12 Reps with Valerie Worthington, BJJ Black Belt and Instructor

Valerie Worthington is a world-class grappler and a black belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu. She’s also funny and high introspective. Find out how Val got to be Val and how she answers our 12 questions.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Welcome to our newest feature – 12 Reps. In each appearance of 12 Reps, our coaches, writers, and occasional guests will be answering the same twelve questions each time. Go “into the locker-room” with them and get to know our coaches and writers a little bit better!

12 Reps with BJJ Black Belt and Instructor Valerie Worthington

1. Who was your first coach and what did they teach you?

My father, both in a team situation, when he coached my YMCA soccer team (Go Sandpipers!), and in life. He did, and still does, teach me so many things I can’t possibly enumerate them all. The encapsulation would probably be that he has taught me about the kind of athlete, coach, and person I want to be: someone like him, though of course with my own spin on things.

2. Who is the coach you most admire?

See above. Some people might think “my dad is my hero” is a cop-out. But those people probably haven’t met my dad.

3. If you could have a superhero power, what would it be?

I used to think I’d want to be able to read minds, but now I suspect it would sometimes be painful to know what people are really thinking about me, and cacophonous to know what they are really thinking about everything else. Same with predicting the future – painful and cacophonous. I don’t truly need to have superhuman strength or speed, so I wouldn’t spend this wish on those either. The people pleaser in me – and the shadow side of that people pleaser – thinks it would be cool to be able to control the weather. So if someone had a big event planned, I could create a beautiful, sunny day for them – complete with rainbows AND pretty icicles. Or, if they didn’t invite me, it would be Sandstorm City with a side of locusts.

4. What athlete, dead or alive, would you most like to talk with?

So many spring to mind. The first one that jockeyed for position is Muhammad Ali. I became a fan of his after I saw When We Were Kings, a BEAUTIFUL documentary about the Rumble in the Jungle between Ali and George Foreman in 1974. What I remember most about that documentary is what an amazing ambassador Ali was for the intelligence and dignity required for athletic endeavors. I’d like to know a little more about what was like back then when the cameras were off.

val worthington, valerie worthington, bjj, mma, brazilian jiu jitsu, grappling5. When did you know that coaching was your calling?

When people kept asking me for advice about their training and their lives – and when it turned out I frequently had useful answers for them. It took me a while to realize that the fact that I am sometimes way too introspective could actually be of benefit to people who need assistance in being introspective at all.

6. What is the best and hardest part about being a coach?

Best part: learning that something you’ve said or done, whether in the moment or so long ago that you have forgotten, has helped another person in some way. Hardest part: realizing that some people are going to look to me as “expert,” which I don’t ever own comfortably. That is a huge responsibility, and one I am loath to accept. But maybe my discomfort with it fuels my openness to learning.

7. What is your favorite physical activity or exercise?

Brazilian jiu jitsu and weightlifting. With both, I come as close to “flow” (a la Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) as I am ever able to. It doesn’t always happen, but when I feel that “simultaneously present and omnipresent” state while training BJJ or lifting heavy weights, it sustains me for days afterward. Both BJJ and weightlifting can be psychologically laborious, too. BJJ is a demanding mistress when things aren’t going smoothly, and weightlifting requires me to strike a balance between respecting the bar and telling the bar that I’m the boss.

8. What is your favorite “cheat” food?

Ice cream, though I welcome all comers.

9. What is your biggest accomplishment?

Me. I am a work in progress, and though I’ll never get there, every day I take a miniscule step closer to becoming my ideal self. I am proud that, at least according to some of the feedback I get, my actions, beliefs, and trials/tribulations positively affect others in the world.

val worthington, valerie worthington, bjj, mma, brazilian jiu jitsu, grappling10. What do you bring to your students/clients that is different than other coaches and programs?

I filter virtually EVERYTHING through the lens of humor. Gallows humor, bathroom humor, high wit, low comedy, it’s all part of my repertoire. I have a decent sense of where the line is, but I am not afraid to toe that line. I don’t know if this makes me different, as people like Mark Rippetoe and many of the CrossFit presenters I have learned from are absolutely high-larious. And they are far more talented at what they do than I am at what I do. But I do like to think that mayyyyyybe I kinda sorta every now and then give them a run for their money in the laughs department.

11. What is your favorite quote?

“Live each day as if it’s your last, and one day you’ll be right,” from the movie Breaker Morant.

12. What was/is your favorite sport and why?

Probably the obvious response for me would be mixed martial arts/Brazilian jiu jitsu or Olympic lifting. But I’ll go out in left field and say ice hockey. When I was in graduate school, I had season tickets to my university’s games, and there was something cathartic about watching body slams and scrambles for the puck. I got to release my own stress and anxiety vicariously through the players’ physicality, and I got to keep all my teeth.

Click here to read articles from Valerie.

If you missed any editions of 12 Reps, be sure to check out our archives. You never know who we might talk to and what might get said!