When Alyse Anderson returned to her corner after the end of the second round this past weekend at Invicta FC 36, she sat down wincing in pain and began shouting “my feet, my feet” at her team.
In response, Anderson’s coach essentially told her to ignore it, perhaps believing that she had suffered an injury to her foot, but with five minutes remaining in the fight, he wasn’t going to allow that to stop her.
What her coach didn’t know is that Anderson was dealing with a flare up of Raynaud’s disease — a condition where the small arteries in the body overreact to cold or stress and begin constricting blood flow to the fingers and toes.
Anderson has been dealing with Raynaud’s since she was barely a teenager but she never wanted her condition to sound like an excuse when she was training or competing so it was largely kept a secret throughout her career.
“I don’t want to be looked at as a baby so when it happens in training, I try not to bring attention to it,” Anderson revealed when speaking to MMA Fighting on Monday.
According to the 24-year-old atomweight, when she first started experiencing the effects of Raynaud’s, she was still living in Michigan where the winters can get brutally cold.
At first she just felt numbness in her fingers and then her toes but typically it wouldn’t happen to her entire hand or foot. Over the years, she discovered ways to prevent the Raynaud’s from striking by ensuring that she was always warming up properly before stepping onto the canvas or mats, which can typically be rather chilly at first touch.
“I always warm up in socks because the cold mats are usually what triggers it if I’m not warmed up and I step on cold mats,” Anderson explained.
Raynaud’s disease doesn’t just cause Anderson’s feet or hands to go numb but it actually inflicts her with serious pain, especially when she’s standing or walking when the condition worsens.
“The best way I can describe it if you’ve ever woken up in the middle of the night and you slept on your hand and it feels dead and you can’t even shake it or move it because it’s so far asleep. That’s how my toes feel,” Anderson said. “They’re so numb that I can’t feel it and moving them hurts so bad.”
Anderson says she’s dealt with Raynaud’s in past fights but it was never severe enough that it actually altered her performance because it would usually only strike one or two of her toes.
This past weekend during her fight in Invicta, all of Anderson’s toes turned a pale white during the second round, which is when the panic and the pain washed over her as she went back to her corner.
“When I was trying to find my range circling, I started to feel my toes, it was a tingling pain and I’ve dealt with Raynaud’s in the past so I knew what it was. I couldn’t feel my feet. I knew that it was worse than I’ve had in the past because my mobility was being shut down,” Anderson said.
“I put her up against the fence and I was looking down and I could see my feet were getting white.”
While her coach was unaware what was happening, Anderson’s manager Brian Butler was working her corner and recognized her pain after she explained how she was dealing with Raynaud’s disease.
According to Butler, it appeared that Anderson’s toes were frostbitten because they had turned such a ghastly white color in contrast to the rest of her foot.
“I knew right away when I saw her feet how bad it was,” Butler said. “I’ve seen her in training when it’s happened but never this bad. Even when I saw it in her training in the past, it was debilitating pain.
“When she told me in the corner [about her feet], I knew she wasn’t hearing a damn word of advice for the next round. She was just wincing in pain. I looked at her feet and thought they might have to stop the fight. She never gave a signal that she wanted to stop. I don’t know how she did it. I don’t know how she walked, let alone balanced, let alone fought, and let alone win.”
Anderson admits that the third round was incredibly difficult because she was mostly put into survival mode knowing that her feet were essentially no longer working.
“Going into round three, it was super bad. Honestly if you asked me what my coaches told me between rounds, I have no idea because the only thing I could think of was how am I going to move?” Anderson said. “I saw how bad it was and I’ve never seen it that bad. Usually if it happens on the mats, it’s just a couple of toes that are so white compared to my foot but this was the whole second half of my foot was white.
“I thought I won the first two rounds decisively so pretty much I was like just stay aggressive and don’t get finished. I kept keeping the pressure on the cage and striking from there because when we were broken apart is when it felt the worst. When we got on the ground, I didn’t want them to stand us back up again because I didn’t want to have to take her back down again.”
When the fight ended, Anderson got the win but it’s clear from the grimace on her face that she was in an immense amount of pain just standing in the center of the cage just to get her hand raised.
Afterwards, Anderson was forced to sit down outside the cage because she could no longer walk at all and she needed help from her father and coaches to carry her to the back. Despite the misery she was suffering through due to her feet, Anderson still only had one thought repeating inside her head.
“In the moment, I was mostly just so disappointed in my performance,” Anderson said. “Because in rounds two and three, I abandoned our game plan. Leading up to the fight, I trained for so long so to feel like I didn’t perform in my head how I wanted to, I was pretty disappointed, especially when they said split decision. I was just upset with myself.”
She gave herself a bit of a break after watching the fight backstage and seeing her toes transform into that frightening, pale white color that indicates when her Raynaud’s disease has flared up.
“It was pretty scary seeing how white my feet were after the fight,” Anderson said. “I was like at least I still got the win. I still fought, it might not have been pretty, but I still won all three rounds and got the win.”
Talking about her most current bout with Raynaud’s disease is something fairly new to Anderson because she’s fought through it before and the last thing she wanted to do was make an excuse for her performance in the fight.
“She got actually a little irritated when I posted the pictures of it because she thought it made her look like a baby or a wimp or that she was making excuses,” Butler explained after showing photos of Anderson’s feet on Friday night. “This isn’t making excuses, just look at the pictures. Look at her feet. It’s very obvious to everybody.”
As hesitant as she once was to talk about dealing with Raynaud’s disease, Anderson has been grateful in the aftermath of that revelation because she’s not only received a ton of support but she’s also been getting some very helpful advice.
In the past, Anderson felt like the best way to deal with Raynaud’s was to keep her hands and feet warm at all times, which led to her doing things like keeping portable hand warmers in her gym bag ahead of training.
Now Anderson is getting help from people who have faced the same disease in the past and found ways to battle through it, which is exactly what she intends to do.
“Honestly, I always thought what I was doing was the only thing I could do for it. After this got posted, I had so many people reach out and give me natural supplements and people that have had this are giving me advice,” Anderson said. “I’ve had other fighters reach out to me say they dealt with this. My nutritionist [Tyler Minton] told me he wished I would have told him this because his mother has Raynaud’s and he would have put me on a bunch of natural supplements in my camp.”
With her mind always on the fight, Anderson is taking those lessons she learned along with the advice she’s been receiving as she prepares to attack her Raynaud’s disease with the same kind of ferocity when she’s training in the gym.
And the best part about it all is that Anderson will be getting better after gutting out an impossibly tough victory.
“It’s better that we got a win and can learn off this win, instead of taking a loss,” Anderson said. “This is a huge learning experience and I still got the win, I can’t beat that.”