You Either Win, Or You Learn (Athlete Journal 28)

I had high expectations going into my match on Saturday, but it didn’t go as I had planned.

I woke up in a hotel in Mansfield, Massachusetts on April 5, 2014. The time was around 6am. The previous night was rough, considering I was still coming off of my cough. I remember waking up two or three times to have a coughing fit. It was torture, and I didn’t feel adequately rested when I woke up.

I got out of bed and got dressed. I wore my Boston Open shirt from last year because I’m a nerd like that. I also made sure I had everything I needed to compete: gi, spandex, belt, water, mouth guard, lip balm, and ID. I was feeling nervous. It was weird, because I hadn’t been nervous for a tournament in a while. My stomach was turning like a washing machine.

We left the hotel around 7am, even though my division didn’t start until 9am. I’ve been late for my division before and it’s no fun, trust me. When we arrived at the University of Massachusetts, the gymnasium lights were not even on. This instantly calmed my stomach. The fact that we were earlier than the event coordinators made me feel like I had complete control over my day.

When the organizers finally arrived and turned the lights on, I went inside to check my weight. It was perfect. Then, at the advice of my boyfriend/coach, I checked with one of the mat coordinators to see if my belt was competition legal. Because my belt has too much fraying, they would not let me use it, so I had to buy a new one at one of the tables. It was almost a disaster because they thought they didn’t have my size. They found one, though, and I was all set to compete.

I geared up and started my warm up. I must have started at the perfect time because they called all blue belts as soon as I was finishing up. After quite a bit of time in the bull pen, they finally called for my weight class. All accounted for, we got our gis checked, weighed in, and walked to our mat. On that walk, all I could think about was how ready I felt. My nerves had ceased and my body felt primed for action.

I knew a few days before the tournament who my first match would be with. It was the same girl who beat me at my last tournament three weeks ago. I wasn’t too concerned, though. I had a plan. After watching the other girls in my division, it was finally my turn to compete.

When the referee waved us out, she and I walked out to the center of the mat. I shook hands with ref, then my opponent. “Combate,” the ref said, with a swift downward motion of his arm. She and I slapped hands and fist bumped, and then took a few steps in a circle to gauge each other’s actions.

My plan went out the window. I wanted to jump closed guard, but I panicked, and sat for a sloppy open guard. Eventually I did get my closed guard, but she passed and went to side control. She then transitioned to knee on belly, and then to mount. I went into survival mode, and only focused on defending her attacks. I didn’t do much to actually escape from that position. She won the match on points, and I didn’t get to move on.

After the ref raised my opponent’s hand in the air, I paid my respects to her, and walked as far as I could from the crowds. I’ll be honest – I cried. The only thing running through my head was “How am I supposed to be a world champion one day if I can’t even win one match?” It was a tough loss, especially considering how ready I felt to fight this girl a second time. But I got over my diva moment quickly, and went back out to watch my boyfriend win third place and my best friend win second place.

We’ve all heard it before. “There is no losing. You either win or you learn.” But I just couldn’t help feeling like I got my ass handed to me. I couldn’t come up with anything I needed to work on. I felt beat.

But then I received some advice from our academy’s black belt. He told me that medals will one day tarnish, and I should focus on how competition helps me grow as a person. His words helped me a lot. My bad mood went away, and I was more open to hearing what my boyfriend thought I should work on for next time. I’m back to training and working on new things.

I’m not sure when my next competition will be, but hopefully it is soon. I can’t stay away from competing for too long. Hasta luego, amigos!

Jess Papi is a blue belt at Scranton MMA and also pursuing her degree in exercise science. Read her entries every week for insights on competing, training, and juggling BJJ and life.