Getting older is all about how you get older. Some women decide to slow down but others put on a gi, and learn jiu-jitsu. We asked Renee and Dawn to talk about their training, and how it has changed their lives.
Renee is a 50-year-old mother of three, ages 19, 16 and 14. She has been married for 20 years; lives in Arlington, TX, and owns a soap business, Mansfield Soap Co, that makes glycerin soaps designed for athletes. Dawn is a 46-year-old mother of two, ages 21 and 12. She is a married stay-at-home mom, and lives in Middleton, NJ.
How did you ladies find jiu-jitsu?
Renee and her son Travis
Renee: I found BJJ through my kids. They started training 7 years ago in judo, and transitioned into jiu-jitsu. We ended up at Alvarez BJJ after leaving the judo school in December of 2009. After many years of cheering my kids from the sidelines, and photographing their tournaments I just had to get in there myself. The problem, however, was that I was so overweight, and out of shape. About a year and a half ago I had a knee surgery, and bariatric surgery so that I could do jiu-jitsu. While that may seem extreme, it was just what I needed. Six month later I stepped on the mat, and I’ve been training for about a year now. I typically train 1-2 days a week but recently have recommitted to three times a week as my goal.
Dawn: My son started training in 2010, and my husband followed him a year later. I sat through many classes really wanting to get on the mat but thought that I was too out of shape, and too old. It wasn’t until the owner of the school, Mike LaSalle, convinced me to try it. I trained in his boxing, and MMA classes in the mornings. My first class I was so nervous but at the same time instantly hooked. I started in 2012, and train at LaSalle MMA in Staten Island, NY. I train as often as I can, 2-3 days a week, and also any time my husband and I just pass each other in the house we take it to the mats aka our living room. I also do kettlebell workouts to help with my overall strength.
What has been the hardest part so far?
Renee: The hardest part of training has been getting my body to do the moves. At my age things don’t always bend like they should or the cardio isn’t always there but I keep going, and as time has passed I have gotten a lot better. The occasional injuries have slowed me down a little but I don’t let them stop me.
Dawn: The hardest part of training is finding women to roll with who will stick with the sport. I am a very strong person, and it has been a challenge not to use my strength when rolling with other jiu-jitsu women because it tends to scare them away from even training with me. My friend Rosemarie and I started together. She was 43 at the time. Together we had so much fun learning. Sadly she had to leave the school due to work obligations. I feel like I owe some of my success to her.
Do your training partners treat you differently because of your age?
Renee: Well, my kids could not wait to choke me! That’s special. 🙂 I train with several world champions, including my instructor Danny Alvarez, and they have been extremely gracious in helping me improve my game. Our gym has an environment conductive to massive amounts of learning, and I feel like I’m just like any other person on the mat, no special treatment.
Dawn: I have to say that I am treated like everyone else on and off the mat. My training partners are a great bunch of gentlemen. It’s the environment that Mr. LaSalle has created that allows everyone to feel uninhibited, and just train. The people at my gym are my family.
What do you like the most about training?
Renee: I love it when a move I have been struggling with finally comes together. That is the best feeling! When I can successfully land said move while I’m rolling, that really brings me joy.
Dawn: I love rolling with anyone at any level. Some days you are the hammer, some days you are the nail. I love how incredibly accomplished I feel after every roll, especially when I am the hammer that day. Being the nail is always an opportunity to fine tune things that need correcting.
Has jiu-jitsu changed your life significantly?
Renee: Absolutely! I’m more fit, my clothes fit looser, and I’m slowly transforming my body from fat to muscle which is cool. I’m considering competing later on down the road. I still have plenty of room to improve, and I’m always thinking of how to overcome the moves that get me in trouble.
Dawn: BJJ has changed me in a few ways. I have lost almost 60 pounds since I started. My body was feeling old, and run down. Now I feel like I can do anything but by Sunday my 46-year-old body does need some serious rest. The most important change is how it has taken an already wonderful marriage, and bonded it even more. Our love for jiu-jitsu has brought my husband, and I closer together.
Do you have any tips for women over the age of 45 who want to start training?
Renee: I’d say, find a good reputable school! I developed relationships with folks over the years at our school because of my kids, and now it is even better because I’m the student. Understand that it is not easy but it is not impossible either. It takes perseverance. It is a journey that will be easy one day, and complicated the next day. Some days you will be the dog, some days you will be the bone. Just don’t quit! It’s worth it.
Dawn: All I can recommend is to find a good academy, and just get on the mat. Jiu-jitsu is for everyone. If you are told otherwise, you are not in the right place. I invite all women on Staten Island to come train with us!