“When you’re on the mat, nothing else matters”: Veterans navigate civilian life through MMA

Samara Freemark
Reporter
Public Insight Network
MESA, ARIZ. -- The Spartan Academy is a gym in Mesa, Ariz. that specializes in the American Pankration style of mixed martial arts. Many of the men who train there are combat veterans, recently returned from Iraq or Afghanistan. At Spartan Academy, these men have found a community that understands them, and a training regimen that helps them work through what they've experienced. Here are some of their stories.

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Justin Hayes, left, and Matt Coast compete in a mixed martial arts bout during fight night at the Spartan Academy gym inMesa, Ariz. Both men are combat veterans who spent time deployed in Iraq. (Photo by Brandon Quester for PIN)

Justin Hayes, left, and Matt Coast compete in a mixed martial arts bout during fight night at the Spartan Academy gym inMesa, Ariz. Both men are combat veterans who spent time deployed in Iraq. (Photo by Brandon Quester for PIN)

 

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Samara Freemark Reporter
Public Insight Network

Reporter/producer Samara Freemark joined the Public Insight Network after four years at Radio Diaries in New York City, where she spent her time helping ordinary people tell their extraordinary stories for NPR. In the process, she developed an unshakeable belief in the beauty and power of personal narrative.

Before Radio Diaries Samara worked as an environmental reporter, a posting that took her to sinking islands, Superfund sites, and literal snakepits – Burmese pythons, to be exact. She also churned out copy and tape in the newsroom of WUOM Ann Arbor. Before settling on a career in radio she tried out policy research, community organizing, and urban planning before deciding she preferred soundwaves to spreadsheets.