Professional MMA fighter Kevin Haley gives a motivational speech to Groveton High School students on Feb. 8. (Courtesy Photo) (click for larger version)
February 15, 2017GROVETON — Continuing the efforts to build a positive culture and community at Groveton High School, Principal Lisa Perras invited an unlikely motivational speaker for the student body. Kevin Haley, also known in the Mixed Martial Arts community as the "North Woods Nightmare," ranked fourth in the light heavyweight class, shared with students his story of achieving his dreams to become a professional fighter. Haley, a former student of Mrs. Perras', overcame many obstacles growing up in the small town of Pittsburg. Obstacles that, Mrs. Perras feels, echo what a lot of Groveton students have to endure. On Feb. 8, Haley's powerful message of self-discipline, perseverance, and attitude resonated with students.
In his message about self-discipline, he gave a brief introduction of his training as an MMA fighter. Haley introduced one of his crew members, State Trooper Ryan Short who helps him train for fights. Haley explained that he had dreams of being an athlete when he was in high school, but he didn't start fighting professionally until the age of 29. He feels like he is always playing catch-up which motivates him to train 60 hours a week. Although he did not have a lot of formal training in MMA skills, he learned the basics and learned them well.
He enlisted two senior volunteers, Daegan Perras and Isaiah Stone, to demonstrate some of his defensive moves and training exercises. Daegan performed a grueling combination drill (think burpees and boxing) for 3 minutes. After completing 16 drill combos in the 3 minute period, Daegan challenged new history teacher Caleb Murphy, a soldier with the Army National Guard, to complete the drill. With the student body chanting, "Murphy, Murphy," he completed the drill and bested Daegan by one combo. Though they both may have been exhausted, the encouragement of the audience kept them going with students and faculty yelling, "You can do it," or "Keep going; you got this!" or "Don't give up!" solidifying the lesson of camaraderie among students that Principal Perras fosters with these events.
To demonstrate his message of perseverance, Haley told students about his childhood. He remembers how he realized he didn't have as much as other kids around him. He lived in a trailer with no running water, his father went to prison, and his mom abandoned him, and left him to take care of two younger brothers. Even though the odds of becoming successful were stacked against him, he kept telling himself that if he worked hard enough, somehow he would get a break and things would get better.
Eventually, that's exactly what happened. One day, he befriended a 70 year old man who moved to Pittsburg from the city. This gentleman, named Stanley, had trained boxers and started training Haley in boxing. He took Hayley under his wing and became a father figure to him. Stanley believed in Haley which made Haley believe in himself.
"Stanley used to say to me, Kevin, you're a champion. You just have to know in your heart and believe it," said Haley.
He explained how his own childhood and teenage years did not prevent him from going after his dreams, but made him a better person.
"If you have just one person to believe in you, you can do anything," Haley told the students.
Trooper Short stated that living in a small town should not deter students from reaching their dreams.
He said, "Kevin should not be standing here; he is because he set his goal and stuck it out. He did not let negative circumstances define him."
Not only is Haley an MMA fighter, but he graduated from UNH in 2007.
Short also said the Haley has one of the best, positive attitudes of anyone he knows. He appreciates everything he has, and he doesn't feel sorry for himself. He told himself no matter how bad he had it, other people had it worse. He fought through his situation because he refused to accept his circumstances.
"You, too, can reach your goals and pull yourself from negative situations," Short told the students.
Short concluded by saying, there are people like state troopers or your teachers who you can call or reach out to that want to help you reach your goals.
When asked about the outcome of the presentation, Principal Perras said, "I can't even begin to describe how great it was to have Kevin and Ryan at our school today. Their message was perfect and one that every student should hear: work hard, follow your dreams, and don't ever let anyone or any situation define who you become. Kevin is the kindest soul and the toughest fighter you'll ever meet. I'm honored to know him. 220 students' lives changed today."
Haley stated, "It was an honor to speak to all of the kids at the Groveton High School today about my career in MMA, and how it started in a small northern New Hampshire town just like theirs. The students were super receptive, respectful, and engaged, and I couldn't have asked for a better crowd."
Many Groveton students and their parents have been leaving positive messages on Haley's Facebook page, thanking him for his inspiration!
Recently, Sheepdog Productions received funding to produce a documentary on Kevin Haley. It will be a private and personal look at the family man behind some of the most legendary gloves in the New England MMA circuit.
For more information, go to: https://www.facebook.com/NorthwoodsNightmare/.