By Elisabeth Clay
“You’re so lucky!” I hear this all the time. While I love my life and my career, it wasn’t luck that got me where I am, nor will it take me to where I want to be! I got here because of damned hard work and determination. I don’t think a lot of people realize what goes into being an athlete or how, even once you’ve “made it,” you still don’t necessarily make a lot of money, nor does the work slow down.
What I don’t think a lot of people realize is a lot of athletes still work to be able to afford being an athlete, even if they are just coaching. A lot of athletes (at least at first) work to be able to compete and make a name for themselves for years before BJJ starts to pay anything at all, and even then it takes a really long time to pay enough to live oﬀ of.
You can’t just come home and “crack open a cold one” after a really long day because it can either affect the training the next day or you have to make weight and are on diet. You can’t always do the nice date nights and go out to eat because you have to watch what you are eating. These date nights can be put oﬀ for weeks and instead maybe you watch a movie without eating popcorn and junk food.
You have to negotiate contracts all the time whether with sponsors or for fights. The stress you have around when a contract is coming to an end because you have to negotiate a new contract will affect how your next year goes, along with your pay.
You can’t always just take oﬀ to go and do things either. Your whole life revolves around this one thing, and there is so much stress that goes with it. You plan vacations or any time oﬀ around tournaments, super fights, seminars, etc., all while knowing that the wrong timing can affect thousands of dollars and your ranking. This can honestly set you back not months, but years. IBJJF ranking lasts 3 years. One simple decision for me affected my ranking for 3 years, creating a huge deficit.
Now Don’t Get Me Wrong
I love my life and job and I wouldn’t change a thing. However, I think if you really sat down and talked to an athlete you would be so surprised when you started asking them questions. it isn’t luck; its work. I have had a lot of people help me and I wouldn’t be here without them. I should say it would have been way more diﬃcult and definitely a longer road. Although it has not been easy either, but it’s definitely been rewarding. I’ve lived out of my car to get where I am and I’ve lived with random families that I did not know. I have lived in a house with a ton of guys that train. I have stayed with large groups before competitions. I rent rooms because a whole house is too much. I have chosen to let go of relationships (or potential ones) because at the time things did not fit. I have done so much to be at this point in time with my life and career.
Before you call an athlete or anyone lucky, maybe think about where they started and the stress and work that probably went into getting where they are now. There is even more that goes into being one of the top athletes that people don’t think about. To be on the top of any challenging career is hard work, dedication, sacrifice and discipline. I don’t think it all needs to be put in here. Some of what I have walked through is too personal to mass publicize, but I just want to give you a little perspective.
It is with much gratitude to all those who have played a part in supporting me. I cannot imagine how diﬃcult this would have been with the support of sponsors, professors, family and fans. I can say I have been blessed with the ability, support and environment to be able to work and gain this life. I am grateful for it. Become your lion or lioness… enjoy the hunt.