SEATTLE — Casey Lynn takes a deep breath, pulls her boxing gloves to her mouth and uses her teeth to make one final adjustment before stepping into the ring.
This is the quiet before the storm.
Lynn, a self-proclaimed “overthinker,” says that when she approaches the boxing ring, everything in her mind falls away.
“There’s a moment of peace and clarity, like this is where I need to be.”
The fight bell rings. The time for peace is over. Now, it’s time to hit or get hit.
Lynn carefully moves to the center of the ring, where she exchanges a series of punches and kicks with her sparring partner. After a couple of rounds, the fighters hug before leaving the ring in sweat and smiles.
It’s a dramatic change from the violence of Lynn’s past — one where she wasn’t fighting for sport but struggling to survive inside an abusive relationship.
‘You can’t live without me’
During a recent training day in Seattle, Lynn opened up to CNN about her experience as a domestic abuse survivor. One relationship in particular left her in constant fear for her life.
Lynn was dating a man whom she met outside her circle of friends. Their relationship started off fine but began deteriorating when he started to abuse her, she says — verbally and physically. When Lynn finally threatened to leave, the violence got worse.
“He pulled out a revolver, threatened me and said, ‘You can’t live without me,’ ” Lynn said. “He began playing Russian roulette, and in between spinning the revolver, he would hit me on the back of the head and try to bludgeon me.”
Lynn luckily made it out alive, but she says her ex stalked her for a year and a half. With threats made to her and her family always on her mind, Lynn felt like she could never let her guard down.
“When I was being stalked, I was fearing for my life all the time. It’s a weird feeling, like you’re standing on quicksand.”
She was only able to free herself from the situation when the man went to jail for armed robbery, she said.
Fighting her past
Athletics have always been a part of life for Lynn, a lifelong soccer player, but she had never considered boxing or mixed martial arts until a friend suggested that she try Muay Thai boxing, a form of kickboxing that originated in Thailand and allows fighters to punch, kick, elbow, knee and use clinch holds on their opponents.
Coming off a low point in her life and struggling with depression, Lynn decided to put aside her reservations about Muay Thai and give it a try.
“Coming out of a domestic violence past and walking into a gym where men are hitting other people and there’s very few women, it was a big hurdle.”
No longer living in fear for her life, there was something very specific that Lynn thought Muay Thai could teach her.
“When I got into Muay Thai, it was never about self-defense,” she said. “I wanted to trust in men again. I wanted to love.”
During her first training sessions, Lynn struggled with her emotions. She found the rush of hitting the pads exhilarating, but when it came time to spar with others, her past came flooding back.
“I would go outside and cry in the car. I had lots of tears and lots of panic attacks. Coming out of abuse, I’d be like, ‘Am I an abuser?’ ”
But Lynn fought through her pain and learned how to punch back. “The moment you hit back, that’s what makes you a fighter.”
With the help of trainers and coaches, Lynn graduated beyond sparring matches and into actual fights. She’s now an amateur level fighter and has had 11 sanctioned fights, including fights throughout Thailand.
The next stage
Lynn, who has a professional career in advertising, believes that Muay Thai has helped her move on to the next stage in her life.
“Fighting’s helped me overcome the things I’ve been through in the past. The main thing I’ve gotten out of Muay Thai is to love.”
Having survived an abusive relationship, Lynn hopes that she can help others do the same by sharing her story and telling others to reach out.
“Anyone that’s trapped in an abusive relationship should find someone you trust and start to talk to them,” she said. “Choose someone that isn’t close to the situation that can provide you with a different perspective.”