Brownsburg woman shows strength in mas-wrestling while fighting cancer

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BROWNSBURG, Ind. (WTHR) - A Brownsburg woman is preparing to compete for the United States in a sport most American have probably never heard of or seen. Nicole Higham travels to Gyor, Hungary, next week for the 2017 Mas-Wrestling World Cup.

Higham is a strong 22-year-old, with broad shoulders and thick legs.

“I just excel at this,” said Higham during a workout at Officium Crossfit in Brownsburg. “I'm built, bred and fed for brute force strength activities."

Nicole enjoys weightlifting, crossfit and strongman competitions. Through a strongman event, she was introduced to mas-wrestling early this year.

“If I want to sound like super cool, I say it's a dynamic dead lift to get somebody else,” said Higham. “The uncool way of saying it is it's a seated tug of war over a stick.”

Mas-wrestling features two competitors seated on the floor facing each other with their feet against a board. The two competitors both grab onto a baton-sized stick and pull. Whoever lets go of the stick first or falls over the board loses. The contest is best-of-three.

“I'm like a major adrenaline junkie,” said Higham. “The sport is literally to assert dominance. I'm not crazy, but I kind of like that. I don't like to lose to people, so if I have that brute strength win, that's really cool for me."

In just a few months competing around the country, Nicole earned a spot on team USA for the World Cup November 2-6. She will compete at 85 kilograms. So few women compete in the sport that Higham has only faced women bigger than her in competition.

“If I can look you in the eye and stare you down and say I'm going to win, it's just a totally different adrenaline rush,” said Higham. “Knowing that I get to be the USA representative for that, it's pretty wild. I'm super excited."

The Ben Davis High School graduate shaved her head, but not to look tough. On May 24th, she was diagnosed with stage two cervical cancer. Chemotherapy treatments began Memorial Day, May 29th. Each round is one intravenous bag for seven days then a 21-day rest period. Nicole lost her hair, but keeps training through the sickness and fatigue.

“On the days that it's really bad, I'm really polite and I train outside so when I puke on stuff they can just spray it off and it's not here in the gym,” said Higham. “That's how we work it out.”

Higham has lost much of her cardio conditioning during the chemotherapy, but can handle deadlift and squats to build strength. Fortunately, mas-wrestling matches usually last an average of 30 seconds.

“I'm not OK with what I haven't done yet,” said Higham. “There's just so much more that I always thought I would do. That reality check that tomorrow isn't promised, there was no way I could stop for this.”

The cancer is 90% gone, but she has chemo treatments every day this week before leaving on Halloween for her first ever trip ever overseas. Nicole wants to become the first American woman to win a mas-wrestling world championship. When she returns from Hungary, she faces one more round of chemotherapy. She hopes her last.

“I know that I am an extreme,” said Higham. “I don't want people to go out and hurt themselves. But on the flip side of that, to know that people look at me and know they don't have to give up in the midst of hardship is a really cool responsibility to have. But mostly it's not wanting to stop living my life."

Nicole has a Go Fund Me account to help offset her travel costs.

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