My Gym Flooded

Running a jiu-jitsu program has been a dream of mine since I started training jiu-jitsu. I admired how my instructors taught their classes, and I saw how my heroes were releasing books and DVDs. I wanted to be a successful competitor, but the people in the sport who most had my respect were the ones directly impacting students with their ability to teach and coach.

This was well-before I had any coaching ability, of course. In my mind, it’s like a kid playing video games. You see how fun it is to play video games, so you make the leap to “wouldn’t it be cool to make video games?!”

My dream came true last year when I was invited to take over the jiu-jitsu program at a local MMA academy (which you can read a little bit about in my previous blog post). Less than a year has passed since I started in that role.

And we got flooded.

On June 20, Pittsburgh was hit by intensely localized rainfall that triggered flash flooding. The Pittsburgh region is not unfamiliar with flooding, but the speed of the rainfall took many business and homeowners by surprise, and one person died after abandoning her car and trying to walk home.

For the gym, this meant a flooding scene that felt like a scene out of The Shining. Water came rushing down over the hill in a wave. The creek nearby swelled. And the gym took on water.

The next morning, standing in four-inches of water, my heart broke. The owner, Khama Worthy, was emptying the water out of the gym one 12-gallon shop vac at a time while another friend of the gym worked to clear the drains. The facility—large enough to house two cages, a boxing ring, a mat area, a bag area, a fitness center, two locker rooms, a kids room, and a pro shop—was almost completely under water.

Compared to my dream, Khama’s was much bigger, and he risked everything to make it happen. He became the owner when I took over the jiu-jitsu program, which meant that he emptied his savings into buying the gym. For him, the gym was brand new and represented the future for his career and for his family. Flooding is strange this way. The way the muck spreads across a room, the way it drags against your feet when you try to walk through, the way a random keepsake will float by you as you try to clean up—it can feel like drowning, like you’ll never claw free of the disaster.

But we had no choice. We had to rebuild. So, we kept emptying water, moving the ocean one drop at a time.

And then the most incredible thing happened: People kept appearing. They saw the Facebook post, and all they needed to know was that Khama was in trouble. They showed up with boots on and equipment under their arms. Sometimes they hardly said a word. They would see where someone else needed a hand and would jump in to help. Students from across our programs worked side by side, and the mothers of children in our Little Ninjas program were some of the first people to arrive and the last people to leave (these moms are ride or die).

Everyone knew that this gym was Khama’s dream, but what I did not realize about a gym community is that the dream is shared among all of the students, even if no one recognizes it. Everyone that trains under that roof sees the gym as being an important part of their life in some way, whether they are pursuing professional MMA careers or love how a jiu-jitsu class can challenge and relax them after a long work day.

A disaster can bring what’s really important into focus, and I hope that in reading this story you can start to see those things in your own jiu-jitsu life without having to experience a disaster.

The next time you are on the mat, pause to take in the scene and reflect on how fortunate you are to have your instructor, your training partners, and a place to enjoy jiu-jitsu.