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  • Writer's pictureSheree Hoddinett

Taking to the Mat

Giving it their all, seven competitors from TDS BJJ in Burpengary East made the trek to Melbourne in late August for the Australian Jiu Jitsu Championship.

The biggest championship of its kind in the country, the local crew of seven were among more than 2000 athletes representing 75 gyms at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre over the two days of competition. The Australian Federation of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (AFBJJ), in collaboration with the International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation (IBJJF), hosted the annual tournament, setting record-level participation with athletes ranging in age from four up to 55 years.

This was the first time TDS BJJ has had so many children compete at a national event with Noah, Darius, Rohan, Max and Prim joining Gary Porter (also his first national event) and black belt Todd Sparreboom for the competition. Although not everyone came away a winner, they all represented their club proudly just being there. Two of the younger competitors managed to place second in Australia, Gary scored double gold and Todd was on the podium in all four divisions including two open-weight events where he was up against “some big dudes”.

“I felt pretty awesome about my results. It was the toughest nationals I have done and some of the guys I competed against have been black belts longer than I have done BJJ,” Todd says of his achievements. “I never really worry about the open weight division as long as I outwork the big guys. I use my strength and speed to keep them moving so I don't get stuck in the one spot.”

The next goal in Todd’s BJJ journey is to find a bigger gym so he has more room for his crew. He also relishes the opportunity to pass on the knowledge he has gained from participating in competitions. He couldn’t be more proud of the team who joined him in Melbourne and those who take part in regular training.

“I was really pumped with everyone's results. It's the biggest comp in Australia and all of my crew really gave it their all,” Todd says. “The one thing I say to them is to leave it all out on the mats and they did just that.

“The sensation of feeling sick, with my heart racing, created an adrenaline rush unlike any I've ever experienced in competition."

“I really do have the best team around. The support and encouragement is second to none. We help each other and drive each other to be better every week. Our head coach, Professor Bruno Lemos, is awesome as well.”

For Gary, BJJ has been a part of his life now for almost eight years. He is currently a purple belt and participated in the lightweight division. To nab a double gold at his first national event far exceeded any of his expectations.

“Participating in BJJ at the Australian National Championships was a truly memorable experience,” he says. “Despite dealing with injuries in the weeks leading up to the competition and the challenge of weight loss on the second day of the event, it's an experience I will always cherish and never forget.

“The sensation of feeling sick, with my heart racing, created an adrenaline rush unlike any I've ever experienced in competition.

It added an intense layer to the whole experience, making it one of the most exhilarating moments in my competitive journey. I had a different visualisation of the competition, but I was fully aware that it was going to be a tough challenge. To stay focused, I adopted a step-by-step approach. I went into each fight with a game plan in mind, but I also remained adaptable and ready for any unexpected twists or turns that might come my way.”

Gary started down the BJJ path because he wanted a change from his usual gym routine.

“After my first class, I was hooked. BJJ offers me mental and physical challenges, a supportive community and a way to constantly improve,” he says. “It's become a way of life, providing discipline, personal growth and a strong sense of accomplishment.”

Currently sitting at number two in the Australian Masters purple rankings, Gary has his sights set on getting to number one for 2023. He wholeheartedly encourages others to take up BJJ after seeing the changes it has brought to his own life, including monumental support.

“I can't express enough how much Todd, my family's support and my club teammates have meant to me. Their presence during my recent competition was truly special,” Gary says. “Over the past couple of years, I've faced numerous challenges, including injuries, work accidents, multiple surgeries on my hand and eventually the amputation of a finger. Through it all, the unwavering support from my club teammates has been instrumental in getting me to the level of success I've achieved. Their encouragement and camaraderie have been invaluable on this journey.”

Noah is 14 years old and competed in the grey belt division. He has only been doing BJJ since the start of this year but spends as much time as he can at training.

“Going to nationals was a great experience and even though my match didn't go how I hoped, I earned my first silver medal and the feeling of stepping onto the mat was something I won't forget,” Noah says. “I can't thank my coaches and our club enough, as well as my mum for driving us down there and I can't wait to represent TDS at an even higher level.

“A special thanks to Coach Gary for always being there and being an awesome coach, and also Coach Brett for holding Judo throwing classes, which are great fun.”

Competing against people he hasn’t met before is a big drawcard for nine-year-old grey belt Darius. Although his nerves kicked in ahead of the national competition, Darius was keen to have some fun.

“I feel proud with my effort but want to get better and better,” he says. “My competitors were really good and although I was sad that I lost my first match, I appreciated Coach Max helping me.

“I learnt a lot from going to nationals and I really liked watching my coaches compete in their matches.”

A bundle of nerves and excitement heading off to nationals, eight-year-old Rohan is also a grey belt and getting used to competitions, notching up his third comp event.

“My match was hard and I did my best and I like learning to get better at competing,” he said. “I go in there and I think about what I need to do, like getting points or a submission and lasting until the end of the match.

“I like training with Coach Todd, if he sees something I need to improve in my technique he lets me know and helps me out.”

For Max, this was his second time at nationals, so the nerves weren’t as heightened as last year. This year he went in as a juvenile blue belt and battled it out in a tough field of competitors, scoring a gold medal for his efforts.

“I have only been competing for three years, so to be a two-time national champion and also ranked number one in Australia last year in both Gi and No Gi is definitely an achievement I will never forget,” Max says.

Max credits BJJ with improving his confidence and handling tough situations in his life, but also for meeting people who have become like family.

“I wouldn't have been able to achieve what I have without the support of everyone from the club,” Max says. “It hasn't always been support in training or competing. It's been support in all aspects of my life. Without Coach Todd and Coach Gary and the whole TDS BJJ crew, I am unsure of what path I may have ended up on. I feel lucky to be a part of this club and to have met so many great people.”

As the only girl in the TDS BJJ crew, Prim certainly held her ground and even brought a medal home. Both excited and nervous ahead of nationals, this young lady is showing signs of a bright future in BJJ and loves feeling strong and dominating on the mat.

“I am very proud of myself and how hard I trained. Now I want to train even harder and go back next year for gold,” she says. “Before nationals, I was training about five times a week with Coach Todd and Coach Gary. Coach Todd gave me advice about my techniques and Coach Gary taught me to focus and keep on fighting.”

For further information please contact Todd on 0403 166 720.


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