The trouble with a fascinating and at times heartbreaking story is a pretty simple one. Where to start?
On the surface of this one we have Limerick woman Tracey Duggan an amateur Muay Thai fighter with a mere 4 fights under her belt. Tracey’s first fight was on the 24th of February of 2018. Yes that’s right 2018. An athlete just starting to make her way.
The regular readers amongst you may have noticed that, as of yet, I have not Interviewed a really famous UFC fighter. Scratch that – I haven’t Interviewed any UFC fighter. The reason for this isn’t because I can’t get access to any of them. I can.
The real reason is that at a certain level of fame it is hard to get them, to give you access to their stories. The real story and unvarnished truth. The back garden access where the plants and flowers  grow wild and beautiful but where sometimes the weeds grow higher. Intermingled and intertwined.
Unfortunately it is in this place I like to sit with my pen and paper. Waiting and hoping that someday the sky will turn a certain shade of blue and the light will fall in a certain way.  And when it does that perhaps I’ll be there to capture the untamed beauty that I’m certain lives there.
To tell you the story of  Tracey Duggan and her love of Muay Thai, I am drawn to the 1st verse of a song in the Motion picture  “A Star is Born”
“That Arizona sky burning in your eyes
You look at me and I wanna catch on fire
It’s buried in my soul like California gold
You found the light in me that I couldn’t find” – 
 Always Remember Us This Way
To talk about Tracey’s path to Muay Thai we must start with her brother Ger. Three years ago last November Ger passed away from Cancer. A young man with a young family. More than a brother a best friend. A confidante.
By the time anyone in the Health service took proper notice of his symptoms Ger had a malignant brain tumour that had developed into something the size of your fist. The initial diagnosis by a doctor was…. wait for it…… Depression. Vital time lost when he most needed it.
It took Ger to slip into a fit before medical professionals sat up and took notice. A psychiatric nurse called to the house to evaluate Tracey’s brother and finally said what everyone in the Duggan household already knew. This ain’t Depression.
The sad reality of the everyday incompetence we put up with in the Health Service is that Ger paid for it with his life. Within 3 months of the proper diagnosis, Ger had a second fit. It was to be his last. The final irony was that he died on the day he was to start his first treatments of Radio and Chemotherapy.
If the doctor who first treated Ger had sent him for a CAT scan instead of reaching for the Anti-depressants would he still be here?.  We will never know that now.
I was kind of normal enough until that happened, living life and not a care in the world. Normal stuff really you know. Then out of the blue one day, my brother was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. After he died I started going down a very, very self destrucitve road. Drinking all the time and hanging around with the wrong people.
At the time i was hoping and working to do nursing and stuff like that and i was working part time as a medic with the Limerick GAA
Weekend drinking turned into a full-time job. She quit her studies before they quit her. She stopped the part-time work she was doing. As she tells it she was in freefall.  As i listened back to this part of our conversation a second and a third time i thought to myself I probably would have done the same things and worse.
For six months and more this was Tracey’s life. allowing herself to get towed out to sea by a current of the wrong type of people. Towards the end there were but three who stood trying to drag her back to shore. Her mother and two childhood friends Lorraine and Rebecca. All three continued to drum into her the things she didn’t want to hear. The gratitude she has now for these people crackles down the mobile connection.  Foul weather friends – can’t have enough of them I say.
I continued on going down the wrong direction and piling on the pounds or whatever. One day I saw a picture of myself on facebook and I thought Jesus Christ is that me. Growing up i was never really, really skinny but my weight never bothered me. I was never obsessed with my weight or anything like that. Like everyone i did some yo-yo diets when i wanted to lose a few pounds but that was about it
While the Facebook photo was a shock it didn’t shock her enough to change.  A signpost on the wrong road but no change in direction. The continued efforts of her friends telling her that what she was doing wasn’t her helped. Arguing with her and fighting with her. Dragging her out of bed and basically not giving up on her,  so that when her mother finally delivered the knock out blow she was ready to attempt to climb out of the hole she had dug.
” That’s the type of friends they are, I am very lucky to have Rebecca and Lorraine in my life, telling me the choices i was making were going to effect me in 5 years and beyond. I would be in bed for 4 days depressed off my head and because of the joys of social media nobody is gonna know the difference. You can put a status up on Facebook or send out a text and no-one is gonna know your in bed for 4 days.
It was breaking my mother’s heart the way i was going. She had a conversation with me and sucked me into reality. she said ” If Ger saw you like this what would he say”. No-one , No-One had dared say that to me through that whole time, you know what would your brother say and as soon as that was said to me it was like…like fucking hitting a brick wall like…do you know that kind of way…Coz Jesus what would he say you know…He probably would have boxed me around the place for carrying on like that…
So Tracey took these seeds of wisdom from her friends and mother and decided to go a-planting. The first step was to do something about her fitness and that led her initially to a local kick boxing club and some fitness classes twice a week. While there, the coach asked her would she be interested in fighting and she laughed in his face. The pounds were coming off and at that time she was happy enough with that.
The focus of sweating so much, almost to the point of passing out, just hitting the pads or thumping a punchbag was helping to lift the fog in her mind. It motivated her to keep going with it.
After another 7 or 8 months of following this path one of the guys in the club approached her again.
Would you ever consider Muay Thai? Now Gerry, I didn’t even know what Muay Thai was at the time. Never heard of it. So I looked at him and said Like, What’s Muay Thai is that the name of a dance or something like
Did I forget to mention that Tracey is funny.  The way she phrases things. I literally couldn’t stop laughing when she delivered this episode over the phone. Her voice is soft and the words spill out quickly in that kind of lilting Limerick accent. There is no trace of bitterness in her voice even though the passing and handling of her brothers illness is still clearly very fresh and raw.
Once the Gym member relayed that Muay Thai was quite similiar to Kickboxing she accepted the number of the coach, Robert NG and his gym EireMuaySiam in Limerick.
Tracey texted him the next day and he responded almost immediately and the dance with Muay Thai began.
So the next day I gave the coach a text. I said I was doing kick boxing for awhile but nothing really serious…I kinda wanted to sound a little bit like I knew what I was doing!…So I was like…. I played rugby for a long, long time but gave it up when Ger passed away. I just didn’t want to come across like i was this lost little girl…but that I am used to contact sport..
The next week she went down to EireMuaySiam and walked in a little bit nervous. She went down on her own not telling anyone that she was going. She was met by Robert almost immediately on arrival.
Robert NG.jpg
I was met by this Asian man and he comes over and I’ll never forget it….and he introduces himself and the biggest Irish accent came out of his mouth and i remember thinking Jesus Christ I wasn’t expecting that..It was the last thing you were expecting out of an Asian man…especially in Limerick City. He had more of an Irish accent than I had like…and the soundest man ever…Little did i know at the time that, that place was going to become my home…
Tracey started with the beginners class and absolutely loved it. The seriousness of Muay Thai in the gym and Limerick opened her eyes to a whole new world. The training was constant. Everybody knew what they were doing and everybody knew what they were talking about.  She was surrounded by people with passion and intensity for the sport. It was hard not to get involved and it was hard not to listen to them. They spoke with so much pride about the sport.
You would be forgiven for thinking she may have a found a small but dedicated army of women in the Gym.  Eh not so.
No I was the only one. As time went on a couple of girls came down for fitness but they fell away or whatever..but as the weeks went on I was just in awe of the place. The more i went , the more I started to think …Right you know what…I want to fight now. Everybody was talking about it and had so much pride about it…i was like…I want that..I want that. I knew i had to prove myself because Muay Thai is not an easy game. Even the amateur level in Ireland is so, so tough.
I knew i wasn’t going to go in there and say …Hi Rob i want a fight…No…no.. I had to prove myself  and prove that i was capable. So i just kept, kept working. every time I showed up I made sure…with the intention that i was going to try to be the hardest worker in the room…
Over time the hard work began to pay off and Rob invited her down to some of the sparring classes and the seeds she planted that day by going to a fitness class were starting to break ground. At times during this period she was a little intimidated by the task she had set herself but the family she had found in Robert’s gym kept her spirits up and her head screwed on. It all led to that first fight back in February of last year.
” When I went into sparring classes I quickly realised I am not around people who are just looking for fitness..These guys here mean business…they’re some of the best in the country like…I had never seen commitment like that before..I was a little bit intimidated there at first…coz I was the only girl there..So it was just me…little ole me by myself you know with all the lads. But they couldn’t have been more welcoming….They didn’t look at me like I was a girl and we have to go easy on her. They treated me like one of their own…
As you may have guessed by now this story isn’t about whether Tracey is going to be the next World Muay Thai champion. Maybe she will go onto great things in the sport and maybe she won’t. This tale is about someone who found something to love when she lost someone she loved. She hopes to get into the Muay Thai C class and one day move up into the professional B and A categories of the sport. I have little doubt that she will.
As our conversation continued I asked her how the 3 amigos, Mam, Lorraine and Rebecca felt about her new found passion when she told them. She starts with an embarrassed laugh…
Yeah…That went….ahhh…Nobody really wanted me doing it when they realised I was gonna start actually fighting….i remember My Mam cried..Just the fear that I would be hurt…I kinda of just kept doing it though….Then i was training about six months and February came around and the gym was putting on their own show…Unforgiven 2. Rob set up my first fight and I couldn’t wait. My Mam was so iffy about it….so, so Iffy about it. didn’t really want to hear about it…But in fairness they could see i was happy and that i gave everything to it…could see me getting back to myself…not even myself..a better version of myself
Hesitantly, As her debut fight zoomed into focus she asked her family and friends to come. Unsurprisingly they didn’t let her down. They came out in force. No-one was sure what to expect.
My Mam came…and once she saw me in there, Gerry, I swear her fear turned into pride after it like. Even though i lost that first fight….but she was brimming with pride…I remember my friends were all there as well and that’s one thing about Limerick city they always get behind their people and athletes..The atmosphere was off the roof that night….but my mother was screaming the loudest in the whole crowd..Rebecca was telling me afterwards when she was driving my mother home….and that she just would not shut up about me the whole way home like…So I suppose it took her to come actually see it rather than hearing about it…
And so the little flower seed has started to shoot a few leaves and flowers. Outside the Muay Thai training, Tracey set about Enrolling and completing a fitness instructor’s course. she just recently completed this and has already designed her own course which she hopes to launch with her own classes after her next fight. Her coach Robert has set aside some space in the gym for her to start chasing that dream.
Embrace the Chaos Fitness is the name and she plans to incorporate fitness with some Muay Thai elements and other surprises. She promises that no-one will leave one of her classes dry. That they will sweat buckets and have some fun along the way.
One of the overwhelming themes from our conversation is the sense that she wants to help people. From her original interest in nursing and EMT, to the research and advocacy she did trying to fight for her brother’s life and now the encouragment she is trying to give people that might have weight issues , self esteem or mental health troubles. Isn’t it funny how often it is that the people who suffer the most that are often the most eager to extend the hand of help to others.
It’s not about me looking for my 15 minutes of fame…or my spotlight or anything….I couldn’t care less about that…at the end of the day I’m still gonna do…what I’m gonna do…but maybe somebody out there will read this and maybe it might help them….
Tracey’s brother had a tattoo that spelled out the letters of his own name and Tracey frequently slagged him about it but when he died she had a replica of it done on her own arm. I like to think that both him and Muay Thai are now indelibly stamped on her forever. A piece of him to take with her on her journey and today as I am reflecting on this piece I am sure Muay Thai will be taking them to some very interesting places.
With that I’ll put down my pen and paper,  time to draw deeply on a cigerette, as this is as good a place as any, to stop and gaze out into the back garden of Eden…..
Tracey wanted take the opportunity to thank in particular Robert NG and all the time, support and guidance he has given her on her journey.
To check out Robert and  EireMuaySiam click here
Munster Pro Fitness in Corbally run by Jane and Gordon also have given Tracey loads of support which she is very grateful for. With access to their gym and much valued advice on strength and conditioning before, during and after her fight camps.

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