Francis Garcia, a blue belt under Carlson Gracie, is a strong woman who uses jiu jitsu with a purpose. This blue belt is a 38-year-old single mother and nurse. Her 12-year-old daughter (who is a black and grey belt with 4 stripes) is the proud center of her life. Francis survived through a marriage that ended due to domestic violence. Her adversities have given her the mindset of a warrior that she couples with kindness, generosity, and passion.
What is your jiu jitsu background?
I started in October of 2016 under the Carlson Gracie headquarters in Chicago along with my daughter, Isabella, who was eight years old at the time. We started jiu jitsu mainly because of my experience with domestic violence. Being a single mother of a girl, I felt it was my obligation to have her learn an effective martial art to be able to defend herself
What is the biggest benefit from doing jiu jitsu so far?
My biggest benefit from jiu jitsu has been confidence and weight loss. When I started jiu jitsu I was at 190 lbs and now I’m around 170 lbs.
How have you been handling Covid and the impact on your gym accessibility?
The impact has been more mental than anything. Without being able to train and see my teammates, I felt a little depressed and didn’t know what to do with myself. I would drill with my daughter at home and have some light sparring sessions, but obviously it just wasn’t the same.
As a nurse, I was afraid and stressed out when the pandemic began. I didn’t have anywhere to go to de-stress myself. It made me feel like everything around me was crumbling.
What has been your biggest accomplishment in jiu jitsu?
My biggest accomplishment has been my blue belt. I completed as a white belt and won a couple of small tournaments. I never gave up even though it was very tough.
At The beginning I struggled mentally and physically from being overweight and I didn’t know anyone at the gym. I have cried so many times on the mats because I keep pushing forward no matter how difficult the class is or the technique being taught.
I remember in my second class that I cried during the warm up and I didn’t want to finish it because I felt like I was going to fall on my face. But I finished. One teammate later confessed to me that he didn’t think I would last a month in jiu jitsu, but later said he was wrong about me.
I know my daughter is watching me. She has been competing as well, but due to her height, she mostly competes against boys. She is 90% successful with her matches, and I respect and admire her courage. My daughter and I are a team.
Do you have any advice for someone who may be in the middle of a domestic violence situation?
You are not alone. There are shelters that will keep you safe from your abuser. There are good people willing to help you and become free of such suffering.
My ex-husband was intoxicated and put a pillow on my face. He is 6’2” and about 210 lbs. I was certain I was going to die so I started praying to God for forgiveness. Somehow, he fell next to me and passed out.
I was so afraid I threw up and started shaking. When I regained my strength, I grabbed my daughter (who was one at the time and sleeping in the next room) and took a taxi to the Greyhound bus station.
The driver didn’t even charge me, probably because he saw the fear on my face. We were living in Iowa and went to Chicago to live with my mom. I contacted an organization that helps women in these situations and they helped me file for divorce. Then, I decided to become a CNA and eventually became a nurse.
There is hope. You can become free from your abuser, but you must be willing to be mentally strong and believe you deserve better. I thought,I am going to end up dead and my daughter will not have a father or mother. She deserves a happy life free of trauma and pain. She Is an honor student and a happy young lady.
If your story sounds something like mine, please seek help. You don’t have to die to end your suffering.
About the author: Mindi is a purple belt under Headnod HQ in Granite City, Illinois under Josh and Steve McKinney. She is affiliated with TAC Team BJJ. When Mindi isn’t on the mats, she is writing, working in women’s ministry, or across seas as a volunteer missionary. Instagram: @fomindi82