By Kelsie Kilawna, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Rylie “Coyote” Marchand travelled alone to compete in her latest martial arts tournament in Houston, Texas, on June 12 while her coach, family and friends watched from home.
She went for a run on the morning of, shedding the last half-pound she needed to make her weight class, and got her hair braided at the mall, wearing an orange shirt with ‘215’ on the front.
Marchand — who’s a member of the Okanagan Indian Band — won the jiu-jitsu Kumite tournament, returning to her home in syilx territory a champion, yet again.
“It’s really rewarding to win, but it’s not the win itself, it’s the hours you put into it before you win that no one else sees,” Marchand tells IndigiNews a month after returning home. “I usually train twice a day. I have to try and fit so many things into a day. 24 hours is not enough for sure.”
Marchand says it’s important to her to represent her community positively wherever she goes.
“I love having `Okanagan Indian Band’ attached to my name at all times,” she says.
Marchand got her start in martial arts when she was eight years old and a ballet dancer. Her brother won a pass to check out their local MMA and boxing gym where she fell in love with martial arts, she says.
She’s now a dedicated fighter, training with Raj Lee at Unity MMA in Vernon, B.C., located in Marchand’s syilx territory — and she has a strong record to defend. In April 2019, Marchand became the youngest female MMA amateur champion in Canada.
The Texas tournament marks the first time Marchand attended a competition on her own. It was hard not having her coach there, she says, especially during her first fight when she had to rely on the referee for a difficult call.
“I took a shin to the nose and got a nosebleed in the first fight, and we were still rolling and the ref called for blood time,” she explains. “He wanted me to get cleaned up. Prior to him stopping it, I was in a submission but actively defending it. When we got back, she was insisting the submission was fully locked up and tighter than I remembered.”
No one was there to vouch for her, she says, and when she looked back on video footage, she could see she wasn’t in that tight of a submission. She lost that first match but was able to come back for the others when it mattered.
Her coach was watching the live-streamed event, calling her between fights to keep her head in the game, she says.
“He was calling and saying, ‘Don’t worry about that match. You have to focus on this match if you need to switch gears.’ He could see me in the background sitting and looking bummed out,” she says with a chuckle.
She won her second match with her signature move, the flying armbar, which has earned her the nickname ‘Air Canada,’ she says.
Marchand’s third match was “back and forth for a while,” she explains, as her opponent had more of a “wrestling style,” so it was a “waiting game for who was going to go for the takedown first.”
While grappling on the ground, Marchand got a heel hook, locking her opponent’s ankle and twisting it the wrong way, making Marchand victorious in the round. For the tournament, there was “first place or no place,” she explains, and due to her successful matches and best overall score, she took home the gold.
Marchand says she wants to go professional, and it’s her community that gives her hope.
“Professional fighting is my end goal, and I have a lot of support out here. I left for Texas with over $2,000 raised from the community,” she says. “It’s such a burden taken off my shoulders, and it’s super encouraging.”
She plans on fighting in two more tournaments before attempting to go professional.
“Once you go pro, you can’t go back,” she says.
It was important for Marchand to wear her orange shirt with “215” on the front to represent the Indigenous bodies recently uncovered at the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc so-called Residential “school.”
“I have this shirt that says 215, but now the number is over 700,” she says.
Hundreds of bodies continue to be discovered at former residential institutions, in a time when Marchand says “the truth” will be upheld.
“I think all this coming to light is relieving for us. We’re not just carrying this by ourselves anymore. Others are seeing it and it’s affecting their communities more than they thought it would,” Marchand says.
“In B.C., it’s right in your backyard and you can’t ignore it anymore. For me, it’s nice to not have to fight to be heard anymore. It’s right in everybody’s face.”
When she’s not training or working in the community garden, Marchand enjoys spending time with kids and does some mentorship work, she says. Martial arts has been a critical outlet for her to develop healthy coping mechanisms for the adversities she’s faced, and she hopes others feel inspired to live out their passions.
“Find your passion. I found MMA by accident — it was so organic. Try new things, and go with what comes naturally. It wasn’t even a second thought of `Should I continue?’ or `Should I not continue?’ It was just something I woke up and did every day,” says Marchand.
“Everything is hard, but it’s about choosing your hard. Fighting is hard, but if I was not fighting it would still be hard, so why not pick the thing I enjoy doing?”
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