Fight Like a Girl
If you had told Jessica Cargill of Edmond 10 years ago that she would be kicking and punching people for a living, she just might have… well, punched you.
Tall and slender, with a waterfall of dark brown hair, Jessica is the epitome of the pretty Edmond mom. Eight years ago, she wandered into Pride Martial Arts in Edmond to find a martial arts school for her painfully shy son. She had tried several things to help build the boy’s confidence—“T-ball was a disaster,” she said—and something about kickboxing struck a nerve. “I’d always been competitive with other things in my life, so I started training too,” she explained. “In fact, we started training together as a family.”
Eight years later, that same pretty Edmond mom is now the IKF World Classic Women’s Super Lightweight Champion, having won the title in July in Orlando. She stands out in the competitive kickboxing world, not just as the best of the best, but also as a woman nearly a decade older than her other competitors within the international rules of “no knees, no elbows” kickboxing.
Taking a Punch
“I took to kickboxing pretty fast,” Jessica said. “Don’t get me wrong, I had to work at it and it wasn’t easy. But the fact that my whole family was training— and that it was great exercise—was the biggest draw for me. It’s different every time you do it. It’s not running or doing a treadmill. Kickboxing keeps you engaged and keeps the interest up.”
The gym proved to be a home away from home for Jessica. She began learning the Krav Maga style of kickboxing, as well as Muay Thai and some Kali and Jiu-Jitsu. “The first time I sparred with someone, I was very nervous about being hit,” she said. “I’d never been hit before. But, once you got past that and realized that you are okay, you fall in love. ‘I’m alive and I like this!’”
Jessica’s first fight was in 2007 in Illinois. Pumped and excited about her first competition, Jessica faced disappointment when her competitor backed out. She was then matched with another fighter from a different weight class, so the match was demonstration-only. “We did the fight, and I remember thinking, ‘Oh, I really, really like this.’ I did very well,” Jessica said. “It’s difficult to fight in tournaments. When you spar at the gym, you get to expect certain moves and things from your partners. But in a tournament, you have no idea what you are going up against. It’s open to anyone, so you could fight someone with little experience, or someone who has been training since they were eight years old.”
In fact, most of the people Jessica fights have 15 to 20 years of training. She’s a latecomer to sport, having begun her kickboxing life in her 30s. Nearly 38 now, Jessica often matches against women who are in their early 20s. Still, it’s a sport she’ll never give up. “Martial arts is a great way of life. It built up confidence in my son. It brought us together as a family. Martial arts pushes me to be better, and it holds me to higher standard,” Jessica said. “It’s not just for me, but for the kids I coach too.”
“Being a winner,“ she said, “isn’t about winning a match. It’s about character, sportsmanship, leadership and fun. It’s about how we can better ourselves every day. That’s what I teach my kids.”
Avid Believer in Pedicures
When training for a big fight, like the IKF World Classic, Jessica meets with a strength coach every day for an hour. She does another two to three hours of boxing training every day. Yes—every day. She gave up coffee, doesn’t drink soda and follows a nutritional diet. “Now that I’m not training, I still do strength training, with the boxing training two to four times a week,” she said. “I do training daily for other skills, like personal protection, and I train with my instructors and test once a month to keep up certification.”
She also teaches several children’s classes a week, as well as adult classes. Her youngest students are four years old and her oldest student is 68. “If you had told me 10 years ago I’d be doing this, I would have said you were crazy,” she said. “But it’s a God thing. All I did in my life prepared me for this. I wake up every morning excited to work with the kids and coach.”
Martial arts is more about life than it is about kicking. Jessica’s son still trains, and her daughter recently won the 2011 Featherweight Junior Girls Championship. It’s about pushing yourself to be better, to be honorable and to have confidence in life. Still, being a girl kickboxer surprises people. When she kicks the bags, she does it with painted toes. “Most people I know are here at the gym, but other people are surprised when they hear I do this,” she said. “It’s hard to balance sometimes. I’m a girl in my own way, and I like being feminine, but it’s hard to balance when you are here setting the standard. I’m an avid believer in pedicures.”
Will Jessica compete again? She’s not sure. Part of her wants to coach her own children and the children in her classes to victory. She wants to empower other women as well. “A big goal of mine is women’s self-defense,” she said. “I see it all the time—strong is the new skinny. I want women to know they don’t have to be soft and skinny. They can be strong and confident and themselves.
“It’s about mental and emotional strength. Kickboxing is a huge