I exhaled a sharp breath as I pounded the punching bag and when it swung, I noticed a guy behind it, watching me.
"I'll give you a hand with your technique, if you like?" he said, smiling kindly.
His name was Dan Hyatt and I'd seen him around the gym a few times.
With his tough guy swagger, he was just my type.
But I'd sworn off relationships after a bad break-up a few months earlier.
At 21, I wanted to focus on getting fit instead, and had taken up kickboxing.
Dan told me he was an experienced mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter and we soon struck up a friendship.
I was stoked when he offered to coach me.
Over the next few weeks I confided in Dan, 22, about my break-up.
"I'd have looked after you, treated you like a queen," he told me.
I soon felt safe enough with him to let my guard down and we started seeing each other.
We were sitting together on the lounge one day when my 14-month-old son Zake toddled over, arms out for a cuddle.
"Go away!" Dan snapped.
"Don't talk to him like that!" I fired back.
Dan apologised, saying Zake looked like his father, my ex, and I reassured him everything was fine.
"I'm with you now, babe," I soothed.
Four months into our relationship, I discovered I was pregnant.
I wasn't sure how Dan would take the news, but he seemed excited.
Then somehow we got talking about Zake and his dad, and started arguing.
Dan's face suddenly turned purple with rage and he shoved me against the kitchen bench.
"You'll have two kids to two different dads," he hissed. "You're bloody damaged goods."
I was still in shock when he came to me sobbing later.
"I love you, but you made me do it," he wept. "If you'd just keep your mouth shut…"
Maybe I am damaged goods, I thought.
After that Dan banned me from seeing my friends and family.
I went along with his wishes, just to avoid any arguments.
One night I was sitting at the computer when he came up behind me and clamped his powerful arms around my neck.
Then he squeezed.
"Dan, stop!" I spluttered.
I was gasping for breath when everything went black.
When I came to, he was standing over me.
"Now you know what it's like to be choked out in an MMA fight," he said, smiling.
Over the following months Dan would punch, kick, strangle or suffocate me every few days.
Once, he held me down and poured tomato sauce on my head and face.
"If you leave I'll find you and Zake and kill you both," he threatened.
I hoped he might soften up when our baby boy, Enson, was born a few months premmie.
It appeared I was right when he proposed to me at a fight meet soon after.
It's a fresh start, I thought.
Just 15 months after we first met, we married and moved to Brisbane.
Dan was fighting as Dan 'Da Bad Guy' Hyatt and started promoting me as 'Rowdy' Bec Hyatt.
He spent hours building my profile on social media and arranged my first MMA fight.
But I got knocked out straightaway.
When I came around, my coach told me Dan had walked right past my unconscious body to shake my opponent's hand.
"I've got more talent in my pinkie finger than you've got in your entire body," Dan mocked afterwards.
His violence continued and I tried to leave, but I worried he'd hurt the boys, and he promised me he'd get help.
Then, on Mother's Day, two and a half years after we'd met, he pulled a carving knife on me in the kitchen.
"I'm going to kill you," he snarled.
This is it, I thought sadly.
Somehow, I managed to soothe his rage and the next morning, I woke Enson, one, and Zake, three, early and we fled to my mum's home in Redcliffe, Qld.
"I'm not letting you go back to him," Mum said when I filled her in.
Dan sent thousands of texts and messages.
He threatened to kill me, then threatened to kill himself.
It went on for two weeks before he abruptly moved back to Tasmania.
Without his reign of terror holding me back, I became one of Australia's best-known female MMA fighters, competing all around the world.
I came out as a victim of domestic violence and named Dan as my abuser.
He denied everything and continued abusing me online.
Then, three years after we split, I was contacted by the mother of a 17-year-old girl from Tassie.
"I'm desperate," the woman said. "My daughter is with Dan. I've read about what he did to you and she's going through the same thing."
My heart sank.
I wished I'd gone to the police, but I was scared Dan would hurt the kids.
I reached out to her daughter almost immediately.
"He'll never change and never stop," I told her. "You've got to leave."
Eventually, with her mum's support, she escaped Dan and had him charged.
Then another two women came forward.
In February this year Dan was convicted of six assaults against his teen victim.
He then admitted threats and violence against the other women, breaching bail and family violence orders.
He was sentenced to 14 months with seven suspended.
I've just returned from competing in America where I won a major fight.
I'm a professional fighter and earn a living from my sport. Dan never made it in the industry.
I guess he found stepping in the ring with men who punch back much harder than beating up innocent women.
If you need someone to talk to about domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT or visit White Ribbon Australia's website for more information.
- PuzzlesTake 5 Pocket Puzzler Issue 195 Online Entry Coupon
Prizes To LoveDec 25, 2020