Fighting for a cure: MMA fighter and cystic fibrosis sufferer Aaron Aby tells his story ahead of Bolton bout

By Michael Kelleher

Some view MMA as the ultimate combat sport, encompassing all forms of martial arts while others argue its inherently violent nature renders it outdated.

Regardless of their view on its merits however, everyone agrees that competing in it requires a special mixture of courage, toughness, skill, determination and willpower.

Individuals willing to step into a cage and put their life on the line after the door shuts, just so they can emerge with their hand raised, are rare.

But Aaron Aby is unique.

Aaron, 23, is a professional MMA fighter from Wrexham who suffers from cystic fibrosis – a life-threatening recessive genetic disorder.

Cystic fibrosis is an inherited disease which affects a person’s lungs and digestive system by blocking them up with thick sticky mucus.

It makes it hard to breathe and digest food and affects bones by making them weaker and stunting growth.

Aaron has been dealing with the effects of cystic fibrosis – which include a much shorter projected life expectancy – since birth and is well-placed to give insight into the disease.

“One in 25 people is a carrier of the faulty gene so if they meet with someone else who is a carrier and decide to have a baby, the baby has a one in four chance of cystic fibrosis,” he said.

“But as medication improves and time goes by the life expectancy of people with cystic fibrosis is getting higher.

“I think when I was a kid in school, it was around the age of 18, but now we are up to an average life expectancy of 41, so it is growing.”

Despite his debilitating condition, Aaron has been a standout athlete all his life.

A star football player in his teenage years, Aaron represented Wales from U14 – U17 levels, playing alongside current Premier League stars Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen.

He was awarded the Breathing Life award by the Cystic Fibrosis Trust in 2008 for his sporting achievements.

STANDOUT ATHLETE: Aaron represented Wales at U17 football before MMA

The MMA Academy Liverpool fighter has now hung up his football boots to focus solely on MMA and is scheduled to face Billy Hatton at FCC 5 on March 16 at Bolton’s Reebok Stadium.

Most people would consider a career in MMA far too perilous to even contemplate, especially those with a debilitating lung condition.

But Aaron, as he does with all aspects of his life, chooses to focus on the positives of competing in one of the most extreme sports on the planet.

“I love the competition. I find it addictive learning the techniques and I am always trying to better myself,” he said.

“There are a lot of positives in the fact that it makes me fitter and healthier but sometimes it can break down your immune system.

“You have to make sure that you are looking after yourself and listening to your body. Sometimes you might feel tired so it is important to rest and make sure your diet is right.

“Obviously training two or three times a day at a high level is going to wear any normal person down, especially someone with cystic fibrosis.

“It poses extra challenges but the more experience you get the more you can start looking to earlier signals to start dealing with stuff before it happens.”

Aaron’s presence in the FCC cage on March 16 is made all the more remarkable by the fact he is only 18 months removed from a life-threatening operation.

He had two feet of his colon removed and post operation complications caused his lungs to collapse causing him to end up in the high-dependency unit.

Following the operation – after which he had to learn to walk again – doctors told him there was a strong possibility he would never fight again.

However, unfazed, unbowed and in keeping with how he has tackled every other obstacle in his life, Aaron was back in the gym within three months.

He is now fully recovered and says the entire experience has made him stronger than ever.

“My recovery is going great. I would probably say I am fully recovered now. I had a tough time obviously after the operation not being able to do stuff,” he said.

“Some doctors said I would never fight again, some said it would take a year before I was back doing anything,” he said.

“But I was back in the gym after three months and as soon as I was back in training I was itching for a fight.

“I have had to start from scratch again but I have tried to use it as a positive both mentally and physically.

“I have rebuilt areas of my body completely. I have done a lot of work on my core, making sure I built myself up strongly and making myself more injury-proof.

“But yeah it was a scary time but I have just tried to take the positives out of it.”

A WORTHY CAUSE: Aby hopes the money raised will help find a cure

Aaron’s success, firstly on the football field, and now in an MMA cage has made him something of a beacon of hope in the cystic fibrosis community.

He has succeeded in breaking down barriers all his life and his story has helped to positively shift perception about what can be achieved by someone with cystic fibrosis.

This is something he is acutely aware of and something which, he says, above else, drives him to excel every time he enters the cage.

“I feel like I have to show other people and other families with cystic fibrosis that you can still do things no matter what circumstances get thrown at you,” he said.

“I’ve met a lot of people in the cystic fibrosis community and seen what they have gone through and how upset they get.

 “I just have to make sure that I am a positive emblem that they can look at and see that it is not all doom and gloom and things can be achieved.

“That drives me to prove myself to other people and give them something to believe in.

“It’s something I am definitely very conscious of. Although I like to win, it is not always about the win.”

Aaron is very active in raising funds and awareness for cystic fibrosis, doing everything from school talks, to 10k runs to various charity events.

For him, his time is a small price to pay if it aids in the fight to find a cure for cystic fibrosis.

“At the moment they have located the faulty gene in cystic fibrosis and they are doing gene therapy trials to try and find ways to cure it,” he said.

“They needed to raise an amount of money by a certain time. They have done that now and they are looking to move ahead with the trials, but obviously they still need funding.

“My aim is to help as much as I can towards getting that money and helping to find a cure for cystic fibrosis.

“The way I look at it, if I tell one person and they tell one person, then they tell another person, then more awareness gets raised and more people will want to help.”

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