Our fenomenal woman for May is Kristin Mikkelson, a 24-year old blue belt to watch out for at the Worlds this year. She graduated from the University of Cincinnati with a BBA in 2010. After working in the financial sector for a couple of years, she decided to do some soul-searching and focuses on training for now. She talks about training at Brazil-021, competing, and coming back from serious injuries. Everyone meet Kristin Mikkelson!
How did you find BJJ?
I found BJJ after I moved to Chicago in 2011. I moved here from Cincinnati for a job, analyzing real estate funds. In Cincinnati I had trained Taekwondo for a little over 9 years, and was looking to explore a different martial art. I had seen some Brazilian jiu-jitsu before and thought it would be fun. I found some places in Chicago and decided to try a class at each of them, but as soon as I visited Brazil-021 and met Hannette Staack and Andre Terencio, that was it – I was in. Training and learning kept getting more interesting and I felt the desire to compete. Soon it was all I wanted to do! Now I train 5 days a week, some days I stay for two classes, and some days I stay for one.
Do you do any other sports? Were you athletic all your life growing up?
As a little kid I was only allowed to do soccer because it was the cheapest sport and my family was a soccer family. I wasn’t that good at it, nor very excited about it but my mom’s rule was that everyone in the family had to play a sport.
I wanted to try independent sports like gymnastics or karate but was unable to until I turned 12 and convinced my mom to let me do taekwondo. I earned my black belt at 16 and my 2nd degree black belt with the World Taekwondo Federation when I was 19. I haven’t trained it since I started BJJ but would like to start again eventually.
What does your family think of BJJ?
At first my parents were a little wary of BJJ because they knew it was physically demanding, and were worried I was going to get seriously injured or ache for the rest of my life. They were also getting worried about how much I was training because they saw it taking up a lot of my time. However, now they are really supportive since they have seen how passionate I am about it. My siblings were always incredibly supportive and my little brother even started training recently back home.
How often do you compete? What’s your biggest accomplishment so far? Most memorable match?
Last year I did 3 competitions and this year have done 2. There would be more but my time out due to injury left me unable to compete as much as I would have liked. My biggest accomplishment so far in competition was winning my division at the 2012 Rio Open. It was my first IBJJF Gold, but the most important thing I took away was that I finally realized where my mind needed to be if I wanted to win.
My most memorable matches for myself are the ones that I have lost because I always think about what little things I should have done differently. My favorite one however, was the first one I won in Rio with an armbar.
Have you been seriously injured? If yes, how did you overcome the fear of coming back to the mats? Did you want to quit at any point?
In August 2012, 2 weeks after I won in Rio, I broke my clavicle in 3 places. I had to get a piece removed and the rest plated, and screwed back together. I was preparing for another tournament and got swept with my arms trapped at practice. It was painful, but more so, I was a little heartbroken because it meant 6 months of absolutely no BJJ right after I had my biggest victory.
I was very eager to get back on the mats but hesitant to do anything that would jar my arm or shoulder. A couple of times I would fall on it and immediately get stressed and afraid that I might have hurt myself. The only way to get over the fear was to keep training, focus on my goals, and try to ignore the pain and stress. Coming back was hard because I had to retrain my body and instincts just to feel normal again.
I felt hopeless and embarrassed several times, but I never wanted to quit. In the few months that I’ve been back I have won two competitions: the Chicago Winter Open and the New York Open. My teammates’ and coaches’ support are really what made those achievements possible.
You are lucky to have a great female coach, Hannette Staack. What do you like about her and training at the school?
I really am very lucky to be training with Hannette. She is a superstar women’s jiu-jitsu competitor, an amazing coach, a great person, and a good friend. The best part about Hannette’s coaching is that she knows how to teach each individual.
She knows what I need to do to make my strengths their strongest and my weaknesses better. She always knows what to say and do to keep me motivated and confident.
Each student is different and Hannette has the intuition to see exactly what we need. When I was injured, she was always there telling me that it was just a bump on the road, and I would be able to successfully compete again. Before the injury was healed, she would help me review what techniques that I could do and help me with my limitations. It’s the kind of thing that shows how much she cares about her students and I know she would do that for anyone in that situation. She and Professor Andre also promote a family and team environment where our goal is not only to get better but to see our teammates get better as well. I can’t say enough how lucky I am to have ended up with them!
What are your plans for this year?
I plan to try and compete at least once a month or every other month this year. My biggest plan is 2013 IBJJF Worlds which is at the end of May.
Thank you Kristin!