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Making a Change: Dan Morgan-Russell

I started training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at Easton in January 2019. I walked into the gym at 6’5”, 360 pounds. I was the fattest I had ever been. But I wanted to make a change. I wanted to find an athletic program with structure and extrinsic motivation, like pretty colored belts, that would keep me engaged. I’d been a member of gyms or sports teams or clubs before, but nothing ever stuck. Now, eight months later, I am stronger, fitter, more confident and positive about my body than I have been in a decade. I’m down 65 pounds and still losing weight.

Before Jiu Jitsu, September 2018

When I started, I was embarrassed about my body. I was 360 pounds, all fat. I used to wear white cotton undershirts under my gi – as if a 3XL tee would fool my training partners about my size. But the more I trained, the more professors, coaches, and partners recognized me for my dedication, spirit, and attitude. If there was any discussion about my size, it was always advice about how to use my bulk to put pressure on my opponents Everyone says I will be a killer when I learn to be “heavy” on my opponent.

The encouragement was a bit of a shock for me, and it took some time to believe that it was coming from a place of respect and not ridicule. I mistakenly thought that in a gym full of athletes, including a handful who had competed or wanted to compete professionally, I would be a target for a laugh. I had told myself for so long that I was worthless because of how fat I was that I didn’t believe the people at Easton truly wanted me to succeed. But no one made fun of me or saw my size as anything but a way to get an edge over my opponents. I no longer wear undershirts when I train – everyone knows I’m big. Now I use my size to smash from side control.

The next challenge I had to face was putting the advice I was getting into practice. I was afraid to use my size and strength when I started training. I was reluctant to put my weight on someone during a roll, even if they were close to my size or a higher belt. I would hold back. My biggest fear was that I would hurt my partner. However, the more I trained, the more I saw students, coaches, and professors with amazing control over their bodies. knew that if I practiced moves slowly, I would get the hang of them and could start to go close to 100% when I rolled. I made it my mission to learn moves so I could execute them effectively and safely.

After 9 months of Jiu Jitsu, September 2019

An early roll with a blue belt convinced me that I could learn to use BJJ techniques effectively and got me hooked on the sport. Taylor, a 5’9”, 125-pound, ever-smiling woman and I rolled during an up-down-out session a few weeks into my classes. I was in her closed guard, looming over her, with my center of gravity much too far forward, and trying to find a way to break free and pass. One moment I was up, the next moment I was upside down. Taylor seized the moment and caught me with a flower sweep. I knew then that if Taylor, at half my size, could do that, then I could do a lot if I learned to use my body. Taylor thanked me for the roll, but I will always be more grateful to her for cementing my interest in BJJ.

I’m more comfortable with my body now that I have spent time on the mats. I know that my power and my worth comes from the training I do and my physique does not determine my worth in any aspect of my life. I feel more confident being big in other situations, and I won’t shrink or hide at the beach, on the dance floor, or when I meet new people. In addition, I feel great! I have much more energy during the day, I sleep better at night, and I’ve replaced aches and pains from being fat with bumps and bruises from hard rolls – a trade I’ll make any day. I’ve enjoyed seeing the numbers change on the scale week by week. It’s gratifying to see measurable tangible progress in black and white. But the real value I’ve drawn from Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at Easton has been the renewed confidence in myself and my abilities. That’s harder to measure, but it’s all that matters.

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