Trista Stordahl-Loftus was just 5 years old when she first walked into the martial arts gym at Pit North in Atascadero. She was just there to watch her older brother and sister try out martial arts. Her mom never thought she would want to join in.
“They were out there, and she said to me, ‘I want to do that,’ ” Stordahl-Loftus’ mother, Tierra Stordahl, said. “I was thinking no way. This is my little girl, but she was just relentless. When she gets something in her mind, there is no stopping her.”
After two weeks, Stordahl-Loftus finally convinced her mom.
“I finally tried it, and the whole entire class I was smiling and happy. I fell in love with it,” she said.
Stordahl-Loftus continued to dedicate herself to the sport, as her sister and brother eventually gave it up, and rarely missed a training session. Nearly 10 years later, 14-year-old Stordahl-Loftus walked into the gym Wednesday carrying a smile and her first title belt — a shiny symbol of her United States Fight League Championship won in the 140-pound weight class in November 2017.
The title was the culmination to a whirlwind year for the girl known as “Firecracker,” a nickname given to her by her mom for her explosive fighting style and fiery red hair. She had eight fights during the year, and along the way consistently fought girls who are bigger and stronger — just as she had her whole life. She still emerged with a 7-1 record.
Her mom said no matter how exciting the fights can be, she’s still filled with nerves every time she watches her daughter enter the octagon.
“I get physically sick,” said Stordahl, who also acts as her daughter’s manager. “My little girl is going to the ring, and someone is purposely trying to hurt her. But it’s something she wants to do, and as long as she is happy with it, I am going to support her and I am going to make her dreams come true.”
Stordahl-Loftus competes in Pankration MMA, a form of the sport for boys and girls under 18 years old that outlaws head shots, along with other rules — such as no knee kicks, joint manipulation and no more than three punches to the same area — meant to protect young fighters.
She is also checked by a doctor before and after the fight for any injuries and watched carefully by a referee during bouts. And while Stordahl feels sick watching her daughter compete in a sport that carries plenty of risks, she is calmed by the protections in place.
It’s a good thing because Stordahl-Loftus can’t get enough.
“I just love the adrenaline you get before a tournament or a big fight,” she said. “The feeling when you learn a new skill. The feeling of constant accomplishment.”
Her diverse martial arts background — which includes Muay Thai, Kumite, Jiu-Jitsu and a junior black belt in Hawaiian Kempo — has made Stordahl-Loftus a force on the junior circuit. Six of her wins came via submission, including her win over Nahdia Barrientos that ended with a rear naked chokehold. But her biggest strength is her kickboxing skills, she says, something that she won’t be able to unleash fully until she turns 18 years old.
Despite training six days a week at the Pit — a gym associated with UFC stars like Chuck Liddell, Glover Teixeira and Tim Kennedy — Trista still finds time to do well in her freshman honors classes at Atascadero High School and even joined the cheerleading and STUNT teams this year.
“It’s hard, but I can deal with it because it’s two things that I really love to do,” Stordahl-Loftus said.
And Firecracker isn’t done yet. She has another fight April 14 and is set on defending her title later this year. Her long-term goals are even bigger.
“I want to become a professional fighter and go places with it because it’s what I want to do,” Stordahl-Loftus said. “And I want to open up my own gym and teach kids the thing I love the most.”
Follow along with Trista’s MMA journey on her Facebook Page: Firecracker Fundraising (@Tristafightteam)