Undefeated strawweight amateur prospect Kayla Hracho (4-0) is on the fifth floor of Florida Atlantic University’s Wimberly Library in Boca Raton, FL, trying to explain to a woman what an MMA fighter does. Hracho is taking part in the Human Library event, where people act as Human Books that can be “checked out” by “readers” who listen to the books tell their story.
“Are you like a WWE Diva?” the perplexed woman asks the 26-year-old Hracho, who chuckles good-naturedly and shakes her head. Hracho takes a deep breath and begins her story about how a woman with a Clinical Psychology degree left the salt and ice of Pennsylvania winters and landed in South Florida.
Hracho’s story begins with her as a recent college graduate, whose first real job at a residential treatment facility for children in New Hampshire ended two months after it started. She moved back home to Pennsylvania and into her parents’ home, with no money and no real job prospects.
Always an athlete, she knew focusing on her fitness was one positive thing she could do for herself, so she spent a week going from gym to gym on seven free day passes, burning off angst along with calories. Then, on the last day of that week, she used a day pass to a boxing gym, and that’s when Hracho’s path started turning south to Florida.
Kayla Hracho: Against All Odds
Hracho became almost instantly passionate about boxing: the toughness of it, the painful, exhilarant grind of it. Sparring turned to fights, and she decided in the Autumn of 2016 to move to Brooklyn to train with Marco Suarez. A room was rented and her boxes packed, when Hracho’s path made its last hard veer south just several days before her move to New York. That’s when respected UFC vet and American Top Team pro coach Din Thomas saw some pad work videos of Hracho’s online, and invited her to come check out ATT and give MMA a try.
So Hracho left the old railroad city of Reading, PA and merged onto Interstate 95, barreling 1,175 miles south to Coconut Creek, Florida. She says that first day at American Top Team was like a high school basketball player suddenly being able to train with the Lakers.
Transition from Boxing to MMA
“I literally walked through the doors at ATT with just my boxing experience, and began training a whole new sport with some of the most successful female fighters in MMA,” Hracho told MMASucka. “I’m so blessed to train in the type of environment I’m in with some of the most talented fighters and coaches out there. It’s tough, to say the least, but nobody I step in the cage with can compare to the beasts I work with in the gym every day. Some of the girls I train with include Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Amanda Nunes, Nina Ansaroff, Valerie Letourneau, Mara Borella, and Luanna Alzuguir.”
Hracho’s striking skills were quickly recognized and utilized, and she found herself standing across the cage from then-UFC strawweight champion Jedrzejczyk, acting as one of Jedrzejczyk’s sparring partners ahead of her fight with Jessica Andrade. Those initial weeks of training were tough, mentally and physically, but she persevered, and now works every weekend all weekend so she can train at ATT several times a day, Monday through Friday. Hracho’s training includes live wrestling, submission grappling, technique in the Gi, boxing, MMA sparring, kickboxing, strength and conditioning, and drilling sessions.
The Human Library
Hracho stands and stretches after her first Human Library session ends, then quickly poses for selfies with some of her “readers.” The Human Library event seems an unusual thing for an MMA fighter to do, and when asked why she’s participating, Hracho’s thoughtful answer shows she’s more than a ginger with quick hands who likes Doritos and cheesecake.
“The Human Library is an incredible experience,” she said. “I talked with people of all walks of life— some of them are huge MMA fans and some of them had no idea what MMA was. I loved that no matter how different the person across from me seemed, we could still relate. I also believe many participants probably saw the words “MMA Fighter” and automatically pictured someone who may be jacked, uneducated, or angry. I am none of those things. Fighters come in all shapes, colors and sizes from all backgrounds of life. Each and every one of us is a fighter, and I hope I shed some light on that idea throughout my time being a Human Book.”
“Being a positive role model is extremely important to me. I hope to succeed as a fighter so I can have the platform to impact as many people as possible. Before I started boxing, I worked with children with mental and behavioral disorders and have a true passion for helping people live their best life and reach their true potential. One of my goals in the future is to open a nonprofit organization for youth in my hometown, in hope to have a positive, safe, and judgment-free environment for kids.”
Moving Across the Country
What drove Hracho to move to the far end of the country where she knew no one, to attempt to break into the elite levels of a sport notoriously hard on the body and will? And, why has this move been, so far, a success?
The answer comes to Hracho easily.
“The only reason I have made it as far as I have, is because I forced myself to do the uncomfortable,” she said. “I constantly challenge myself and look for new ways to improve in and out of the gym. If you want to succeed, it’s very likely that the things you don’t want to do are the exact things you should be doing. It also helps to have people you trust to help guide you. That person for me is my head coach, Din Thomas. If Din told me to get up every morning at 3 a.m. and run five miles, I’d do it. If he told me he wants me to meditate three times a day for 15 minutes at a time, I’d do it.”
But what drives her is more than her self-challenge. It’s more than Din Thomas. It’s more than her love for the sport. It’s love for a friend.
“About three years ago, I met a professional boxer named Prichard Colon, and he impacted my life tremendously,” Hracho said. “I admired how skilled and focused he was on his craft, and also how relaxed and sociable he was. He got along with everyone and had the incredible ability to light up the room with his smile and performances. On October 17th, 2015, I drove to Virginia to watch him fight his 17th professional fight. During the fight, he was hit with some illegal blows that immediately put him in a coma after the fight. He’s been in one ever since. Prichard is my motivation. He was one of my very best friends, and I strive every day to be half the person and athlete he was. I fight for him.”
The Next Step
This dedication has served Hracho well, with an undefeated record and the Louisiana State strap in her weight class. She also just earned a slot in the eight-woman World Class Fight League tournament in Tampa Bay this February. A win in the finals in May would snag Hracho a pro contract with Invicta Fighting Championships. She also has the finals of an eight-woman Grand Prix coming up in March in Panama City, Panama, so 2018 is already shaping up to be busy for Hracho. She thinks the timing of her upcoming fights are perfect for her career path, and it’s a path that Hracho has planned out with the same precision as of one of her strikes.
“My goal is to be 8-0 as an amateur before stepping into the pro scene,” she said. “At that time, I will have three amateur titles. I want to have a few fights for Invicta, then get signed to the UFC and make my way to the top. In five years, I want to be the champion of the UFC and successfully defending my title. In 10 years, I will probably be retired from fighting. I hope that fighting will open up more opportunities for me. I would love to further my education and get a Master’s, or possibly a Doctorate, in Sport Psychology. I hope to still be involved with boxing or MMA in some way, and be in a position to give back to my community.”
Hracho’s second session at the Human Library runs over slightly, so her next session starts almost immediately, with a young university student interested in MMA. Hracho answers some of his questions, then borrows a pen and a business card and writes down who he should contact at ATT, and what he should ask. Then she leans forward in her chair and smiles, and tells the young man the story of her journey to Coconut Creek, and how it came about against all odds.