain times of day there’s heavy traffic and the exhaust makes it unpleasant to be near the interstate. Most days I wait until it’s not even day anymore, until the sun goes down and the cars have gone home. Once I get going though, and I really get going, I’m able to take myself back to a place in my mind, my own personal time machine that can be activated in only one way; one step at a time.

I began my courtship with the sidewalk at seven years old. I lived in a neighborhood called Buckwood in Tallahassee, a subdivision built in a giant figure eight pattern, and I would run it every day and night, as many times as I could before my mom would call me in for the evening. Those that I grew up with never understood my fascination with it. There was no ball to kick or throw, no points to score. Running was what you were supposed to do when trying to get better at other sports. For me though, it was something else entirely, a personal, special thing that I discovered at a young age. Before I ever found escape from the mundane in fighting, before I learned to use chemicals for thrills and as crutches, before I sought solace in music, before I discovered sex, or ever fell in love with a girl, I found my first real means of escape on the pavement, one step at a time.

Running was a place where I could clear my thoughts and fill my mind simultaneously. It was active meditation, opium for a hyperactive mind, a place to reflect on the past and strategize for the future. It was the first place that I found to push myself beyond limits I knew possible, the moment maybe when I was first seduced by excess. The first place that my competitive spirit could flourish, and get to the bottom of just who really is better at something, mano-a-mano. By age eight I had secured my first real bonafide arch nemesis. I went to a summer camp as a child, called East Hill, and every day there was an hourly activity called Outdoor Games. Every day at Outdoor Games we would footrace, and most every day I would win. Every day that is, unless childhood friend and future FSU standout cornerback Ochuko Jenije was there. We come across people in life at times that push us, that motivate us and challenge us. The burden lies on us to use these people as they come and go, and more often than not these people never have a clue the effect that they’ve had, and this may be one of those. Every day that Ochuko would beat me, I would go home and practice my sprints until I was beyond exhaustion, limping home from spent calves and quads. I never told anyone about it, not Ochuko, not my mom, not my other friends. Nobody knew about my obsession to win, maybe not then anyway. It was the first time I had tasted that terrible bitterness of coming up short, but also the first time that I learned to goal set and try to actively become the best at something. I never did beat Ochuko, but this was a case of it being more about the journey than the destination, less about the results and more about the growth, one step at a time.

For me now, running serves all the same purposes as it did before, and more. It’s an easy way to quantify workouts and progress, a simple means to track results. Some doctors will tell you that 200+ lb men are not meant to be running long distances, and they may be right, no matter how much I assert myself to be a tall lanky skinny kid at heart. Those are probably the same doctors that would recommend against face punching or limb twisting or dozens of the other activities I partake in, and such is life. Some people may insist that running is the opposite of fighting, and they also may be right, on a fundamental level it may be. Everyone is familiar with the term fight or flight, and we all have our preferred methods, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't sharpen both tools. I’m a firm believer in the idea that anything we do that is to our evolutionary advantage, that is to say anything we participate in that is going to strengthen our genepool, is going to inherently and innately make us feel good. Hunting, fishing, learning, mating, fighting, and of course running, these are things that everyone can identify with on one level or another on a primal scale. There is something so instinctual, so beautifully simple and basic about just one foot in front of the other, one step at a time.

Ten weeks ago I suffered a complete avulsion of my hamstring from the ischial tuberosity while preparing for UFC on FOX 11, two weeks before I was set to fight Caio Magalhaes on April 19th. To be honest I’m never really sure how many fans or people have subscribed to my story, but those that have know that it’s been a tumultuous year, one to which the 19th of April was supposed to be a finish line to. Like a cruel joke, the finish line was pushed back beyond sight, replaced instead with a sometimes literal obstacle course. For someone whose identity rests largely on fitness and being active, the forfeiture of mobility is truly in the realm of terrifying. Yet with every injury and surgery undergone that is the true cost, long drawn out moments of handicap. I’ve gone from rolling to crutching, from limping to walking, from swimming to biking, from lifting to even some hiking, but it’s with the most nostalgic elation that I’ve finally returned to running my six mile time machine in Hollywood, a milestone in my road to recovery and professional competition. Soon I’ll be grappling and kicking, shooting and sprawling, all the necessary components to what will hopefully become a masterful performance and a true crossing of the finish line in the coming months. When it’s all over, I will have completed the journey as I have every other, one step at a time.

-J

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