UFC Women’s Strawweight Competitor Randa Markos (5-2) went 2-1 on TUF 20 and is 1-1 in her UFC career. A career that was almost in danger of never happening as Randa had a very terrible upbringing. Daughter to a grizzled alcoholic war veteran in Iraq, Randa re-tells her early life to Bleacher Report:
As a child, Randa went to sleep wishing she would die.
Never having been born was another fantasy. So was killing herself. Running away wasn’t an option; she knew her mother Azhar couldn’t protect herself from her father. And she says “all of my memories as a child were of him abusing my mother.”
One million Iraqi Kurds were displaced to Iran and Turkey. The Markos family made up four of them. This is when Randa says her father’s “true side” began to reveal itself, following Sam’s time in the war and the isolation of Azhar from her family. And when their visas came through after a year in Turkey, they ended up in Windsor, Ontario, a foreign land even farther removed from everything they knew.
Sam, who didn’t know English, worked as a dishwasher for 14 hours per day. Sam says he worked to pay rent and have diapers for his children; Randa says they faced constant money problems, amplified by Sam’s drinking and gambling.
“Every holiday was destroyed; every Christmas he blew all of our money on gambling and alcohol, and then come home and put us through hell because he was upset he had no money left.”
The drinking also amplified the physical abuse at home. When Randa and her siblings were young, she says her father would abuse them with whatever he could get his hands on or grab them by the hair. It worsened as they got older. Not only in the escalation of the abuse itself, but now with the conscious understanding that they had done nothing wrong—he abused them without any “reason” for which they could blame themselves. He was choosing to hurt them because he could.
Randa says her mother was reluctant to acknowledge what was happening, let alone reach out for help.
“She would act as if he did nothing wrong, no matter how bad things would get, just to avoid another episode,” she says.
She wanted to call the police, but Azhar wouldn’t let her.
“I believe it was because she was afraid to be alone. She had nobody to turn to and was also afraid that her family would find out that she was having such a hard time. And with her family still in the Middle East having a hard time of their own with the war, she didn’t want to worry them.”
Times got harder, and Sam continued to use “anything he could grab” as a tool for his abuse. A long wooden shoe horn that hung on the wall. A belt. A metal broomstick. A rubber slipper. He threw a pot full of oil at Randa once—”it wasn’t hot, thank God.” And a heavy glass ashtray, at her head.
“I didn’t realize (the wound) was bleeding until I went to the washroom at school. I brushed my hair back and noticed dried blood.”
During all of this, Randa was going to school, attempting to function as a “normal” kid and not succeeding.
“I was a very angry child and teen growing up. I hated life. I was behind in school and kids picked on me because I was socially awkward and nobody knew why. “
Trapped between one abusive parent and one abused parent, she found a measure of self-reliance in sports. When she took up wrestling in ninth grade, her parents made her stop—so in 10th grade, she started wrestling again but told them she was playing volleyball instead.
“I felt normal when I was on a team.”
She must have always been a fighter; to hear her tell it, she was the first to stand up to Sam. Perhaps he sensed the degree of fearlessness she had in doing so, because Randa says that in retaliation, he instead increased his abuse of her mother.
“He knew that would hurt me more. He started threatening her with knives and even tried strangling her in her sleep once.”
It was that incident that compelled Randa to finally call the police on her father—the first time anyone in her family had done so.
After a long cycle of calls to the police, brief respites, and the return to the old behavior, Sam eventually moved out of the home. Randa is a fighter, and was the first in the family to stand up to her father.
Randa is dictating her life now, making her dream a reality. And she hopes that what she went through—a significant part of her story, but not the only part—could help someone else.
“I wanted to share my story because I want people to take what I’ve been through as an example that you can overcome hard times and you can still follow your dreams. I didn’t let what I’ve been through stop me. Know that you can change your life around and be happy.”
Randa can see her father objectively enough to want to care for him, attributing the abuse primarily to his health and his past rather than to Sam himself. It’s a feat of great mental fortitude. Stepping into the cage, by comparison, is one of her easier fights.
Randa was born into strife and has been fighting in one way or another ever since. But now it’s elective and the career she’s chosen, not a grueling existence she’s forced to endure indefinitely. This is her story now, and it’s exactly what she wants.