Caroline Vanek, a New Orleans native and Louisiana’s first female black belt, began her BJJ journey in 1998. She has not only witnessed the evolution of the sport, she’s been an integral part of it. When she was 17, her kickboxing instructor suggested trying a Brazilian jiu jitsu class. She had no idea what it was, but was hooked after one class. As the only female for years, she toughed it out with the guys in the gym and in competition. NOLA BJJ is her home, and her teammates are family. After Katrina, she and her teammates trained in someone’s garage while New Orleans was being rebuilt and NOLA BJJ searched for a new home. On June 15, 2013, she earned her black belt, and In April of 2016, she participated in her first Girls in Gis event as a guest instructor.
“When I first started training, I was the only female for years and couldn’t imagine that I’d ever be on the mats with over 100 girls. I’m incredibly grateful to have discovered this sport, for the relationships I’ve developed on the mats, for the BJJ community, and especially for the Girls in Gis organization.”
Lisa Littrell was first introduced to Jiu-Jitsu in 2013 while living abroad in the South Pacific islands of American Samoa, but her training didn’t truly begin until she moved to New Orleans, Louisiana in 2014, where she found her Jiu-Jitsu home at NOLA BJJ. In 2016, Lisa earned her blue belt under Professor Matthias Meister owner of NOLA BJJ and is now working towards obtaining her Purple belt. Lisa is also now an assistant coach for the NOLA BJJ kid’s classes. Lisa found Girls in Gis in 2016 when GIG had their first ever Louisiana Event and immediately fell in love with the GIG vision. From that first event, Lisa has volunteered at every GIG-Louisiana event and in 2018 became a GIG, Ambassador. When not training Jiu Jitsu, Lisa is training for ultra-marathons and working as a Public Health Nutritionist for a non-profit program that services low-income families in Orleans Parish.
“I love Jiu Jitsu for the mental and physical challenge that it offers. Throughout the years, my confidence outside of the gym has grown tremendously due to the lessons I have learned and the skills I have gained from the sport. I have a sense of empowerment now that I did not have before and it is my desire to offer that same opportunity to other women. It’s so exciting to see women go from their timid first day of class to breaking arms and choking necks just a few months later.”