Leah McCourt: An inspiring story for Northern Irish MMA


She was one of the biggest Amateur stars of the 2015 IMMAF European Open. Leah McCourt continues her inspiring journey, balancing sport and motherhood to once again capture Gold. McCourt claimed Northern Ireland’s only Gold medal last November. A strong Judo background definitive of her domination. Regardless of her recent achievements, a focused McCourt insisted silverware isn’t her main drive. The black belt Judoka said: “It was nice to win, I take more pride from my performance than winning medals and I have a lot to improve on.” The Northern Irish champion now has the 2016 IMMAF World Championships in her sight. Although, illness and injury has forced her to re-access her preparation this year. “I have had a hard year, I spent Christmas in hospital very ill on a drip,” explained McCourt. “When I got out of hospital I was having increased pain in my knee and had to have knee surgery in February.  It has been 8 weeks after quite major knee surgery. “I have adapted and trained every day and will be competing at the IMMAF Worlds in July. “I had a lot of competitions and tournaments I wanted to compete at this year and having to miss them has been devastating.” Ahead of the Worlds, McCourt spoke about the lack of funding for amateur athletes. She indicated that more help from public bodies would be vital for the progression of talent. She said: “I am proud to represent Northern Ireland but it’s frustrating there is not the help from sports councils, government or local council that other sports receive. “There is a lot of expense in getting to the Worlds and being self-funded, it is difficult.  I have a great sponsor that supports me with training costs called Walsin, but it would be nice to see sports councils here be proactive in helping athletes representing their country at such a high level in sports which they don’t yet recognize. “Hopefully I can help pave the way for future athletes like myself to be able to compete at this level with help from the likes of Sport Northern Ireland and local councils.” Amateur MMA is still finding its place in the UK and Ireland. Because of that there are still limited opportunities for fighters to gain integral experience. McCourt has combated this with continued training as well as international BJJ competitions. “It is hard to get fights and experience, which can be frustrating, but that’s where our sport is at, at the minute and I just have to overcome that by training hard and gaining experience competing in different martial arts.” With experience in Judo, MMA and BJJ, the 22-year-old contemplates turning pro after July. “When I can strike better than Joanna Jedrzejczyk and wrestle better than Khabib Nurmagomedov I will turn pro,” joked McCourt. “I will see what opportunities there are after the worlds, I’m not rushing anything at the minute and focusing on fighting in July.” Outside of MMA, McCourt works for The Royal Mencap Society. This is a charity that helps people with learning disabilities. McCourt describes her fulfilling role: “I am fundraising co-ordinator for Mencap which is the voice of learning disability, everything we do is about supporting people with a learning disability to live the life they choose. “In Northern Ireland our services include our nursery for children ages 2-3 with a learning disability. We run employment services throughout Northern Ireland to help people with a learning disability secure jobs, we also run supported living schemes to allow people with a learning disability gain independence. “I love working for Mencap, and knowing what I do every day might make a small difference in someone else’s life. “I get so frustrated when fighters complain about having a job or not wanting to work as well as train, training is the easy part.  Try juggling training, working and having a 5-year-old daughter.” As a young mother, inspiration is nothing new to McCourt. She holds many achievements and hopes to continue encouraging success for the next generation. “It is important as I am the first female from Northern Ireland to be doing a lot of things [in the MMA world]; first IBJJF European champion, first female from Ireland to qualify for the Abu Dhabi world championships and now the first female from N.I to compete at IMMAF Championships. “I would like to encourage other girls to believe in themselves and their capabilities even if circumstances are extremely difficult, they can make a way to achieve the things they want to do.” By Andreas Georgiou

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