TMC Athletes: The Juice is Always Worth the Squeeze

Bryan Richter, lead behavioral health tech

Snapshot

I have been practicing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for almost six years and have attained the rank of purple belt. I compete three or more times yearly and won the state championship in 2009, placed second in 2010 and third in 2011. I am currently training for October’s Masters and Seniors World Championships in Long Beach, Calif.

How did you get started?

I started training jiu jitsu after developing an interest in the discipline through Ultimate Fighting Championship and at the suggestion of my wife. Thank goodness that I did because it has sparked a passion and a purpose in me that I would’ve never had otherwise.

What is jiu jitsu?

It is a grappling art – with roots in Judo – a system of take downs and ground fighting based on position and leverage, as well as submission techniques that enable smaller opponents to defeat much bigger ones without any strikes. Jiu jitsu employs a variety of chokes, and attacks to the joints: wrists, elbows, shoulders, knees and ankles to gain submissions from your opponents via a “tap out.”

What are the challenges?

Conditioning is an extremely important factor as well. I am in the best shape of my life at 41. It takes a long time to earn belts; most people quit before ever receiving their first promotion. It took me longer to get my purple belt in jiu jitsu than to earn two previous black belts. The ranking system is as follows; white belt, blue belt, purple belt, brown belt and black belt. It generally takes over a decade to earn a black belt, often longer.

Training sessions are grueling, and unlike other disciplines, you have to fight every day at the end of class. This is how you “prove” your skill set and earn your promotions. Jiu jitsu is the only martial arts discipline that affords its practitioners the ability to win fights off of their backs as well as from dominant positions and is therefore an extremely effective self-defense system, particularly for women. It is also the only discipline that allows you, according to your skill set, to determine the amount of suffering you impose on your opponent.

Bryan Richter, left, after jumping guard sets up a take down of his opponent during a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu match.

Why do you do it?

My training has led me to a better understanding of myself and life in general. Jiu jitsu is not a hobby. It is a lifestyle, a way of being that encompasses diet, fitness and mindset. It shapes or reshapes your life and molds you into a better person. It transcends the mats and permeates everything in your life, always for the better.

It has changed my life immensely in almost every way. I do not think I would have been complete without it. It has simultaneously been the most difficult and most rewarding thing I have ever done, and it continues to inspire and amaze me with its vastness and potential.

There are infinite mysteries within what the Brazilians call arte suave, or the gentle way. I fear one lifetime isn’t enough to properly explore it. The grandmaster and developer of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Helio Gracie, when asked at age 90 what he had left to accomplish in life replied “I still need to perfect my Jiu Jitsu technique.” I think that says it all. Though I have often been injured (training with three broken toes right now) and have had to come back from three surgeries during my six years, the juice is always worth the squeeze. Everyone should do this.

TMC Athletes: Employee Loses Nearly Half Her Body Weight: “This is the best thing I’ve ever done.”

For Barbara Philipp, obesity was nearly a lifelong struggle.

Various weight loss support programs didn’t work, and the weight piled on even faster during the grief-filled time after her mother died.

Topping out at 385 pounds on a 5’10” frame, the 54-year-old medical transcriptionist at Tucson Medical Center faced many painful moments: needing an extra seat belt when flying, having strangers evaluate what was in her shopping cart, dealing with stares.

The final straw, though, was when she realized she could barely walk from her car in the parking lot to the front door of her apartment without needing oxygen.

Philipp’s story, however, is one of victory, continuing a series that features TMC athletes in a nod to the Olympics season and demonstrates the multitude of ways to embrace an active lifestyle.

Two years ago, Philipp decided she’d had it. After consulting with her doctor, it was determined she would be a good candidate for bariatric surgery, which limits the amount people can eat and reduces the absorption of nutrients.

It wasn’t a simple decision. It also required a major diet overhaul. Carbonation is frowned upon, so soft drinks are a no-no for the woman who used to be able to drink a case of soda in a day. She can no longer tolerate greasy food, yeast bread, peanut butter and pizza, but instead focused on fruits, vegetables and proteins. She has to eat slowly and chew well to aid digestion. She surprised herself by learning to like cauliflower and Brussels sprouts.

But boy, did the weight come off. She was losing 18 pounds a month for the first 5 months. And she’s still losing about three pounds a month. Now at 199 pounds, she’s well on her way to her target goal of 175.

“Talk about a confidence boost,” she said. And the more confidence she gained, the more active she became.

To get in shape for her surgery, she had started walking with a friend around the block. “I got hooked. I could not get enough of it,” she said. “It was amazing how far I could go once I got some of the weight off me.” Every other day, she now walks 4.5 miles.

In March, she took a class to learn how to run. “I was sore and achy at first. Even my eyelashes would hurt,” she said. She started running for one minute and walking for three, working up to running 4 minutes and walking for one. “Pretty soon, you realize you’re running more than you’re walking. And when they talk about runners getting an endorphin rush, I can now say that’s a fact.”

She said she might be slow – running a 13-minute mile – but she’s doing it, and she’s up to 5 miles every other day. She even did the TMC Meet Me Downtown 5k in early June.

She’s off blood pressure medication. She’s no longer borderline diabetic. She’s become more outgoing with strangers.

“This is one of the best things I’ve ever done and I did it for me, and not for anybody else,” she said. “I didn’t want to sit on the sidelines of life anymore. I needed to be a participant.”

TMC Athletes: Systems Analyst and Marathon Runner Suggests Trying Variety of Activities

Kimberly Huffman, business systems analyst

A snapshot:

I’ve been running for almost 10 years now and I participate in as many of the TMC sponsored races as I can throughout the year. I’ve done one full marathon, and 12 half-marathons and two sprint triathlons. I also did my first 42-mile El Tour last year.

Why do you do it?

Running is definitely my fitness choice. I like to eat – I would say chocolate is my downfall – so it’s important to get out there and burn some calories. I love to go on bike rides and I love to swim, but running is still my favorite. I just like being outdoors and enjoying the fresh air and scenery. And it just makes you feel better and more energized to have a healthy lifestyle.

What has been your biggest obstacle?

I recently read a book that inspired me about running, but I also felt after reading it that I needed to change my running style. After running the same way for nine years, I guess my feet were happy with the way I was running, so when I changed it up, I ended up spending six weeks with plantar fasciitis and then followed that with a stress fracture. I’m fine now, but my motto now is: Don’t fix it if it isn’t broken.

What is your best tip to others interested in becoming more active?

Try a variety of activities. Something will just click if it’s the right thing for you. And then when you find it, start out slow so you don’t risk injury.


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