From the military to the Octagon: A powerful female journey of inspiration

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Meet 26-year-old Charlotte Jade Elektra Lewis.

Originally from Oxford, after hearing her story, I'd say she is the definition of strength, character and resilience.

A wise person once said: “When something bad happens, you have three choices: You can either let it define you, let it destroy you or let it strengthen you” and strength is what Charlotte displayed through the trials and tribulations she has endured throughout her life.

Charlotte got into kickboxing at the age of just five and on her 19th birthday she joined the Royal Air Force.

But in 2014 Charlotte suffered a bad injury in service, speaking on the injury itself she said: “I thought the only thing that was bruised was my ego and I thought it was just thought it was a knock. I did a 20 kilometre Spartan Race with the lads while I had the fracture and was back to work a couple of days later.

"Being back at the RAF something happened and I threw my chair back, heard a crack and I don’t remember anything after that.”

What followed was an eight-day induced coma to save Char’s life, her pelvis was cracked in half and the doctors had to fight to keep her alive.

She recalled: “When I finally woke up the doctors told me that I would never be able to walk again, initially I laughed because I was just like ‘what the hell is happening’. I don’t think I was ever upset with the situation but I remember being so angry, I don’t think I actually processed it all straight away.

"I thought that it was a temporary situation but my dad said to me, ‘no, they mean forever’ and that’s when it hit me.”

Charlotte admits to being a “horrible human” in the days that followed the terrible news, she wouldn’t communicate with her family and friends and would never admit to herself that the situation was permanent.

She said: “I was just sure I would walk again,I couldn’t just lay there and admit defeat but I was becoming not a nice person at all, I remember my dad leaving the room to make us all a cup of tea and my brother told me that he never imagined someone he thought was so strong would fold as quickly as I did - it was harsh but from that moment on I just knew I had to get up and walk again.”

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She and her family spent many months working towards her ability to walk again and for a long time her brother and sister were her physios.

They would get her up and started teaching her to use her legs again, she continued: “As soon as the doctor realised the nerves were not as damaged they too helped me on my long journey back to fitness.

“As soon as I decided that I didn’t want this for myself then there was no stopping me. My story was never going to end like that and I wasn’t taking no as a final answer.”

Six gruelling months later, Char took her first proper step on her own - that first step was a massive move in the right direction both physically and mentally.

When I asked her how she felt, she recalled: “Wow, how do I even explain that feeling in words? I just cannot describe it! It was overwhelming in so many ways, I started crying because my brother started crying and I had never seen him cry before. I had been working so hard towards it but it was all just madness.”

The whole time that Charlotte was injured she was part of the RAF, she explained that they really do make sure that you’re looked after if you are medically discharged through injury, giving you money, sending you on training courses and checking in how you are until they believe you can survive alone.

It was after yet another operation in 2016 that the nightmare was realised and Charlotte was medically discharged from the RAF.

On leaving the RAF, Charlotte said: “It was just a mad shock because I am absolutely terrible at job interviews - as soon as I entered the RAF at 19-years-old I thought that would be my life until retirement, I had my mind set on it.

"It was the first time I ever sat there and had absolutely no clue what I was going to do with my life, I had tried to volunteer for deployments early so I could settle down one day in the hope I’d be less likely to be called up with kids and a husband. And this was an end to that story. They were all amazing and still ring me to this day to check on me so they really did their bit.”

After leaving the RAF Charlotte got into weight training to build muscle again - something she had to take at an extremely low pace.

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Charlotte still suffers to this day from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as she explains: “There is a total element of being just left to your own devices, it is hard and I suffer just as many military personnel do when they leave.”

She went on and said: “I have never really spoken about how I got it but what I will say is that humans are horrible. There is nothing special or different about me than others currently serving or previously serving, it is just about the terrible suffering afterwards, a lot of people including me have trouble getting stuff out of their heads and I have lost many friends to this.”

She continued: “Like most people, some days are better than others, some days I just can’t cope and other days I am fine.”

With what Char has endured in her life, it would be very easy for a young woman to give up and just thank her lucky stars that she was even alive to see the day, but not Charlotte - she decided that she wanted to remain a part of combat sports in some way.

She took the next step on her adventure and decided to venture into the world of Mixed Martial Arts, she explained: “I was so desperate to have my foot in somewhere and that’s where the cuts came in, when I greased a fighter before a fight I’d always wish it was me in there competing.”

After being out with injury for most of 2016 and just focusing on building her business as a physio to hopefully fall back on, Charlotte decided to head to Dublin in 2017 and take a course with Joe Clifford, an elite level cutsman, Charlotte continued: “I went there to do the course in corner care and cuts in MMA, I had been thinking about it a long time, as soon as I had registered with IMMAF, the International MMA association, I knew I wanted to take it seriously and follow that path - it was my way back into combat sports.”

Since taking her corner care course Charlotte has never looked back and did her best to work on any show she could to help her fighters and display her skills, even taking part in a few cage warriors promotions. She is now toying with the idea of training to get her seconds license and moving on to the next challenge in her young life.

But along with the love of the sport and what she does, there are obviously some negatives and downsides that many can relate to.

As a woman in the corner of an MMA octagon, she is in the firing line for sexist comments and judgement - when I asked her about being a female in the sport, Charlotte explained: “I get a barrage of crap for being a female, I get asked why I am there just because I am a woman or the one I get most is, 'aren’t you supposed to be a ring girl?'.

The worst part of it is the assumptions made about you, that you’re ‘easy’. I just wish that people would look at me when I walk into a cage and judge me on my work done rather than emphasize my sex.”

She went on to say, “My male mate who does it doesn’t get half the amount of abuse that I get. I am young as well as female and people just don’t tend to take you seriously and quite frankly in 2019, it is pathetic!

"But what does make it all better is that I have so many people around me who support me and help me along the journey.”

It was during her time when she thought she would never walk again that she came to the sudden realisation that she may never be able to train again so when she could it almost came as a sort of miracle.

So she decided to get into the body building side of things as she could control the training and do it at her own pace for her body’s recovery, it would also improve her confidence after being in recovery for a long period of time.

She said: “I have always been mad competitive and I always did something fairly physical so I wanted to be back involved in something I could feel that in. I am not a team player and wanted to compete alone, I was fed up of being in a bed and playing board games - I just wanted to be in control and in this everything was like mad control freak.

"I also liked the glamour of the body building competitions and I put on loads of weight during my recovery.”

The big moment that signed off her recovery was the feeling of stepping out on stage to display her finished product of hard work and dedication, proving just how much her body had changed, on that moment she first walked out in her bikini, Char recalled: “The first time I walked out I never looked exactly how I wanted to but the fact that I even walked out there was massive for me and I learned a hell of a lot.

"Knowing I had got out onto a stage considering where I had come from and how long I had been laying in a hospital bed, that was a proud moment for sure! I will never stop doing this, my legs could never take the impact of kick boxing again but it is nice to have something else.”

So, in 2019 she has a new lease of life and is continuing to break down barriers and fight against stereotypes doing things she loves as well as being happily together with middleweight boxing prospect Linus Udofia. Together, they make one hell of a couple.

CJ started prep for her body building competitions this year but unfortunately just found out that she has to have an operation on her stomach, she said: “It is OK though, I can have a couple more months of cake and then I can go again. What I have been through has given me that never give up attitude and my whole life is this now.

"Especially when you are used to eating from ration packs, diet meals are a luxury for me! I have the discipline, drive and ambition drilled into me from the military, it just makes me hungry for what I want and I will achieve it.”

Charlotte is an example of a powerful female who doesn’t compete but is as inspirational as those who do.

She is also proof that sport in so many aspects is not just about the competitive side - it can also be used as a catalyst for good, for finding strength when you never thought you had it and a lifeline after life changing events. Sport is special and remember that when women support women powerful things can happen.

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