Often in life, people want to reinvent themselves from the ground up, but very few achieve that. Many of us struggle with darker parts of ourselves which hold us back from becoming the person we want to be. However, this isn’t the case with Danielle Walker, a blue belt at Ohana Academy HQ in Texas. A wrestler throughout high school and college, she discovered BJJ and became a 2019 Master World Champion and Nogi World Champion. Despite struggling for years with addiction, anxiety, and depression, Danielle found jiu jitsu, and through trial after trial reinvented herself.
You started with wrestling in high school. What kind of impression did wrestling leave on you, and how did your love of the mats change, if at all, when you started jiu jitsu?
“I wrestled all 4 years of high school and then received a wrestling scholarship, wrestling all 4 years in college. That’s all I knew; wrestling was my life. I loved everything about it: the blood, sweat and tears. It was the one thing I had that took me away from the problems at home and the drugs. It built up confidence inside me I never knew I had, but unfortunately it just wasn’t enough. During my entire wrestling career, I used drugs to numb the pain in my life. After losing wrestling to that, I hit rock bottom. Things got really dark for me after that, while I was stuck in my addiction for 5 years. After getting sober all I wanted to do was get back on the mats and do what I loved, so I joined Ohana Academy. They suggested to me to start Jiu jitsu, my whole life changed after that. I fell in love with the sport and just wanted more of it everyday! It gave me a new purpose and another chance at what I love to do, grapple. I thought the mats were over for me, but I had just realized I had just entered the beginning of my new journey.”
What was the hardest part of overcoming your addiction and depression?
“One of the hardest parts of overcoming my addiction was coming out of the psychosis I was stuck in for so long. I also had to change all of my people, places and things; that was not easy at all. I had to start over from scratch.”
During your first year of being sober how did your outlook on yourself and life change? Did Jiu-Jitsu contribute to the change?
“My first year sober I was so scatterbrained and still stuck in a fog. It took me months just to snap back into reality. My self-worth was very low, but I knew I wanted to fight and finish what I had started before. I knew if I could get sober after everything I’ve been through, nothing could stand in my way. I went back to school and finished my bachelors degree in Applied Sciences by the end of that first year of being sober.
Right before my 1 year sobriety date I knew there was something missing, I still had this desire inside me to be on the mats. That’s when I started at Ohana Academy. That’s all I knew how to do at that point, I wanted to start MMA with my wrestling experience but they suggested I start Jiu jitsu first, so I did. That’s where it all started for me.”
How has becoming a jiu jitsu world champion impacted who you are today?
“Jiu-Jitsu has given me another purpose in life and I believe I have a job now to give back what was given to me. I want to continue training to be the best in the world and I won’t ever stop until I am, and even then I won’t. I also want to help others accomplish their goals in jiu-jitsu and in life. Becoming an IBJJF World Champion in 2019 meant the world to me, it proved everything I’ve been through in my life was meant to transform me into who I am today. All the adversity I went through made me stronger than I ever knew I could be. I’m grateful for all of my failures and accomplishments because it has made me who I am today. ‘Failure isn’t the enemy of success; rather, it’s almost an absolute requirement for success.'”
What/who motivated you the most in your training to become a world champion?
“My boyfriend is one of my biggest motivators. In my first year of doing Jiu jitsu I saw him win an IBJJF world championship and after that I wanted to start competing in IBJJF tournaments, so I did. He has been there for every match by my side coaching me with my professor. My boyfriend has been my biggest supporter. He believes in me when I don’t. This has impacted me so much and helped me become stronger with such a great support system.
I am a World Champion today because of my Professor Bruno Alves and my training partners. I came to my professor still broken, and trying to put my pieces back together He saw all the potential I had. He believed in me when I didn’t. He pushed me out of my comfort zone everyday and I started seeing Jiu jitsu in a whole different light. That’s when I told him I wanted to be a World Champion and I would do whatever it takes. He was the who but the what came after. After growing my confidence in Jiu jitsu, I wanted to prove everyone wrong; I wasn’t just a junkie. That I could still be a World Champion like I always dreamed of being in Wrestling but in Jiu jitsu, that my time wasn’t up and I wanted to prove that to the world.”
What advice would you give to someone struggling with addiction or mental health?
“Find a good support system whether that’s your family, friends, or training partners at your dojo and surround yourself with good people who lift you up always. Make a plan (write it down), go by that plan, and then execute that plan. Always look forward but NEVER look back. Never give up!”