Mona Bailey knows what makes her special, and she wants the world to know about it. The 16-year-old blue belt is known by her followers as “Bald Strong Mona,” alluding to the fact that she lives with alopecia: an autoimmune condition that causes hair loss. The “strong” part of her nickname is just as applicable (in more than one way), and Saturday evening, she’ll be showing off her skills to the world in a superfight at 3rd Coast Grappling: Kumite II.
Mona’s jiu-jitsu journey started when she was just nine years old, back in October of 2013. She didn’t have to take that big first step alone, either — she’s one of ten children, and six of her siblings also train, along with her parents and nephew. Since then, she’s built up a solid jiu-jitsu resume, taking home big wins at BFA, IBJJF, Submission Hunter Pro, and 3rd Coast Grappling events.
The young athlete’s many accomplishments on the mat are remarkable on their own, but it’s her work outside of jiu-jitsu that she’s most proud of. She’s started the Bald Strong Mona Foundation, which has a mission to increase awareness and education about alopecia as well as providing wigs to other kids living with the condition. “The biggest misconception is when someone thinks just because I’m bald, I must have cancer,” she told the Jiu-Jitsu Times. “Fortunately, since my family and I have started the Bald Strong Mona Foundation, in addition to providing wigs for kids, we have educated so many people on what alopecia really is… The feeling I get helping out other Alopecians is so much more satisfying than any gold medal, belt, or trophy,” Mona told the Jiu-Jitsu Times.
Alopecia symptoms can appear at virtually any age, but Mona is one of the many who was diagnosed as a child. “Living life with alopecia has definitely been a journey for me, to say the least,” she said. “I was diagnosed at nine after I joined jiu-jitsu, and I feel if it weren’t for jiu-jitsu, then I wouldn’t have been able to get through it the way I did. I know having alopecia has helped make me who I am today.”
You can imagine how hair loss could affect anyone, especially a 16-year-old girl. But Mona is taking her alopecia journey day by day and isn’t afraid to see where it takes her. “In recent months, I have had some hair re-growth. So, I decided that I would take advantage of this quarantine and started to let my hair grow out. To see where it goes. I still have several spots of no hair, but many more spots that have hair growing in. Unfortunately with alopecia, you never know if it will continue to grow or start to fall out again. But I will enjoy it as it comes in and I feel I am well equipped to handle it if it were to fall out again.”
The athlete has become a notable figure both in the jiu-jitsu community and beyond as she’s grown and developed her platform. Her continued decision to use her reach to help others has had the impact she’s hoped it would. “I can not be more grateful for the platform I have. So many people message me from all over the world on what an inspiration I am to them and/or their kids. A LOT of people would rather hide it, but I go out there and I own it, and because of that so many other people follow in my footsteps. It is OK to be different,” she said.
Never one to constrain herself, though, Mona also wants to have an impact on women and girls of all ages, especially those who, like her, are involved in activities traditionally thought to be more masculine. “What I want people to think of me when they see me compete is that any girl — my age, younger, or older — can go out there and show their skills in a male dominate sport. We are strong, confident women that train just as hard as the boys/men, and we can put on a great show just like they do. The best part is I love competing! I win some and lose some, but l am always learning from both. Most importantly, I always go out and have fun.”
Mona will get this opportunity to have some fun tomorrow when she takes on Mahi Jamil in their 3CG superfight, and she’s very much looking forward to it. “I’m super excited to be competing on the big stage again. I’m definitely going to put on a great show and represent my team Carlson Gracie Houston,” she said. “Before my match, you will most likely catch me coloring and focusing on my game plan. My opponent becomes irrelevant at that point. It is all about going out there and doing what I train for every day.”