Marloes Coenen owns her grandmother’s extraordinary strength

Friday, July 12, 2013

We’ve all heard about old man strength. In utterly sober seriousness, that is as nothing compared to grandmother Coenen strength.

Sports Illustrated’s Melissa Segura crafted a must-read piece about the inspiration and strength that Marloes Katharina Coenen draws from her grandmother, Katharina Coenen, who, along with husband Willem helped save countless Jews in the Netherlands during the Nazi occupation. In fact, her grandfather, Willem, taught Jujitsu to the Dutch resistance.

When Marloes Coenen arrives at the Dutch nursing home after her Invicta featherweight title fight on Saturday, the old woman she plans to visit most likely will not ask her about her fight. Or her about her opponent, the one they call Cyborg. Or even about the shiny, gold belt her granddaughter has trained for months to wrap around her waist. But the old woman is almost guaranteed to lean over as her granddaughter takes her seat and ask, “Have you brought over any of those popcorn-flavored jelly beans back from America?”

At first glance, Marloes and her grandmother, Katharina, bear little resemblance. But once the granddaughter settles in and the two begin speaking at any one of Marloes’ frequent visits, it’s clear that they share the same sense of humor, ethics and — when grandma breaks into the story she once kept hidden and now repeats almost every time Marloes visits — the very same strength.

There’s a difference between a chance and a risk. Katharina’s granddaughter, Marloes, isn’t afraid to take either. There was a chance that Invicta, the start-up, all-women’s fight promotion would have folded like so many other companies before them when Marloes became their first signed fighter in 2012. And there is a risk now that Santos, the most powerful pound-for-pound female featherweight in the world, will, in Marloes’ words, “get my faced smashed in” during their rematch. “But I’m planning on doing the same thing with her,” Coenen says. “I’ve gotten way stronger now, too. I’ve done hardcore strength and condition training … I know what’s coming and I know it will be hard.” But Marloes also knows one other thing, because her grandmother won’t let her forget: “You’ve got my strength,” Katharina routinely reminds her.

But for Marloes, being called a pioneer in her sport or even a champion in it, pales in comparison to the woman she admires most. Curators at Israel’s official holocaust memorial, the Yad Vashem, would honor the Coenens in 2008 with the title of “The Righteous Among the Nations” for helping to save countless Jews in the Netherlands.

“Everyone is always looking at me, ‘You’re a fighter. You’ve been a champion and all that. But compare it to what they did in the war and what I’m doing is completely nothing,” Marloes says. “No matter what I do, I will never accomplish the great things my grandmother and grandfather have done. It’s impossible.”

Besides, no matter what happens on Saturday night, Marloes Katharina Coenen already has the title she cherishes most: Granddaughter.

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