Garrett Holeve is 5 feet tall. He has Down’s Syndrome and Rheumatoid Arthritis in his knee. At age 24, his intellectual functioning is similar to an 8 or 9 year old and he deals with life issues in a similar manner. His mom says: “He can’t tell if a cashier gives him the correct change after he buys a slice of pizza, and it’s unlikely he’ll be able to understand this entire article.” He fights this and the stigma that goes along with Down’s Syndrome every day. His father admits that the only thing most people see when looking at him is “a kid with Down’s syndrome.” He has to fight those stereotypes every day. That’s probably not how you’d expect me to start a description of an MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) fighter, but yeah that’s Garrett and he fights that battle too!
In 2010 his father challenged Garrett and his brothers to try Mixed Martial Arts with him. Only Garrett accepted the challenge. It was then that he seemed to find his reprieve and “raison d’etre.” And that’s when he started fighting. I first heard of Garrett on “SportsCenter Featured,” which aired the story “Garrett’s Fight (clip below).” Like others, I was impressed with how he refused to let his “disability” interfere with what he wanted to do. In fact, when asked how Down’s Syndrome affects him, he simply stated: “it does not. I just ignore it.” How great would it be to be able to just dismiss the things about ourselves that we don’t like?!
When working with patients in therapy, I sometimes use the analogy of a rainbow to talk about a new diagnosis and what this means to them. Some patients tend to feel like a mental health diagnosis is labeling them with a permanent flaw. The reality is that we all share similar qualities or experience similar emotions, but some of us may have more “blue” while some have more “red” in “our rainbow.” This is what makes us who we are as individuals. Garrett may have some shortcomings in one area or appear to be “different,” but it’s obvious that he possesses great strengths in others. When stepping in to the gym to train, he transforms from “a kid with down’s syndrome” to “G Money.”
After training his body and mind in the gym 6 days a week, Garrett went on to his first MMA fight. He fought through all 3 rounds and, in the end, both fighter’s hands were raised in victory. Just as he’s done over and over in his life he got through one more fight and grew from the experience. In fact, the support he received along with his achievements not only helped build his confidence, but it helped him accept his disability.
Garrett’s fights in MMA and life have helped him find a purpose in life. He’s faced his fears, gained confidence, and grown as a result.
However, he now finds himself in a new fight. In 2013, he was scheduled to fight again but was stopped by the Florida State Boxing Commission who issued a cease and desist order against his promoter. As expected, Garrett fought that too by creating Garrett’s Fight Foundation to promote MMA in the special needs community. He began teaching classes to children and even took on his first student with Down’s Syndrome. Now, in what seems like a new fight, Florida Legislature has changed laws to block Garrett and other non-profit organizations from sponsoring amateur bouts. I’m sure he’s busy fighting that too. No matter what comes his way, Garrett seems determined to keep fighting!
More from Garrett’s Official Site and SportsCenter Featured video –