Work mum Danielle Curzon, Europe’s 1st televised female MMA referee

In Our Shoes welcomes working mum Danielle Curzon to our female village. Born and bred a British royal (her father is the noble Viscount Scarsdale), Danielle threw off the cloak of aristocracy and today is pursuing her dream in the UK’s Mixed Martial Arts circuit as Europe’s first televised female referee at UCMMA Cage Rage and juggling it all like the rest of us as a single mom with a two year old daughter.

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No stranger to proving oneself, Danielle was an international titleholder dressage rider, an international champion martial arts competitor, former bodyguard to Emma Watson and other celebrities and survivor of a near fatal pregnancy delivering her healthy baby girl (the one the medical experts said she’d never have).

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IOS: Fighter. Competitor. Proving yourself. Fearless. Danielle, these are the first words that came to mind before sitting down with you for this interview. Am I close or way off base here? 

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Danielle: I’d say that’s all true. I’ve been riding since I was three years old and was taught very early on to push myself. I grew up with a competitive spirit which was encouraged by my dad who yes is the noble Viscount Scarsdale but I do not follow any aristocratic lifestyle whatsoever today. I was an international dressage rider until I reached the age of 21. I won Horse Of The Year Show, Great Britain’s largest show when I was 9 and won over 20 national showing titles (including side saddle, national title) and then went on to represent the UK’s  U21 team. I also competed in America.

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IOS: Is it normal for a young girl that age to be groomed a dressage rider in the UK? 

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Danielle: Yes, horse riding is very much the norm and part of the aristocratic way of life. My parents never forced me to do it however. I enjoyed the competition.  Later on my mum wanted to me to do something else that would allow me to balance my studies at school and I eventually stopped riding.

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IOS: Your parents divorced early on, tell us about that.  

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Danielle: My parents divorced when I was 12 years old. I was really happy about it actually as they were both so unhappy in their marriage. The divorce was a news spectacle. My dad went on to marry a prostitute and my mother married an ex-bank robber! I was the only child and definitely not living a normal life by any stretch. After my parents divorce I learned money doesn’t buy you happiness and wanted nothing to do with the aristocratic life. I was very privileged and lived in a massive home. Today I live in a modest 2 bedroom house and I don’t miss that life whatsoever.

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IOS: What did you do after you stopped riding?

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Danielle: Well, I had started training in martial arts at the age of 12 for self defense. When I quit the horses, I moved martial arts up to my international sport. I fought very competitively and won titles abroad.  Martial arts became my second sport. Today I teach anti-rape self defense classes at a university. So many women suffer this sort of thing. 

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IOS: What is Mixed Maritial Arts?

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Danielle: MMA is a combination of stand up and ground fighting, Tai and Kick boxing. Often people just see fighters in a cage, but learning MMA is something every woman could benefit from.  Alot of it is using the person’s weight against them. I trained in the MMA for 5 years until I was unable to fight competitively due to health problems with my kidneys. So I started working as a bodyguard and became the personal bodyguard to Emma Watson and many other celebrities. I worked the night club doors and was part of the highest qualified security personell in the UK.

 

IOS: You went through a nightmare of a pregnancy. Tell us about it.

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Danielle: Before my daughter Alea was born,  I suffered two miscarriages about a year apart and was told I would never have children due to endometriosis. I then miraculously fell pregnant in 2008 and went through a horrendous pregnancy and after only 6 weeks pregnant, I split with Alea’s father. Then problems with my kidneys started; they failed due to eclampsia.  A condition in which one or more convulsions occur in a pregnant woman suffering from high blood pressure. I became dehydrated.  I was then diagnosed with Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction (SPD) during my pregnancy. At 24 weeks I lost half of my water. I had to be injected with steroids. My daughter was delivered at 31 weeks by emergency C section and weighed only 2lbs 10oz. After having Alea, I then suffered from post natal depression and kept on anti-depressants which was the worst thing ever. I also had to quit fighting and later went into refereeing which is where I am now reffing the UCMMA (Cage Rage) show at the Troxy in London. It was a big setback for me, being unable to fight competitively again.

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IOS: Tell us about your daughter Alea and the challenges of being a mum.

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Danielle:  Having Alea was absolutely meant to happen for me. She was a miracle really. Alea is Greek for ‘queen’. So far it’s been the terrible two tantrums. When they look at you and do something and misbehave in public!

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IOS: Will you steer Alea towards any particular direction?

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My mom would like her to go to university. I’d like her to decide her own path. I want to offer her as many opportunities as she can have. I’m a vegetarian, but I allow her to eat meat. Until she’s old enough she can decide on her own if she wishes to stop eating it. I would encourage her, if she turns out to be a competitive person. My dad didn’t push me to do the horses, he gave me the opportunity and I loved the competition. He also took me Bunjee jumping when I was 10 years old which I also loved.

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IOS: What is it like mixing with other mums in the UK given your profession? Do you feel like you fit in?

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Danielle: I go on playdates or the local play centers just like any other mum. At first I wasn’t big on telling women I’m a cage referree. Today I don’t care anymore, it’s the skin I’m comfortable in and if someone doesn’t like it, that’s fine too.

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IOS: Did you have a nanny for Alea?

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Danielle: No, I’ve never had a nanny. My mom lives very close by and is helping me raise Alea. I also have my step sister around whom I’m very close to.

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IOS: What made you decide to go back to work after having Alea?.

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Danielle:  The UK make it is less appealing for mothers to go back to work after having children compared to the States. I work 16 hours a week. If I went back to work full time, after weighing out the child care costs I would lose the tax credit. Also, working full time meant not spending enough time with my daughter. It’s not financial viable by the time you do the math. Day care costs 40 pounds a day. It still doesn’t pay.  On the other hand, I cannot be a stay at home mom. I needed to find me as a person again after having Alea. I’m able to do that with my career at MMA which is on weekends.

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It was very difficult at first for me to get the balance of work training and spending time with Alea. My mom would often remind me that I wasn’t spending enough time with her. So I changed my schedule. I’m with her during the week days. It’s a part time job at Cage. I am also a NVQ assessor for security at Oxford University; I screen candidates. I work weekends reffing and the rest of the time I’m with my little girl.

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IOS: What is your view of working mothers in America?

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Danielle: I’m intrigued by them. Americans seem to have a stronger work ethic. The British look up to Americans really. It has crossed my mind many times to move there.  My dream is to make it into the UFC.

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IOS: Tell us about your career at Cage Rage. You’re the first televised female referee for the largest MMA show in the UK. How did that happen?

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Danielle: Reffing for the Cage Rage has been the highlight of my career so far. I had started working in the smaller shows. Then I got a phone call to judge the White Collar UCMMA from fight promoter Dave O’Donnell. From there he said I could referee while I was in the cage. It was a bit of a horrible time for me leading up the next UCMMA Cage Rage because I wasn’t clear on whether they were going to use me permanently. Then I got the phone call that I was a part of the team. All of the guys welcomed me to the family. It meant so much. It was truly a special moment. I have moved up the sky card. The whole of the cage rage welcomed me with open arms. I owe so much to Dave O’Donnell for believing in me and giving me my big break.

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IOS: What do you think when you watch yourself on TV?

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Danielle: When I watch myself, I look to see where I’ve made mistakes. Last night was a big night! I reffed Ben Smith, so I’ll be watching that again.

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IOS: What’s next for you?

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Danielle: My dream is to become a referee in the UFC. I have the greatest respect for Kim Winslow, the first female ref in the UFC. There’s only a handful of women in the MMA, I hope to promote them now that we’ve gotten maximum exposure on Cage Rage. Hopefully that’s what’s next for me.

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IOS: What would you tell people who think you were chosen because of your royal family ties? You would certainly bring lots of media attention to the show.

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Danielle: I have never once told anyone about my nobility. I was kind of embarrassed about it because I didn’t want people thinking I was a snob, especially Dave O’Donnell. Once I was televised however, I thought it’s all going to come out anyway into the mainstream media. Noone guessed that I was from that background. My life story is so bizarre, why would they?

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IOS: What are the challenges of reffing? 

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Danielle: Every referee looks for the safety of the fighters,  knowing when is the correct time to stop the fight: – too early or too late. Getting that balance right,  letting the fighters have a chance to defend themselves and not getting injured. Reffing involves  making sure there are no illegal moves, kicking to the groin, gouging of the eyes. That maternal instinct does kick in when someone is in your care who may not be able to walk out of the cage. I’m still learning and have made mistakes by stopping a fight a little too early or too late.

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IOS: What is the best piece of advice you would give IOS readers who want to go after the dream they’re after?

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Danielle: Persevere and find the right balance. You will find your own way.You’ve got to be happy just as we teach our children. Don’t put your dreams on hold.

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Have a question for Danielle? Reach out and I will be sure your e-mail is answered!

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What I love about Danielle’s story is that although she belongs to royal lineage that could have potentially opened any door for her, in the end it was her fearless spirit that led her to achieving the dream she was after. She walked away from her nobility. She’s also giving back by teaching women how to defend themselves and hopes to break the barrier for women in what traditionally has been a male dominated arena.  Danielle has her sights on America’s UFC, we hope Kim Winslow is listening! Cheering you on Danielle and many thanks to you for sharing your story with us at In Our Shoes. Danielle is currently writing an autobiography. My feeling is that she has quite a few more unwritten chapters to go! I look forward to hearing what’s next.

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