Competing was the rule, at least among the people I grew up with, that was what we did.
We did not create major expectations about it, there was no dream of conquering fame beyond a firm handshake with great admiration for that academy friend, a guy at the beach, on the street, or a school friend we highly regarded.
We did not even dream of making a living out of Jiu Jitsu, travelling the world, having people taken a picture with us in tournaments or on the street. Even less so to think about people willing cross half the globe just to meet us or invite us over to their country with the same purpose.
To us, we competed because we trained, and we trained because we competed.
There were those who seem to have been born to compete always having excellent results; those who seemed nervous but when the time came, they knew what had to be done; and then there was me: a nervous guy, completely scared at the time of the fight and always getting terrible results.
At the time, to me it seemed that I was the only guy like that from the group. Now, in retrospective, I realized it wasn't like that. I was the only one, among the worst, who did not really care about losing a tournament or been defeated, I would still kept on trying relentlessly. I have no shadow of doubt that because I was so good at dealing with defeat, I became a great champion.
My professor at that time, someone I deeply admired, really marked me with something he said, that he still competed because he wanted to set an example for us.
At the time, I thought it was really cool, but today, that phrase reaches me more profoundly than ever before.
Recently, some students wanted to compete in a tournament, and even though I was not properly training for a tournament, I signed up for it with the purpose of setting an example for my students. Due to circumstances beyond my control, all of my students decided to withdraw from the competition. But my name was already on the sheet, so I thought, why not? I even thought it was pointless to compete in that tournament, but if competing is what I do so, then, why not?
It turn out to be a terrible decision. At the final, with only a minute left to finish the fight, I was up in points when my adversary tried a twisting knee lock (which is forbidden in the sport) and caused my knee to bend forcing me to stop immediately. That is when it hit me, this was not just another knee injury, this one was without a doubt, the worst.
After a while, my suspicion was confirmed, it was a complete torn of the ACL and the lateral meniscus showed some damages as well. This was an injury that would prevent me from training for six months and it would take a year to fully recover.
Prepare yourself psychologically for such a recovery is a thing only few people can do. Closing up to my 40s, motivation is not the same as it was when I was young, so I went into automatic pilot, I was not going to think, I was going to do. So I basically fulfilled my daily duties seeking a full recovery, one day after the other, chasing laziness away, no absences, no delays, basically displaying the same behavior I have had throughout my entire professional career as an athlete. Until one day the automatic pilot stopped working and a major breakdown happened.
I simply stopped attending the therapy sessions and, whenever a slight reaction would appear, it would last only a couple of days and discouragement would take over again. If I had done everything by the book, I would have been back within 8 months of the surgery. But, back to where?
I remember one time a friend was frustrated for not closing a deal with a group of people, and said to me: “there is no point in offering food to someone who is not hungry”. Without a doubt, that was the best metaphor that pictured my situation at the time. I had no desire to conquer anything in terms of competition, since I had already conquered them all in the past. So what was the point in dedicating myself to full recovery as a professional athlete?
I had to battle my own thoughts for months, rambling between going back to training to compete and keep doing things the the way I was without seeking anything else.
That should have been the point I found myself in the Grand Finale, thinking I was back and getting ready for all of the challenges to come, but that was not the case. Every day, I still find myself with a head full of uncertainties and, every day I think about quitting or focusing my energy somewhere else.
In a whirlwind of doubts and thoughts, I am still trying to make peace with the fact that I may have other priorities at present and that the competitor, Felipe, will slowly become a memory, but believe me when I say, is a reality very difficult to accept perhaps not tomorrow, but some day. A part of me still wants to squeeze out every part of myself, to leave no room for doubt, to know that I gave my best.
Today, I squeezed myself a little further, after 15 months of my knee injury, I fought and won in a local tournament (Aberto de Verão FJJ-RIO), see video.
When I injured my knee, at first I was scared with the fact that it was going to take a year to fully recover. If you are looking ahead, twelve months seems like an eternity, but when looking back, it is more like a blink of an eye. Think about it whenever you are going through something similar.
I am curious to find out what lays ahead!