by Lindsay Miller
There is a common vulnerability when you put forth all your effort and heart into something—and Brynn and Josh Himes are no stranger to this connection. They went from a head-down-work-hard concentration on their careers to a head-over-heels focus on one another. Their love, their drive, and their passion for giving has become the common ground in which they’ve built their lives on today.
Josh Himes grew up in Monaca, Pa., a small town outside of Pittsburgh. He debuted in professional boxing in 2014. Himes has a professional records of only two losses and eleven wins, six of them being knockouts, with a total of fifty-three fights as an amateur and professional fighter combined. Himes is also the ABA champion and the current UFA All-American champion as a cruiserweight—weighing in at 200 pounds. Himes called 5th Street Gym his home base while living in South Beach in Miami, Fla. where motivational stories about boxers like Muhammad Ali fill the room.
While living in Miami, all Josh did was train. Boxing was his life, and he woke up and went to bed with one thing on his mind. He said, “When I met Brynn, I was like, ‘I’m movin’ to Nashville! Goin’ to learn the Boot-Scootin’ Boogie!’ And now we’ve lived here over two years.”
Brynn Marie Cirota was raised in Carmichaels, Pa., about 60 miles south of Pittsburgh. She found herself drawn to country music, and after winning a talent contest sponsored by a local radio station, she applied herself to music full time, giving up her spot on the dance team at California University of Pennsylvania. “I got an opportunity to go overseas and play for our military on an AFE Tour for three weeks in the Middle East,” she said. “That changed my life. I saw how music can make you forget your problems. After that trip, I came back home, packed my bags, and moved to Nashville.”
Her drive and focus meant no downtime. Especially in the beginning, when she was learning the music business from scratch. She was doing her own booking, publicity, promotion, and even graphic design and produced everything from her album covers to music videos. She worked constantly, which led to touring as the opening act for rock legends Pat Benatar and Cheap Trick.
While Josh Himes was scrolling through his Twitter feed one night, he came across a retweet from a local station in Pittsburgh that caught his immediate attention. “It was Brynn’s picture,” he said. “I saw it and I said, ‘I’m going to marry that girl.’ I kid you not.”
Josh said, “I’m living in Miami at the time and there are millions of girls there, but I was focused on my career. I didn’t care about any of that.” A little rusty on the dating scene, Josh’s dating methods might have seemed unorthodox. “As soon as I saw Brynn’s picture, I called the radio station like a crazy person. But I actually did know the DJ. They wanted to talk to me about a fight coming up and I said, ‘No, no, no, who is Brynn Marie? Tell me about her.”
The guys at the radio station described Brynn as, “a good Christian girl” and mentioned that she was Italian, which immediately had Josh hooked. He asked them to reach out to her and to tell Brynn he said, “Hi.” That was all. Just “Hi.”
At this time Brynn was living in Nashville. Traveling and touring and staying busy with her music. When her friend at the radio station called her she thought, “No thanks, I’m not looking for love.” But her friend insisted she give him a chance.
“The first thing Josh told me was, ‘he is a professional athlete,’ and I thought, ‘Strike one!’ then he tells me his nickname is “The Handsome Hitman,” and I thought ‘Strike two, this guy knows he is handsome.’ Then he tells me he lives in South Beach Miami, and I just thought, ‘Strike three! That is not happening!’” Brynn said.
“Oh yeah, I struck out before she even met me,” Josh added.
“Really I just thought I had nothing to relate to. I didn’t think we would have anything in common,” Brynn explained. “My friend called me back and said, ‘Come on, reach out to him. He’s from the Pittsburgh area, he’s a good Christian, and comes from a big Italian family.” This made Brynn think differently.
“We immediately had a connection and talked over the phone every day for an entire month. I didn’t meet Brynn until a month after we started talking, but three weeks after we spoke, I invited her father and her two brothers—who are both older than me—to one of my fights. This took grandi palle,” Josh admits. “The fight was in Morgantown, W. Va., and I sent three ring side tickets to their house,” said Josh.
Brynn remembered, “I didn’t even get to go. My dad met Josh before I did. But I warned him that my dad was a strong, hardheaded Italian.”
Her brothers told Josh he had to not only win his fight, but knock the guy out if he wanted to take Brynn on a date. “Talk about pressure,” Josh said. “I knocked the guy out in the fourth round. He had a rock head. And a week later I got to meet Brynn. But even before we met, we knew. I knew. And in five months, we were married.”
“Our first date was his brother’s wedding. Our first kiss was at my grandma’s house.” Brynn recalled while laughing. They joke about being family oriented, but it couldn’t be more true. Both with strong personalities and big families, they are fire and gasoline to be around and light up the room with their positivity and love for one another. It is a constant back and forth with jokes and laughter.
“We were actually at my parents house one day and I was climbing a tree.” Brynn said. “Josh yelled at me, ‘Hey! Before you get hurt, will you marry me?’ and it sounds funny, but it was real. And I love real.”
“Right after the wedding, I packed up my things, drove 15 hours from Miami to surprise her here in Nashville and we started looking for a house. We’ve been in this house two years now.” And although it may seem like everything in their lives changed fast, it seems more like they followed their intuition. Either way, as Josh says, “Weight broke the wagon.” They both went from completely focused on their careers to completely focus on one another.
Brynn likes to tell the story of Josh’s first experience with boxing. “He just walked into a boxing gym and said he found himself. He thought, ‘This is my path and this is what I am meant to do.’ And I love that story because that is how I felt about music.”
As husband and wife, they made their individual passions work together. Brynn and Josh support each other’s career and the drive that comes with it. This is something that brought them together. “We fight hard, but we love hard,” they both say, with reference to their Italian backgrounds.
But Josh isn’t one of those have-to-hate-the-guy-to-fight-him type of athletes. “He always wishes his opponents luck before a fight!” Brynn exclaimed. And Josh added, “At the end of the day it is a sport. A tough sport. But I want people to go home to their families, so I wish them luck and a safe fight.”
However, there is a moment when things change. Brynn says his eyes change once his hands are wrapped. They both have ways of recognizing when Josh is ready to fight.
“Boxing is a very mentally challenging sport, and people can be unpredictable. I have to be prepared for the worst case scenario,” Josh said. And while he understands this in the ring, he and Brynn have also learned to understand a different meaning of unpredictable.
In January 2017, Josh and Brynn launched a charity called Fight2Fight, an idea that sparked while Brynn’s brother was battling his second round of cancer.
“We couldn’t be there with him in the beginning stages because Josh was getting ready for a big fight,” Brynn said. “So while Josh was training, we would Facetime Tony. Josh would say, ‘Tony, you are a fighter! I’m going to win this fight for you, man.’And Tony would say back to him, ‘OK! I’m going to win this fight for you.’ So it was a back and forth conversation all the time. But our hearts were back and forth too, because we couldn’t physically be there with him.”
“For her brother, perception is reality. And we were telling him, ‘You’re a fighter!’ repeatedly,” Josh said. “The positivity was changing him. We saw his eyes light up and he would say, ‘You’re damn, right! I am a fighter!’ And his chemo was kind of like his training camp.”
Brynn had the idea to have a shirt made that just said “Fighter” because she felt that whoever wore that shirt deserved to feel liberated. “It wasn’t just about Josh being in a boxing ring as a professional fighter,” Brynn said. “My brother was fighting cancer and he was really in a battle for his life. I wanted him to feel empowered, along with anyone else that wanted to wear that shirt.”
Thus the name Fight2Fight came to life as Josh said the impact of this experience went from fight to fight and from fighter to fighter. “We saw the impact it had on Tony,” Josh says, “And we wanted that impact to be worldwide, with anybody who is fighting something. Abuse, addiction, you name it: There are all kinds of fights people are facing. Everyone is fighting something.”
Once Brynn and Josh were able to spend some time with Tony in Chicago, Josh began taking Tony to the boxing gym. “Tony would put the gloves on and hit Josh,” Brynn said. “This was a guy doing chemo 12 hours a day and he felt like a champion in the ring.”
“He got so much joy out of hitting me,” Josh joked. And so began another component of Fight2Fight. Tony is now forty years old and partially deaf. He faced more struggle than the average person may ever experience. His strength and perseverance inspired the entire movement for Brynn and Josh to make a difference.
Brynn said the overall mission is to “give hope and inspiration to everyday fighters through music and boxing.” They want to pass on the strength they found in Tony. Boxing and music together provided a mind, body, and soul experience. So they chose to share the two avenues with the Fight2Fight charity by traveling around to different groups and sharing the story of their own fight.
“Has anyone ever come up to you and asked, ‘What do you fight for?’” Brynn said. They ask this question to everyone at their events. “When you think about that question, it takes you back. It makes you think about your purpose. We’ve noticed walls come down quickly and people begin to identify with what they are fighting for. You would be surprised at the emotional response some people have,” she said. “It’s almost like no one has ever asked them that before.”
They have witnessed some tears, some aggression, and some real strength, but what Josh says is the most interesting is that everyone has something to fight for. Once the participant identifies their fight, they write it down and tape it to a mit. Then they attack their fight, physically. “This way they visually see what they are fighting for. When they get tired, we push them to go one more round. It can get emotional.”
“A boxing ring can also represent life too,” Brynn explained. “Sometimes we have to realize that people can only fight their own fight. Like boxing, I can’t jump in the ring with Josh. However, you can bet I’m working his corner and supporting him in anyway I can. While people are punching the mits, everyone is cheering them on. We try to create that support system, similar to what happens at a boxing match.”
The most rewarding feeling for this couple is being able to see people gain the motivation to fight harder and in turn, see them change.Josh and Brynn do their best every chance they get to allow people to understand that simple truth about themselves. The results in their sessions are nothing short of cathartic.
Fight2Fight has opened a number of doors and hearts, taking participants out of their comfort zones. It also recently became an official 501(c)3 nonprofit, encouraging Josh and Brynn to continue to bring the fight to everyone they can. We never know the battles that others face, but we can always find it in our hearts, as Josh and Brynn have, to love and inspire others to face their demons and fight back.
Note: Tony was victorious in his fight and is now cancer-free.