The Combat Counselor: DeCoursey battles life through teachings and beatings
by Bryan Fonseca
Jul 18, 2018 | 8406 views | 0 0 comments | 448 448 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Inside of Ring Sport Muay Thai & Kickboxing in Whitestone, Jillian DeCoursey prepares for one of her final training sessions ahead of her third pro fight, just seven days away.

DeCoursey, 33, is an atomweight (105-pound class) at Invicta Fighting Championships, an all-women mixed martial arts promotion based in the United States, which has berthed several UFC stars and has been airing Invicta cards through their UFC Fight Pass digital streaming service since 2014.

On Saturday, July 21, Fight Pass will broadcast Invicta 30, where DeCoursey (2-0) will face Alesha Zappitella (3-0) at the Scottish Rite Temple in Kansas City on 12 days notice.

To train on the humid Saturday, DeCoursey drove in her purple jeep from Little Neck, where she works as a full-time counselor at her own practice, Create Your Balance Mental Health Counseling, which she opened in January.

“I give myself brain damage to kill all those smart cells. We gotta even it out,” she joked, seated on the multi-colored mat floors in the small, comforting gym.

DeCoursey – nicknamed “Lionheart” – is a late bloomer in MMA. She went 8-1 in a well-accomplished amateur career between 2014-2017 before turning pro and signing with Invicta last year.

The Bayside native, who was born and raised in Glendale, originally came up as a basketball player from Thomas Edison High School in Jamaica and played collegiately at the University of Bridgeport before finishing at Hunter College, where she graduated with a degree in Psychology in 2006.

She returned to school and earned a master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling three years later from Iona College.

As a child, according to her mother, DeCoursey wanted to pursue what she termed “environmental psychology,” which was defined as aiding kids burdened with difficult situations.

“I don’t remember, but she tells me I had my own definition I came up with,” DeCoursey said with a laugh. “My goal was always to have my own practice because within mental health there’s a lot of negativity.

“When you’re working for an organization, it’s not always about helping the person, sometimes you just help the organization,” she explained. “It takes away what you get into the field for.”

Her philosophy resembles her fighting style: Everything should always be balanced. Today, more people search for that balance away from the shadows, less fearful of the stigma that used to accompany visiting a therapist as the importance of mental health continues to be a growing focus.

“I think it’s really positive, because there’s still a lot of ignorance associated with mental health and the importance of taking care of it,” said DeCoursey. “I have clients come in that are depressed all the time and they’re telling me, ‘Hey, my mom’s telling me I should just feel better.’ That isn’t accurate. Nobody would have anxiety if they could just tell themselves to feel better and it would work.

“The more awareness that gets put out there, the more educated society becomes and the more people are willing to seek help,” she continued. “There’s still so many stigmas out there where people won’t want to get help because they think that means they’re crazy. Most of the people I see are regular people, they’re just going through something.”

DeCoursey’s search for a work-life balance led her to the octagon even though she never practiced MMA growing up, joking that if it didn’t have a ball, the former basketball, softball, volleyball and soccer player wasn’t interested.

Once post-college recreational basketball ran its course, the current Brazillian jiu-jitsu brown belt went from passing guards on the hardwood to passing the guard on floor mats.

“That’s my therapy, that’s my way of dealing with stress,” she said. “It challenges you physically, mentally, emotionally, everything gets tested. So if you can handle that, you can handle anything else.”

Eric Ruiz, who runs the Whitestone-based combat cave, is the Queens native’s coach and met DeCoursey at a separate gym, where she began jiu-jitsu and some Muay Thai training without the initial intention to fight professionally.

“If you watched the first few amateur fights, it’s like, ‘Please, take it to the ground,’” Ruiz said of DeCoursey’s improvements. “It was rough, but the learning curve was good.”

It was DeCoursey’s manager, Jason Adams, who began convincing her to go pro after six amateur fights, in which the Thomas Edison Alum went 5-1. DeCoursey then began to believe Invicta would be calling. She didn’t want to fight anywhere else.

“I like the idea that it’s an all-female promotion because we don’t get the same recognition that the guys get,” she said. “It’s getting better, but to have the platform like Invicta who only deals with women is really cool.”
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