BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Lillie Segelken Helton proudly bears “The Princess” nickname.
The Lincoln native wears the moniker like a badge of honor because she wants to usher in a new example for the modern era.
She likes girly things to be sure, but also happens to be a tenacious amateur kickboxer.
“Princess in Disney movies and the princess in society I feel like is this perfect woman in stories who waits for a man, and I feel like I want to change that,” Helton said. “I am a princess in my own right and my own definition.
“But also second to that, I really have become an inspiration to young women and I want to continue showing that when girls think of the princess, maybe they think of me and not necessarily Cinderella because I think there’s more than one definition out there and I want to bring what I think it is.”
Background:Lincoln native’s kickboxing dream comes true
Lillie, 28, has more than persevered through the rigors of kickboxing with her wife, Liz Helton. They met at a gym about seven years ago while the former attended Illinois State University.
Liz, 39, already had fighting experience as a boxer before becoming Lillie’s training partner and eventually tried kickboxing competitively herself after they moved to the St. Louis area in 2018.
“She was very motivating,” Lillie said of Liz. “She already had a little bit of experience, so it was awesome to have someone who was new but also had experience. She wasn’t my coach, but she was my training partner. Having that person there that understood what I was going through, that I could share things with, was really awesome.”
Lillie eventually undertook her first fight near the end of 2016.
“Lillie doesn’t really come across as a fighter, so when she wanted to take her first fight we were in a relationship at that time and I was really nervous about that,” said Liz, originally from Joliet and Peoria.
“Lillie spent her entire first fight camp crying. Every time she was getting beat up, every time she was being pressured, literally she just cried all of the time, and my coach would make me keep hitting her even though she was crying.
“It sounds worse than what you might think. We’re training, he’s trying to get her to understand you can’t just quit and you’ve got to keep going.”
Liz said she was nervous about Lillie’s debut, but it turned out to be a dazzling performance. She henceforth knew that Lillie could not only weather training but also flourish in the ring.
“It was definitely hard,” Lillie said. “But when I came into the gym, I didn’t necessarily have the best group of friends. And being around the people at the gym was something that I had not experienced before. They were all supportive.
“They were all wanting to push me to the next level and they believed in me, so although I was not 100% confident in myself, I just had this overwhelming feeling of love and support.
“That brought me confidence knowing that my coach — even though I was crying and feeling like I couldn’t do it — was telling me, ‘Yes, you can. You can do this.’ It was awesome.”
That gym, Bloomington Combat Club, doesn’t exist anymore, but they still keep in touch with their former coach, Billy Stamp.
They’ve only continued to ramp up their intensity at Wolves Den Training Center in O’Fallon, Missouri. They typically train twice a day, six days a week. They focus on strength and conditioning early in the morning with Kain Royer then fighting techniques with JP Madus after work in the evenings.
The kickboxing couple, married in 2018, spar together on Sundays and generally rest on Mondays for a grand total of 17-20 hours of training. Lillie additionally teaches at the Revive Brazilian Jiu Jitsu academy in Saint Charles, Missouri, on Thursdays.
“We spar hard,” Lillie said. “We’re pretty close in weight, so we’re really good sparring partners for each other. A lot of people are pretty surprised when they see us spar at the gym so hard.
“It’s never any type of ill will at the gym. It’s all just about pushing each other to get better. She’s a little bigger than me. Her boxing is better. I’m a little quicker and my kickboxing is better, so we just really push each other and make each other level up each time.”
Lillie and Liz have competed internationally twice through the World Association of Kickboxing Organizations at 115 and 132 pounds, respectively. They first represented Team USA overseas in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2019 then Jesolo, Italy, in 2021.
Lillie earned the bronze medal in Italy and qualified for one of the top eight spots in her division for The World Games currently underway in Birmingham, Alabama. Her first fight begins Wednesday at 12:15 p.m.
She worked through tears to get to this point.
“Literally,” Lillie said. “This journey, it has such highs and lows. You’re up and you’re down. I train with my coach, my teammates, my wife but when you step in the ring, I step in the ring by myself and there’s no one else that can do things for me. It’s on me.
“It’s definitely been a huge part of my development as a person and becoming an adult. I’m 28 and I feel like the last two years have really been pivotal. I’ve had a lot of pivotal moments in the last few years in fighting and also just with my confidence, knowing what I’m capable of, learning myself and believing in myself and becoming the person that I am today.”
Liz has seen that confidence mushroom firsthand.
“She didn’t really have a lot of confidence in herself sometimes,” Liz said. “But she’s definitely worked through that and really has built herself confidence.”
The duo will later participate in the Pan-American Masters Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in August.
Lillie may attempt mixed martial arts in the near future, as well. Liz will be there right by her side.
“A lot of times in the sport you have a fighter then they have their wife, husband, boyfriend or girlfriend and they’re just their supporter, but they don’t really, truly understand and they’ve never been in their shoes,” Lillie said. “But Liz had been in my shoes, so to have that there was amazing and priceless. And she’s still there.
“Every fight I can look at her and she knows exactly what I’m thinking or feeling without me even saying anything. Having that there to share with someone is truly amazing. Not many people have it.”
Contact Bill Welt: (217) 788-1545, firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter.com/BillWelt