In this big bad world of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, you have heroes, heroines, mentors and advisers. They perpetually push us past our limits, enable us to realize our potential and inspire us to dream well beyond our own goals. They lead by example, putting in countless hours on and off the mat and planning for the success of their team. One of those front runners goes by the name of Sophia Drysdale.
Sophia began training BJJ in 2002. No stranger to competition and challenges, she was immediately drawn to the sport. After her first session, she determined that she would become Australia’s first female black belt…achieving lofty goals are her specialty! Sophia explains that her introduction to BJJ was a little more difficult than the female beginners of today might experience in that having female training partners was an even greater rarity. Her gym was a proving ground and her male counterparts were more than willing to take her through the paces. I think we can all relate on some level. Having a good women’s program rests heavily on having good female leadership or at least a culture that welcomes and supports female BJJ practitioners. Sophia shared that she had considered quitting at a point because she couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.
“I think everyone goes through this stage, especially for women since it takes longer to start to see the effectiveness of BJJ. It is such a long journey and requires so much patience and perseverance, which is why so many people quit at the blue belt level.”
Those words should resonate for us all. If it were that easy, we’d all be black belts. Keep at it and don’t quit!!
It all seemed to make sense when she got her blue belt. Right around that time, she sauntered across the pond to the U.S. and took gold in the Pan Ams. She continued to develop her game and land herself on the winner’s podium at major tournaments. Moving to the U.S. seemed like a logical next step.
Her move to the U.S. proved both logical and difficult. She was homesick and endured some serious injuries that prevented her from competing for about two years. The distance from her twin sister also proved to be more than she bargained for. She met Robert Drysdale, however, and in 2010, he would promote her to black belt. She continued to compete, earning podium rights at Pan Ams and the Vegas Open in between pregnancies and building a family.
“2014 was officially my year back competing as a black belt since I had just finished breastfeeding my second baby and felt ready to give it my best shot. Last year I won Gold at the Pan Ams, Bronze at the Words, Gold at the No Gi Worlds, and Gold at the Masters World Championships. Not too bad for a mother with a 3 year old and a 1 year old. “
Not bad at all. This is a benchmark for our lady BJJ practitioners with children, careers, families, and a Rolodex of excuses. You really can do it all!! Consider this: Sophia’s average day starts off like most moms. Getting the kids up, ensuring they stay up, and then sending one off to school. Training at 10a.m. Perform administrative work for the gym and promotional tasks for upcoming seminars and camps. She takes time to author nutritional and workout programs for her new fitness website. In the evening she picks up her daughter from school and she is in mom mode; baths, dinner, washing, tidying, bedtime stories, and the like. She even makes time to meditate.
“I feel that with the mad pace of my life of being a mother, a biz owner and an athlete I need this time to center myself. “
Her proudest win was capturing bronze at Worlds last year and realizing she was the only mom on that black belt podium.
“Motherhood changes everything, and it is especially challenging for me since I run the academy full time and I don’t have family living here to help me. The fact that I even competed is an achievement in itself!”
Sophia has also ventured into the world of fitness competitions. She draws from both her gymnastics and BJJ background to achieve success on that playing field. She declares that BJJ will always be her passion.
Sophia’s goals are fairly simple: To be the best athlete she can be and to guide, empower and uplift others. She implores us to uplift one another, share and exchange ideas, and to remember why we sought out BJJ in the first place. Sometimes just learning and growing is the win. BJJ is a journey to be savored and confronted. Slow down and enjoy it.
The armbar aficionado, who prefers teaching to competing, is constantly improving her game and concentrating on refining techniques to be a better teacher to her students. Making black belt is not the end point in BJJ. There is no end point. There is always going to be a counter to a counter. This living and breathing art is constantly evolving, and so are our black belts.
I came across an article that suggested Sophia Drysdale was extremely down to earth, disarming and welcoming. I dismissed it as lip service and a nicety that you extend to people who excel within your arena. If anyone fits these criteria, however, it is she. She is humble, nurturing, a champion of women, and unaffected by her accolades. It is in her grain to mentor and lead. It comes from an organic desire to support, teach and learn. The future of women’s BJJ is limitless when considering that we have so many warriors like her at the helm.
Girls in Gis staff writer
Sharicka Long-O’Neill, is a blue belt with the Kompound Training Center out of Littleton, CO. She has been a jiu jitsu practitioner since July of 2012. She is a mom and a ten-year veteran of the United States Navy. Her hobbies include fitness, cooking, and traveling with her husband of five years.