Nine months ago, when Ashley Cummins suffered the first loss of her MMA career, she also almost lost everything she had worked hard for her entire life.
Beyond her time as a mixed martial artist, Cummins' other passion takes her to the world of law enforcement, where she serves as a police officer in the St. Louis area. But after a freak injury in her last fight, Cummins nearly retired from MMA and saw her career slip through her fingers.
It was in her bout against Joanne Calderwood when Cummins was caught by a punch that rocked her eye and left her with little vision for the rest of the fight. That wasn't the worst it, however. Once the fight was over, her vision never returned.
The loss of vision is scary enough. And when it was coupled with the realization that she may never be able to see again, which would also force her off the police force, Cummins slipped into a deep depression.
"After the fight, dealing with a loss is already hard enough and then I couldn't see. My vision was so screwed up. I couldn't drive, I couldn't watch TV, I couldn't go to work. At that point, I already knew I had three broken bones under my eye, which I found out after the fight when I went to the emergency room. So for an entire week I just waited for my vision to come back and it never did," Cummins revealed when speaking to Bleacher Report.
"Once the vision never came back, a doctor recommended surgery. I was depressed. It was my biggest fear that I was going to lose my job as a police officer. I was terrified, I was depressed, I was angry—I was a mess, to be honest."
The surgery to repair the damage to her eye didn't result in her gaining her vision back right away, and things only got worse when she started to go through a multitude of messages on Facebook and Twitter.
Typically, when a fighter is injured, fans will come out in droves to support that person. But Cummins didn't feel much love when she was sitting at home with no vision in one eye.
Because her regular job is that of a police officer, Cummins regularly received hate messages on her Twitter and Facebook full of so much anti-law enforcement vitriol that it sent her into even darker depths of depression.
"After the loss, I'm already stressed enough about not being able to see and losing my job and I've got fans messaging me on Facebook and Twitter saying 'you're a piece of s—t, we're glad you lost, we hope you and your family die.' And I was like, 'It's just not worth it anymore. I don't need this,'" Cummins admitted. "I've got people saying they hope me and my family die just because I'm a police officer. I was like, 'I'm done.'"
It was a tough spot for Cummins, because she always enjoyed engaging with fans on Twitter and other social networks. But the hate being spewed at her left a bitter taste in her mouth. So Cummins deleted her Twitter and Facebook accounts, and she just settled back into life. She focused on recovery and getting back to work, and she left MMA behind.
A couple of weeks after the surgery, Cummins' vision started to return. She was able to drive a car again and watch TV, but her biggest desire was to return to the streets as a police officer.
"They were like, 'As long as you qualify at the shooting range, you'll be fine.' So I went to the shooting range and qualified with flying colors. Then they told me I could come back," Cummins said.
"Once they told me I could come back, I was just so happy. I was still depressed about losing the fight and going through the surgery, but I was just so happy that my vision came back; I'm not going to lose my job as a police officer. I was so happy."
From there, Cummins just decided to get back to work and leave MMA behind. She went back to a normal, everyday life with her friends and family, but the time away left her thinking about "what if?"
What if she never fought again?
What if she retired and never erased the memory of that last loss from her mind?
"I took two months after my vision came back. I didn't work out; I probably gained like 20 pounds. I just hung out with friends and tried to separate myself from the fight world," Cummins explained.
"I tried to harness my feelings on what I truly want to do with my life. After the two months, I left my gym that I had been with for five years, and I started getting back into MMA at my new gym. They kind of sparked my interest in MMA again. Like, I'm a fighter and this is what I'm meant to do.
"I thought about it and talked with my parents, and I thought if I never fight again, in 10 years from now, I'm going to look back at this and regret it. So I made the decision to keep going."
Now Cummins returns to the MMA world with a renewed energy and positive outlook. She's fighting at Invicta FC 6 this weekend, and for her, it's all about the joy of the fight.
Cummins even returned to Twitter and Facebook, although she has a much different perspective now than she did a few months ago when reading the venomous messages left for her while she couldn't even see.
"Now, I kind of just ignore it now. I'm not going to let people's words or opinions affect how I feel," Cummins stated. "If they don't like me just because of my profession, that's fine. I know I'm a good person; I don't need strangers' approval to be happy with my everyday life."
Cummins will cap off the Invicta FC prelims this weekend when she faces Greg Jackson student Emily Kagan at the event from Kansas City, MO.
Damon Martin is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report, and all quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.