Pole Vaulting and BJJ

Growing up I was never what you would consider athletic. I was awkwardly skinny with big feet and hands, waiting for that growth spurt that didn't come until 8th grade. I was not very interested in soccer, the national sport in Chile, and my sister being picked before me in neighborhood games didn't help. So, I did not become involved with organized sports until we moved to the United States.

Once we got to the United States, I suddenly had choices. I joined the football team, originally to force myself to speak English faster, then track, then wrestling.

I was never a star athlete. If you ask my track coach, he can tell you about the time I almost hung myself trying to pole vault over a bungee cord hanging 6 feet above the ground. Once he made sure I was still alive, he reminded me that two of our high jumpers can clear that without the pole. The next day I built up the courage to go talk to Mr. Henriques, a stocky former marine, and, honestly, I was terrified of him when I was a freshman. Between the embarrassment and the frustration, I wanted to switch events. But what he told me next stuck with me the rest of my life.

He said, “If you quit now you are never going to get better, but if you keep coming, keep training, you will get pretty good. Maybe not great, but you can pretty good if you stick to it.”

I listened. I had a pretty decent Sophomore and Junior season. My Senior season was disappointing since I broke my thumb on my very last wrestling match.

While I never broke any school records, or won any gold medals, I got pretty good. I was able to win a few dual meets and even place during a few relays with my partner Steve, the same guy who would go on to design the panda logo years later.

That little speech my coach gave me carried me through my white belts years as well. All those training sessions stuck underneath giant blue belts, tapping over and over to tricky purple belts, or getting thrown on my head by much older judo players—those words resonated in my head.

While I never became great at the whole BJJ thing—There are no BJJ world championships to my name—I can honestly say I became pretty good. I placed at IBJJF tournaments at every belt level, got asked to do super fights, taught around the world, and some people even bought an instructional I made. All I did was keep showing up. I kept asking questions. I kept rolling with people that were better than me. I kept failing until things started to work.

If I can do it, you can do it too.