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Interview: Sophia McDermott Drysdale

Interview: Sophia McDermott Drysdale

Sophia Drysdale, de vrouw van Robert en moeder van twee kinderen. Klinkt wat gewoontjes? Misschien moeten we er dan nog bijvertellen dat ze ook de eerste vrouwelijke black belt was én de eerste vrouwelijke BJJ-wereldkampioene die Australië kende. Tien vragen aan deze drukbezette vrouw.

Let’s start with the very beginning: when was the first BJJ-lesson you’ve ever attended? Where you instantly addicted? And did you already have a fight sport background?
I first started BJJ in 2002 and I was instantly hooked. After my very first lesson I wanted to be the first female Australian black belt and to be Australian National Champion and World Champion. I had previously trained as a gymnast for 10 years and was searching for another sport that was as intellectually and physically demanding as gymnastics. BJJ was the next sport for me to focus on and from the first day I had high expectations.

Was Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu a well-known sport at that time in Australia? Either if it was so or not, how did it evolve as the years were passing by?
BJJ was growing in Australia and although there were a lot of guys training, there were very few women training. Back then the culture was different. You had to prove yourself  that you could hang with the guys and there were no exceptions and no special treatment just because you were small or a girl. So the first few years of training were very hard and only the very strong and tough girls stuck at it. The culture is different now where there are a lot more women training and there is more acceptance. In fact there are many women’s only classes which is helping to perpetuate women’s BJJ. There will be a time where there are as many female competitors as there are male competitors at the big tournaments because the environment is more welcome for women to begin training and to stick at it.Times are changing on a worldwide scale.

Did you know that in the 1908 Olympic games male competitors outnumbered female competitors 53 to 1 whereas the 2012 Olympic games featured almost as many female athletes as male athletes!

After how many months/years did you start competing? Were there a lot of women at the tournaments, or did you have to face the same opponents over and over again?
I first started competing about 9 months after I started. Being the perfectionist that I am (also from gymnastics) I wanted to be as prepared as possible and certainty that I would win. lol. There were a group of girls that I competed with, but there were enough of us to have new and fresh fights also. Most of the women that I used to fight have stopped training. But now there is a new wave of females who are rapidly climbing up the ranks and many of them have earned their purple belt already. These girls are making waves now in the BJJ-community and are competing internationally.

Everybody has to overcome certain insecurities, issues or injuries to become a better fighter. What were yours? And do you reckon that those were sometimes women-related?

The road to black belt is undoubtedly hard for all women because of all the sexist based issues. I have the utmost respect for all black belt women because of the journeys they have had to get to that level.

I also had some very bad injuries along the way. 2008 in particular was a very bad year. I tore my costal cartilage [ribkraakbeen, red.], to recover and only to suffer a complete shoulder separation in the semi finals at the World Championships. And then later that year I herniated a bunch of disks in my neck. Injuries are a part of training and they just make you come back stronger and more hungry to train and compete. It was difficult for me also being in the United States on my own away for my family for many years. I moved to the States to live at the start of 2007.

You were the first Australian woman to win the Mundials in 2009. And in 2010 you’ve received your black belt, also as the first Australian woman. Do you consider yourself as a pioneer in women’s BJJ?

Yes in some ways I do especially since I was the first Australian woman to begin competing internationally. I won my first Pan Ams in 2004 as a blue belt). However there are some other women in BJJ who started before I did and who are training hard and doing some great things.

The year after that you’ve got married and became a mum of daughters Athena and Clio. How do you combine being a mum and an athlete? How do you cope and not Lous weddinglosing your focus? For instance, are you still able to train every day?
I got married in October 2010. It is funny that Robert Drysdale became my main coach but became my husband and father of my two children also. Being pregnant with both babies was hard for me since I couldn’t train like I wanted to- although I was training up to 7 1/2 months with both babies. Now I am juggling life with a two year old, and a 6 month old and running all the admin for the Drysdale JJ headquartes and  the Association  so I do find it hard to focus on training. I try to train every day but sometimes it is hard especially if I have been up all night with a fussy baby. :) But considering how young my babies are, the fact that I am on the mat and training as hard as I am is an achievement in itself.

What age will your daughters start Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu? ;-)
I don’t think the oldest one will do BJJ at all. All she is interested in are fairies and princesses. However she is very athletically gifted and she will no doubt do gymnastics.

Which tournaments are coming up for you? And do you expect to see yourself in the first place again? Who’s your most feared opponent?

Beatriz Mesquita who is in my weight division. She is the toughest girl right now in BJJ.

I actually competed in the 2012 Pan Ams when Athena was exactly one year old which happened to be a week or so before i got pregnant again. I came 3rd which isn’t bad considering… The next big tournament I plan on competing in is the No Gi Worlds. I would love to win it again but will have to face Beatriz Mesquita who is in my weight division. She is the toughest girl right now in BJJ.

Do you’ve got any goals and dreams left when it comes to BJJ and grappling?
Yes, I would love to win the Mundials as a black belt. I won the Mundials in 2009 as a brown beltSophia  Drysdale May 5 2013 when the brown and blacks competed together. Aside from competing I would love to continue to support women in the sport and be a role model particularly for Australian women. I am working a lot with Jess Frazer who is the founder of the huge organisation  called ‘Australian Girls in Gi. (AGIG). I hold annual seminars throughout Australia and I will be guest host for the 2014 AGIG camp in February that Jess is organizing.

Is there something we should know about you that not so many people know?
I have spent almost as much time playing drums in my life as I have studying BJJ. I also have an identical twin sister. We trained in gymnastics and studied fashion together and even opened our own shop!

Thank you for your time! And I sure hope to meet you one day on the mat!
No worries! :) Thank you for the opportunity.

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