Looking back eight years to when she first took up martial arts, Christine Ahola never imagined she would be taking the podium to accept a medal in an international jiu-jitsu competition.
Fast-forward to 2018, however, and the 44-year-old Enderby woman found herself stepping up to accept a silver medal after her fights in the 2018 World Master Jiu-Jitsu Championship in Las Vegas, Nev.
Initially taking up jiu-jitsu after a recommendation from a co-worker, Ahola says she tried it once and has hardly thought about going back since.
“I tried it once and fell in love,” she begins. “I practised a lot when I was first learning, it kind of just kept going and going until it became a passion of mine.”
As far as what drew her in and got her hooked on competitive jiu-jitsu, she says it was the combination of physicality and intense mental focus that drew her in to the competition so fiercely.
“They call jiu-jitsu human chess, because you always have to out-think the other person,” Ahola says. “You have to physically learn the sport, but you also have to mentally learn the sport. It’s about the move and then the counter, it’s about always trying to think one step ahead. You have to take advantage of a small wobble in their game.”
She is also inspired by the continuing commitment to self-improvement that competitive martial arts require.
“One of the things my black belt (instructor) always says to me is you can’t compare yourself to anyone else,” she says. “You have to compare yourself to where you started and your personal improvement you have made over time. I have lost 80 pounds since I started, and my self confidence has increased. I know that I can defend myself, I am not scared to go walk down a street.”
The World Masters Jiu-Jitsu Championship in Las Vegas hosted more than 5,000 competitors separated into age and weight categories, with Ahola being a part of the Masters 3 – Heavyweight category.
She came out victorious in the deciding match to put her in the finals but fell in the final fight, earning a silver in the competition.
At 44, Ahola has been competing for just over four years. She has been to the Pan-American Games twice and made a grand total of four showings at the World Masters competition, earning her first medal at an international competition in 2018 with this silver medal win.
Much like her initial introduction to jiu-jitsu, serious competition in the sport wasn’t something she realized she would love so much until she was right in the thick of it.
“When I turned 40 is when I started doing international tournaments; I decided, you know what, I am getting a little older and I am going to do this now while I still can,” Ahola says. “I didn’t realize that six tournaments later I would still be wanting to do more and more… It just kind of snowballed on me. I started thinking ‘oh I could have done this better, I want to try this next time.’ I am pretty passionate about the sport at this point.”
On her journey through the jiu-jitsu world, steadily climbing the rungs from belt to belt, she is grateful to have had outstanding mentorship along the way.
“My black belt is Dave Rothwell; he has just been amazing to train with. Through hiccups and good days and bad days, even through all the rough times and the days where I feel like I just want to quit because it gets too much, he has always been there to say ‘hey you know it is just a day, keep going, you got this.’”
Ahola earned her brown belt recently and fully plans to commit herself to earning the coveted black belt, noting that in jiu-jitsu that process can take up to 10 years or more.
“That is something that I know will be in the future, and I am just trying to not focus on the belt, focus on the sport,” she says. “That’s the biggest thing, because if you are passionate about it the belt will come. It’s not something to focus on, it is something to achieve in the future. When it comes, you relish in the moment and you enjoy it, but you enjoy each belt as you get them. I will never be a white belt again, I will never be a blue or purple belt again, I will be a brown belt. I relish that because I know once I get my next belt I will never be a brown belt again.”