Life is a series of twists and turns, stops and starts. It’s pretty rare that a human ends up making a living or a career in the vocation they thought of as a child. I’ve met cops who thought they would be professors, professors who thought they would be firemen, and everything in between. So it shouldn’t surprise us when a fighter tells their story. But this one? This one is fairly unusual.
“I am no natural athlete; in fact, I have no athletic ability. I fall walking; I am a klutz,” Katherine Grasshopper told Combat Press. “I was one of those band geeks. I started playing music around eight or nine years old, and that was what I stuck with throughout high school and college. I was the classically trained band geek who played clarinet, but I learned all the woodwinds and double reeds, like the oboe, and I even started picking up some brass.
“Now, after years of training, my finger dexterity just isn’t what it used to be. Between jammed and broken knuckles, I can’t move my fingers like I used to. I’ve taught our oldest daughter a little bit. I’ll play something for her to help her get a feel for it, but now, well, there is just no time even if I could play like I wanted.”
So, Grasshopper went from band geek to badass? How, you say? There are still a few twists and turns. She went to college in Shippensburg, Pa., but only for a year. It just wasn’t the best fit, so she dropped out, joined the Air Force and spent the next few years as a non-nuclear ammo specialist, building bombs. She developed a bad knee, though, so her stint in the Armed Forces was cut short.
She didn’t get into the martial arts after that. Nope, she was working as an assistant curator at Big Cypress Reservation in South Florida and met her husband, Jason Grasshopper. If you don’t believe in love at first sight, well, you’re wrong. They met in May 2004. By July, they were engaged. By September, married. They just celebrated their 12th anniversary, and they now have six kids.
Mishell might not have been born by Katherine, but she is her daughter just as much as she is Jason’s. Along with Mishell, who is about to turn 13, the pair also have Julia (11), Hayse (10), Danika (7), Evalynn (6) and Jaxton (5). Any stay-at-home mom would be wiped out just taking care of her husband and brood, but Katherine somehow finds the time to care for everyone and train to fight in MMA, as well as Muay Thai. Yet, we still haven’t gotten to the story of how she got into it.
“While it’s true that I have lots of kids, I have also had a lot of miscarriages,” said Grasshopper. “I’ve been pregnant for most of my marriage, actually. Before I started training, I got up to 256 pounds — I was obese. I had fibromyalgia and I was constantly in pain. I started dieting, the HCG diet, and I lost weight and hair, so I decided to find another way.
“I started at the gym doing the elliptical. But, you know, when you’re self-conscious you stay back, but I kept with it, walking and biking, and I started losing more weight. At the time, we were in Carlisle, Pa., and there was a Gracie Jiu-Jitsu gym there. I signed myself and the kids up, but after a couple of months we had to move back to Oklahoma.
“We got to Tahlequah and the choices of gyms were greatly reduced. We have one gym, an MMA gym, and it was run by an old-school friend of Jason’s. I walked into the MMA gym at 220 pounds. Here are all the fit and healthy people — it was intimidating — but I started going more and more frequently. I am a happy, peace-and-love kind of girl, so [I] never even considered fighting. But I went to watch my teammate, Kathina Catron, now Kathina Lowe. I watched her fight and thought to myself, ‘Man, that looks so much fun! I want to do that.’ So I took a year of training and took my first fight.
“It was four days before my 33rd birthday, and I remember nothing else about that fight. It was a round and half before she choked me out, and I don’t think I even threw a punch. But I loved it. I loved that I was me in there. I wasn’t a mom, I wasn’t a wife, nothing. It was just me, no other persona — the bare, elemental self. Even though I lost, I had to do it again. After my second fight, Jason had a bout with hyperthyroidism and spent a lot of time in the ICU, so I took six months off. Here and there I have taken a couple of months off, but I always come back to training.
“It’s addicting, the training. It gets in your blood. I can’t not do it. In Tahlequah, I was training at Battleground MMA. I fought six times with them before we moved to Florida. We moved to Florida because [Jason’s] mom and dad were here and we wanted to give the kids a better education. Oklahoma right now is just underfunded and making bad decisions for curriculum.”
So, that is how she got into fighting and why she has stayed a fighter, but how does she do it when she and her husband are raising six children, all under the age of 13? Well, the kids all take at least one year of jiu-jitsu and kickboxing. All six kids have taken martial arts classes. Three still do. Danika and Evalynn compete in jiu-jitsu, too.
“Hayse loves to roll, but he has decided to wrestle. So he is going to wrestle only and Danika is going to add wrestling to her jiu-jitsu and Muay Thai,” said Grasshopper.
It’s clear when Grasshopper speaks about all of her children, whether it’s Mishell’s musical abilities, Julia and Hayse helping make bottles for Danika (even though they ended up making a tremendous mess), Danika and Evalynn’s athletic prowess, or Jaxton’s escapades as the youngest of the brood as he finds his way, that they are her world. If it came down to fighting or her kids, the kids would win every time.
Luckily for MMA fans, though, that choice does not have to be made. Katherine is able to raise her children with her husband and train full-time. What does a typical weekday in the Grasshopper household look like? Take a seat, my friends. You’re going to get exhausted just reading it.
“The first alarm goes off at 5:30 a.m. I sleep through a few of them, but the alarms go off every five minutes,” Grasshopper said with a laugh. “By 6:15, I am making coffee and start waking the children. I go ahead and dress them — I know I probably shouldn’t, but it’s just easier. The school uniforms are kept in a dresser, and so I get them dressed, do the typical reminders — brush your hair, brush your teeth, get your book-bags together — and then I sign the planners and homework and we leave the house at 7:20. When I get back, I wake the girls up for middle school. They don’t need to be at the bus stop till 9 a.m., but if I don’t get them up by 7:45, they won’t make it. It takes them forever to look like they just rolled out of bed! And then it’s the same thing — brush your teeth, get your book-bags together, let me sign what I need to sign — and then they are out the door.
“After that, it’s time for training. I have to leave by 9 to make it on time, to be there by 9:30-9:45. After that, I head home for laundry — the never-ending saga — prep dinner and after-school snacks. At 2 p.m., I pick up the elementary school kids, then it’s snacks and homework. Danika is dyslexic and Jaxton still can’t read, so it takes a while to get their work done sometimes. Plus, Hayse hates school now, so that is always a struggle.
“At 4:30, the two middle-schoolers come home and the drama comes home. Pretty much every day, they get into a fight on the bus ride home, and one will come in upset and telling me what the other did. After that, it’s time to serve dinner, a healthy one, and then I have to explain why we are not ordering pizza or getting McDonald’s. After dinner, I head back to the gym. On Wednesdays, I need to be there by 5 for my class. Then Danika and Hayse have class, and I have class again.
“Not all kids come at once, but I will almost always have two to three with me each night, unless Jason has something to do and then I get them all. My kids are fixtures at the gym. It works for us all, but Wednesday is an incredibly long day. Our gym isn’t like some of the larger gyms, where they kick people out right after class. Ours will continue working to get the technique right. So, many times I don’t get home until 10:30 or later. Clean up, make sure everyone is in bed and then bed by midnight to do it all over again. Sundays are family days — we will go to the beach or the zoo, something with the kids all together.”
Whew. OK, take a deep breath and think about what you just read. Grasshopper keeps that schedule as an amateur. She doesn’t get paid for putting in all the work or putting her body on the line. And she does put it on the line. Her last fight against Nadeia Thiel was the World Class Fight League’s “Fight of the Night.” Her upcoming rematch against WCFL bantamweight champion Sarah Kleczka on Oct. 8t is not only the main event, but it is also one of the highest anticipated bouts on the card.
“My team picks on me because I am friends with my opponents,” Grasshopper revealed. “I was Facebook friends with Sarah before I moved to Florida. We were scheduled to fight in October of last year, but I had to pull out of the fight because my father-in-law died and we buried him in Oklahoma that weekend. She was very understanding and willing to reschedule the fight in January. And we remained friends after she beat me.
“Her teammate, Nadeia, is more reserved, and before our fight, she pulled back and unfollowed me. And that is totally fine. Everyone handles the fight game differently. I look at it as, I get to punch people in the face, and I am glad that Sarah feels the same way.
“Sarah and I knew we would probably be fighting again, yet after my fight with Nadeia, she and I went to the WCFL after-party at Scores and we chilled out together. This fight has a belt up for grabs and we are two members of a small community, so it makes no sense to eliminate a friend for nine minutes of your life. There is a whole world outside of fight[ing], so I am glad that she sees it the same way. There will be other fights and other belts.”
Since the move to Florida, Grasshopper has started training Muay Thai and competing in kickboxing. She is afraid to compete in jiu-jitsu, however, because she is afraid she might punch a competitor, as she recently did to a teammate. In her defense, he was open, though.
The twists and turns of life may take Grasshopper down the path of becoming a professional MMA fighter. If so, it’s clear she has the will and the drive to hone her craft. And if she decides not to? Well, she has a family that will keep her plenty busy.