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Invicta's Veronica Rothenhausler retires due to concussions: 'Is it worth me not living?'

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Esther Lin, Invicta FC

Veronica Rothenhausler was supposed to compete at Invicta FC 6 back in July 2013. She never made it to the cage.

In training camp, Rothenhausler suffered two concussions in as many weeks, but didn't tell anyone. Then, she embarked on a steep weight cut -- from her walking weight of 175 pounds to 145, so she could compete against Mollie Estes in Invicta's featherweight division.

The day of weigh-ins, Rothenhausler passed out and didn't wake up until she was in the hospital. The fight was obviously canceled.

A few weeks later, Rothenhausler's father asked her why she would even go through with the fight after sustaining two concussions.

"I kinda just told him sometimes when you want something so bad, you have to sacrifice everything for it," Rothenhausler told MMAFighting.com. "But sometimes that line is blurred of what you have to sacrifice and what you should sacrifice."

Rothenhausler returned to the cage for Invicta in September at 155 pounds and was knocked out by Charmaine Tweet. It was Rothenhausler's fifth career concussion and she still isn't feeling any better -- even eight months later. Last week, Rothenhausler announced her retirement on Twitter.

Rothenhausler, 25, also fractured her orbital bone against Tweet. About two months after the fight, still feeling concussion symptoms, Rothenhausler took a turn for the worse, feeling terrible pain and discomfort in her head.

"I felt like I was having maybe a blood clot," said Rothenhausler, who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento. "I don't know what happened. It was super intense. I thought it was like dying, dude. It was gnarly."

Doctors diagnosed Rothenhausler with post-concussion syndrome and told her she might not feel normal again for up to 18 months. The Team Alpha Male fighter still has headaches every day. After the fight, she said she was slurring her speech, mixing up the order of words when she spoke, had a decline in hand-eye coordination and felt nauseous constantly.

"It's an ongoing thing," Rothenhausler said. "That's the worst part."

There were many days since September when all she wanted to do was get revenge on Tweet, but Rothenhausler finally decided she would never step in the cage again. When doctors told her that she was facing fatal injury if she ever got hit in the head again, that sealed it.

"I don't think that I'll compete again," Rothenhausler said. "When I sit down and think about it, is it worth me not living? The doctor said your next blow to the head could be the one and that's f*cked up to hear."

The physical aspect of it has been hard enough. The mental part might even be worse. Rothenhausler has been an athlete all her life and she can't work out nearly as much or as hard she once did until her symptoms go away.

Then there was having to cope with not living out her dream of being the best women's MMA fighter in the world. Rothenhausler had all the physical tools, including devastating one-punch knockout power not seen in many females. She said she would have earned a featherweight title shot against Cris Cyborg had she defeated Tweet. Instead, her pro record will remain at just 1-1. She was undefeated as an amateur and owns a win over UFC fighter Ashlee Evans Smith.

"If I'm not f*cking knocking girls out like I think I should be, who am I?" Rothenhausler said. "It's hard. I had a semi-identity crisis trying to figure out, OK so if I'm not a professional fighter, who am I? What do I do with my days? If I can't train for four hours a day, what the f*ck do I do?"

The Reno native has gotten a part-time job doing the accounting for a local sheet metal shop. She's also enrolled back in college studying geology. Rothenhausler only has about a year left until she gets her bachelor's degree because of previous credits and she's excited about doing her part to preserve the Earth.

"Finding something else that I'm passionate about helps, for sure," she said.

So does having a teammate, Chris Holdsworth, and coach, Martin Kampmann, who are and have gone through the same thing she is. Holdsworth has not fought in almost a year due to post-concussion syndrome. Kampmann is semi-retired due to multiple concussions.

Another UFC fighter, lightweight T.J. Grant, was slated for a title shot before going down with post-concussion syndrome. He has not fought since May 25, 2013.

Rothenhausler has done a bunch of research and sees the correlation between cutting weight and brain trauma. If there is one thing she would have done different in MMA, she said she would have worn headgear while sparring like Urijah Faber, the Team Alpha Male patriarch, advised her to.

That said, she's glad she has had the experience of being an MMA fighter.

"I definitely had some great times during my career," Rothenhausler said. "Being a fighter teaches you things that not a lot of things can really teach you. I'm glad I did it. I would never trade it for anything."

But she has to give it up. Her future health demands it.

"I don't want to do anything else that could put that to risk any more," Rothenhausler said. "It was hard for me to make the decision, because I'm a very prideful person."