HOUSTON - After watching 16-year-old Mona Bailey takedown girls and guys, you’d never know those aren't the toughest fights she has had to face.
“It felt like it went from like zero to 60 so quick,” says her mother Amanda. “When I would brush her hair, the hair would just come out.”
At the age of nine, just a couple of months after starting her Jiu-Jitsu career, Mona was diagnosed with alopecia.
At the time, her family didn't even know what it was, and out of ten kids, she remains the only one of them who has it.
“I remember going to the doctors and my siblings being like, ‘why isn’t she going to school?” says Mona.
Instead of taking her diagnosis laying down, she rolled with the punches by letting her mom draw in her eyebrows and wearing a wig to school, but after classes, she would transform into her alter ego, “Bald Strong Mona.”
“When she got off the bus, she’d pop that thing off, and then she went to Jiu-Jitsu, so she literally had two separate lives. It was like Hannah Montana,” says her mom.
But she says that the first hairpiece cost $5,000, which left Mona wondering who could afford them. Together, she and her family decided to use her competitions to raise funds to help others buy wigs that would make them more comfortable.
At tournaments, she sets up booths with merchandise that funds her organization, The Bald Strong Mona Foundation. Her mom says they’ve been able to gift nearly 90 wigs through the proceeds.
When traveling, Mona also often teaches free seminars, and at home, she runs classes for other kids at their family gym, The Carlson Gracie Martial Arts School in Conroe.
“There’s going to be obstacles, especially being a female in Jiu-Jitsu, a male-dominant sport. So, you know, just keep going, keep training, and enjoying it,” she advises younger learners.
Her mom says Mona doesn't complain about her condition, instead, she uses the sport to get her through tough days and educate others.
“With alopecia, people can be so quick to judge, but everyone has their own unique story of how they got it, and how they’ve gone through it. You just have to listen,” says Mona.
Her mom says she's always available to connect with others dealing with alopecia, and Mona is always ready to help take down any misconceptions.
Mona is also participating in a breast cancer awareness fight after having five family members affected by the disease. The bout is coming up on Sunday at the Bayou Event Center and streaming on UFC Fight Pass. For more info on her fights and organization, visit her Instagram page at https://www.instagram.com/baldstrongmona/ and her foundation page at http://www.baldstrongmonafoundation.org/home.html.