I don’t do it for the patch on my back, I don’t do it for my professor, and I don’t do it for my teammates. I don’t do it for the podium, I don’t do it for the medals, and I don’t do it for the fans. I don’t do it for my last name, I don’t do it for any lineage, and I don’t do it for the highlight reel.
I do it because I don’t want to. I do it because I didn’t think I could, I thought I would never, and they thought I would never even make it this far. I do it for my younger self- the child who hid in the bathroom, who was too weak to fight back, and who never wanted to leave school. I do it for her.
I do it because when I wake up that morning, I regret signing up. I wonder why I keep doing this to myself. And then I remember why I do it. Then I get up and I eat breakfast. I fill my bag with my gear and a plethora of snacks. Before I leave, I look in the mirror. I remind myself who I am and why I’m here. I confidently say, “I am Caroline O’Connell. I am not afraid. I am a warrior.”
While driving, I empty my mind by meditating. I repeat the phrases I’ve listened to thousands of times. If my mind ever wanders, I focus on my breath and the words sounding through my stereo. When I arrive at the venue, I remain determined to avoid distractions. I put my hood up, and my invisibility cloak on. If I don’t look at anyone so there is no opportunity for them to approach me. If I keep listening to my meditations, there is no opportunity for anxiety.
I face the wall as I begin the QiGong meridian warm up. My body moves fluidly with my breath, my eyes are closed, and I imagine myself as nature. My body is a pond, perfectly still and clear. Every inhale fills me with peace and every exhale releases tension. My mind is calm, open and empty. I stretch my muscles to cultivate openness and flexibility in my joints. I ready my body and run outside. The brisk air inflates my lungs, and allows my energy to flow seamlessly through my body.
I only look at my phone to check the times of my matches. As it approaches quickly, I finish up with sprints to start sweating. I walk inside the venue- almost gliding through the crowds, fully captivated in this meditative state. I stand by my mat number with an empty mind, a motivated body, and an inspired soul. I remind myself who I am, who I was, and why I am here. I reflect back on my first competition- my first feeling of freedom and being high on life. I feel the vulnerability of exposing my art to someone who is actively fighting to expose theirs first. The vulnerability of fighting to the finish in front of an audience. The vulnerability of never giving up, and sometimes, that not being enough. The vulnerability of releasing my passion, embracing the terror and uncomfortability of potential loses.
I’ve changed my narrative through BJJ. The little girl hiding in the bathroom, desperately wanting someone to protect her, has grown up and learned to protect herself. It doesn’t matter if she’s standing on top of the podium or if she loses. She knows who she is, who she was, and why she’s here. Her name is Caroline O’Connell, she is not afraid, she is a warrior.
Caroline Oconnell is a blue belt and trains at Lōgōs Jiu Jitsu under Micheal Liera Jr. in Denver, Colorado. She writes poetry, nonfiction, and children’s books. She aspires to be a published author someday. During the winter, Caroline snow skis and lodges in Breckenridge, CO. You could say she is a black belt in skiing because she has twenty four years of experience. During the summer, Caroline wake boards at Norris Lake, TN. She loves sports, especially: soccer, basketball, tennis, football and dodgeball. On the outside, she may seem like a jock, but on the inside, she is a huge nerd. When she’s at home, Caroline plays Animal Crossing with her online friends, and has played for over four thousand hours. She studies past and current crime cases, especially serial killers and murderers. She owns over fifty stuffed animals, and sleeps with Hubert the manatee every night.
Instagram: @poetpotatoline @carolinephotatohead