Garrett and Pat Barry2

In Ancient Greece, male athletes were perceived as the embodiment of physical perfection. Their prowess was so admired that artists were inspired to recreate and preserve their beauty in the form of all those buff, chiseled statues that you see in museums all over the world. But the great thinkers of the time, like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, warned against this physical worship. Not that these intellectuals didn’t appreciate the benefits of physical exercise; they just happened to understand that there were more important qualities within every human being that deserved attention.

And they were right. Sport, lest we forget, is 80 percent mental and 20 percent physical. Who cares about all that buff stuff when you have heart, smarts, guts and luck on your side? And while we still love our strapping alpha-male sports heroes of the classical mold, we have come to appreciate the talents of those who are different. In the 21st century, the diversity of athletes competing in sports events across the world is a testament to progression and a cause for celebration. The 2012 Paralympics in London were another jaw-dropping reminder of the capabilities of a group of people who, at one point in time, would have been consigned to society’s scrap heap. These inspirational athletes are not classic sports heroes; they’re much more than that.

The Underdog

One example is a 23-year-old man with Downs Syndrome who is hell-bent on revolutionizing the martial arts world. His name is Garrett Holeve, he lives in Cooper City, Florida and his dream is to become a professional mixed martial artist. Garrett’s unusual ambition, no doubt, will be met with the scorn of some and the horror of others. Does any individual with Downs Syndrome really belong in the brutal world of combat sports? But Garrett is already on the way to proving the doubters wrong. His list of achievements so far are impressive and include establishing himself as a permanent fixture at American Top Team, one of the most respected MMA gyms in the country. He has also rallied a substantial amount of support for his cause including a roster of high profile UFC and ex UFC fighters such as Stephan Bonnar, Dominick Cruz and Pat Barry. Garrett’s most significant achievement however, is the creation of Garrett’s Fight, a charitable organization co-founded with Bonnar to promote and support the inclusion of special needs athletes in the martial arts.

NEXT: How it All Began >>

Garrett and Chael Sonnen2

The Dare

“I have always been into sports,” says Garrett, when asked how it all began. “I played basketball for almost 10 years in my local leagues. I love to swim and I like to work out with weights. I got started in MMA as a dare from my dad. My two brothers and I were watching the UFC in a corner pub when a friend came over and said he was going to start training at the new American Top Team in Davie, Florida. After this, my dad dared all of us to go and try it. As it turned out, my dad and me were the only ones who went to check it out. There we met Rodrigo “Baga” Ramos, a second degree Black in jiu-jitsu and a professional MMA fighter. Along with head trainer Jr Silva, they welcomed me in with open arms.”

Garrett’s first taste of MMA training convinced him that this was something special. “I started training just three days a week but by the end of the first month I was there at least five times a week. Everyone at ATT has treated me just like everyone else, no quarter ever given when I train. They have become my second family. Since that day I have become a partner in our new American Top Team gym in Weston, Florida. There I help with keeping the gym in order and I work with the younger kids in our youth program. I also help my dad out with the fitness side of the gym.”

NEXT: Garrett’s Dream >>

Ring interview2

Lofty Goals

Garrett’s individual dream is to compete on the biggest stage of all—the UFC. It’s a dream that right now, is a long way from happening and one sure to throw up a whole lot of challenges on the way. But how much opposition does Garrett face on a day-to-day basis regarding his choice to be a fighter? “I would say almost everyone I meet in the martial arts community has supported me,” says Garrett. “There have been a few occasions that people didn’t get it or where they were standoffish toward me. Most of the opposition comes from outside the MMA community. Even some of my grandparents, aunts and uncles still don’t support my efforts. It’s those doubters that drive me to achieve.”

“Garrett’s Fight was created to allow special needs athletes to compete on the level that they are capable of. This means to have jiu-jitsu, wrestling and possibly stand up included in the Special Olympics. It’s also our goal for those athletes that have the ability to compete with non-special needs athletes to do so. We want a level playing field where special needs athletes can compete at the level they are suited to.”

The UFC has expanded dramatically since its early days, in regards to rules, regulations and the addition of further weight classes. The next big thing would appear to be the inclusion of women. Who’s to say what will come after that? Why not special needs athletes? If MMA coaches, referees and other relevant parties are thoroughly educated in the necessary requirements, there’s no reason that special needs athletes shouldn’t and couldn’t be involved in the business of professional martial arts. It will, undoubtedly, be a hard fight, but if there’s one thing that Garrett Holeve does well, it’s fighting. 

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