I have spent countless hours packed in a car with my friends Dave, Andrew, Greg, and Will. We drove to seminars, tournaments, and open mats. These trips forged our friendship and were the start of more than a few adventures. As often happens when three grapplers unite around their obsession with jiu-jitsu, we sometimes didn’t make the wisest decisions.
One of our greatest hits: We drove to Boston to compete in the Boston Open right before Hurricane Irene hit.
This epic adventure took place in August of 2011. I was a purple belt. Dave, Andrew, and Greg were blue belts. We were all living and training in New Jersey at the time. As the tournament grew near, Irene coverage took up more and more air time. Experts predicted it would be one of the biggest storms to hit the northeast in recent years.
But we had already paid our registration fees and scraped together enough money for our one hotel room so…
We planned to Boston on Friday as planned. Our Weather Channel sleuthing suggested that we could get into town, compete, and drive back home before the hurricane made landfall late that Saturday. We all thought that the plan was a good idea, but Will’s wife disagreed. She convinced him that leaving New Jersey—which meant leaving behind his wife and newborn—was not a very bright idea. The rest of us were young and single and stuck to the plan.
Leaving around 4:00 p.m., we drove up 95. The weather was clear and sunny, and we were making good time until we ran into a massive track jam. New York City was evacuating because of Hurricane Irene, turning a four hour drive into seven hours. In hindsight, we might have taken the hint and turned around, but, you know, registration fees
We eventually made it to Boston and crammed into our little hotel room.
The next day we headed to the venue early because Dave’s division was up first. He had 3 tough matches – won 2 and lost in the finals with a very close match. Then our friend Andrew, who had been obsessively drilling triangle armbars for the last year, was up next. He certainly put those reps to use and won all three of his matches by armbar. Dave and Andrew were promoted to purple belts a few weeks after this tournament.
Then my matches came at 11. I had a big bracket and fought 4 matches, even though I was told I would have 3. I won the first by DQ—my opponent got called for reaping from single leg X. Then I had a battle with a purple belt from Marcelo’s followed by a match with a purple belt from Brazilian Top Team in Boston. I thought that was my last match. The ring coordinator even told me to wait for my medal. I was elated: my first time getting a gold medal at an IBJJF tournament. I took third at No Gi Pans in 2008, and I had taken third at NY Open the year before. That was after losing in the first round the year prior.
I put a lot of pressure on myself, so I felt like a huge monkey was being lifted off my back. I really wanted to win an IBJJF tournament. An hour went by. I changed. I packed. We were ready to hit the road and head home before we got stuck in the storm, when my name is called for another match. I went to the podium and was told a ring coordinator made a mistake. There were actually two BTT competitors on the bracket, and I had to fight the second one in the finals.
This was tough mentally. I had been in a good place all day, but now I had turned it off and was ready to go home. I pulled my cold, wet gi out of my bag, put it on (a special kind of torture that only grapplers understand), stretched out a bit, and fought the final. I racked up an early lead and finally caught an armbar to officially capture my first IBJJF gold medal. This was very special to me. I had trained so hard for this tournament, as well as for the previous ones where I had fallen short. It was great to finally stand at the top of the podium.
I enjoyed my brief moment on the podium, and then we booked it out of there, making our only adult decision of the trip by opting to skip the absolute. It rained all the way, but we made it safe and sound. Hurricane Irene turned out to be much less damaging than expected – something that would come back to haunt the north east the following year when no one gave Sandy the respect it deserved.
But that was luck. I love the camaraderie of BJJ, and I love the time I get to spend with the close friends I have made through BJJ. Trips like these are priceless, and the experience of winning a gold medal is one that I still treasure. Looking back on it, though, Will may have had the right idea.
I fully encourage you to go out there and make your own memories, but just maybe sacrifice the registration fee if a hurricane is coming your way.