A fondness for Jean Claude van Damme movies instilled in B.J. Garceau a fighting spirit while growing up in Greenbush.
But her own body — in particular a Type 1 diabetes diagnosis in July 1993 — prevented her from acting out on her interest in martial arts.
“I tried to get into it when I was 11,” she said recently, “but after I got diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes I got pulled out of it because people thought it was too much of a health risk at the time.”
More than 20 years later, Garceau is not only training regularly in mixed martial arts, but poised to make her debut in the cage against Jepha Mooi of Tampa, Florida, on Feb. 3 during a New England Fights show at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston.
Garceau, who previously was scheduled to fight in Bangor last August and then in Lewiston in November only to have potential opponents back out, had to be convinced to return to the cage for this third chance by Young’s MMA owner and coach Chris Young.
“When I was told that my last opponent had backed out I actually got really discouraged and stepped away from the gym for nearly two months,” Garceau said. “But I just couldn’t pass this up. It’s now or never.”
Garceau thought that the decision to fight had been made for her long ago by medical reality, but a case of life’s reality prompted her to reconsider martial arts three years ago.
“My father and my grandmother had passed away and it was kind of a reality check for me, that we can’t live forever so if I want to do some things in life I better start doing them,” she said.
Garceau lived not far from Young’s MMA former downtown Bangor location at the time, and after meeting some of the fighters she began attending fitness classes and later kickboxing classes at the gym.
That led to inevitable conversations about taking her interest to a more competitive level.
“I wasn’t the one who approached Chris, but through practices and just helping Angela Young, who’s also a well-known female MMA fighter in the area, through some camps he asked if I’d ever be interested in getting in the cage and showing what I’ve got. Ever since then that’s what I’ve had my eye on.”
Garceau had played field hockey along with softball and some basketball before graduating from Old Town High School in 2001, but veered away from competitive sports once she went to college.
“What eventually happened was my diabetes sort of got out of control and finally I had to get on an insulin pump,” she said, “so with that a few years ago before I got into MMA I lost about 30 pounds and began getting my health in charge.”
For Garceau, a one-time bouncer who now works as a sterile processing technician at Eastern Maine Medical Center, the more recent commitment to the rough-and-tumble world of MMA has served to enhance not only her fitness but life as it relates to her diabetes.
“I actually feel more confident since I started MMA,” she said. “Even at work as a health care professional or even just walking down the street, I feel like it’s fully changed my life.”
Garceau, now 35, still relies on an insulin pump as well as a blood-glucose monitor she often wears during her workouts but won’t wear during her upcoming match.
“I test at least 20 minutes before going into a competition and within 20 minutes after the competition,” said Garceau, who has competed in one jiu-jitsu tournament as well as kickboxing events in Dexter and Brewer.
“Hopefully, I can finish [Mooi] off fairly early, but if not it will be nine minutes [three three-minute rounds] in there and that won’t be that long. I’m feeling really confident going into it.”
Garceau and Mooi, also making her amateur MMA debut, will fight at the strawweight limit of 115 pounds, which for Garceau will require special attention to dietary detail as well as some additional running to drop 10 to 15 pounds before fight night.
“My weight cutting is different than other people,” said Garceau, who is a vegetarian. “Being Type 1 diabetic, I just can’t cut food out for a week like a lot of people do. A lot of people can do the more dramatic weight cut, but I just have to be really mindful these next few weeks of what I eat.”
Garceau is scheduled to one of three female fighters from Young’s MMA competing on the Feb. 3 NEF card along with Jayda Bailey of Levant and Catie Denning of Bucksport, and she finds that camaraderie to be nearly as rewarding as the health benefits she’s derived from the sport.
“It makes me feel like I have a purpose,” she said. “I want to take better care of myself because I have a team now and a lot of younger girls who want to get into the sport and want to talk to me about how to progress, so I have to stay healthy, not only for myself but others who walk into that gym.”
Garceau plans to use her MMA debut to promote the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
“I’m excited to be able to get the word out about juvenile diabetes out there,” she said. “I just want other kids to have the chance to fulfill their dreams like I wasn’t able to when I was first diagnosed.
“Some people come into the gym now and they’ll notice me wearing the pump when I’m working out and say, ‘My God, I didn’t know you could do this,’ so I’m glad I’m able to represent.”
Follow BDN Maine Sports on Facebook for the latest in Maine high school and college sports.