Two Years Ago, He Kicked Cancer’s A**. Now, He’s Competing In His First Professional BJJ Match

Photo Source: Chad Latta

Three months before his fortieth birthday, Chad Latta made the decision to try jiu-jitsu for the very first time. He knew it was going to be an uphill battle — although he’d played sports his entire life, he claims he was never “the most physically gifted athlete”, and although he was far from the oldest person to ever put on a white belt for the first time, he was well aware that his age would provide an added challenge when it came to progressing and competing in such a physically demanding sport. He expected to have to fight harder. He expected to have to fight smarter.

But he didn’t expect to have to fight cancer.

Around three and a half years ago, Latta began to realize that something was wrong when he developed digestive issues and started to fall ill more frequently. After he started noticing blood when he used the restroom, he went to the doctor and was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer. For the next eight months, he went through chemo, radiation, and surgery, as well as having to live with a colostomy bag for six months.

It goes without saying that the treatment he went through to save his life was rough, but for Latta, feeling physically horrible was only part of the living hell he was going through — the mental and emotional struggles also took a heavy toll. “I think one aspect that was really difficult for me was being an athlete my entire life [and] watching my body fall apart.  Aside from just feeling miserable 24/7,  I really watched myself waste away,” he said.

Still, despite the illness and treatment wreaking havoc inside his body, Latta did his best to continue with his life with as much normalcy as possible. He continued working as both a psychologist and a part-time instructor at a local college throughout the duration of his treatment, even though no one would’ve blamed him for staying at home instead. “It was a good distraction, but frequently it took everything I had to get to the office and focus for an hour to meet with a client.  The side effects from treatment were rough, and then there’s the realization that even if everything turns out, my body will never be the same.”

It would be tempting to say that Latta’s story fortunately has a happy ending, but that wouldn’t be entirely accurate. The “happy” part is definitely true — he’s been cancer-free for two years now — but his incredible story hasn’t reached its final chapter yet. Not even close. You see, not only has Latta made his return to jiu-jitsu, but on Friday, he’ll be making his professional debut when he takes the stage at Fight to Win Pro 26 in Denver, Colorado to fight against David Lucarelli.

Latta was a highly competitive purple belt, but his will to compete fizzled out a bit once he became a brown belt. Now a black belt, his reasons for putting all on the line in front of thousands of people are very different from what they were in his earlier jiu-jitsu years. “This is really the first time I’ve felt physically capable of competing [since being diagnosed].  So this is primarily me seeing if I can do it and trying to challenge myself,” he said. “I don’t really have expectations; I’m really just looking forward to the experience and testing myself.  It truly is all about the process.”  Although he’s got his eye on the Submission of the Night award, he’s primarily focused on making his instructors and teammates proud.

No matter what happens beneath the Fight to Win Pro lights, Latta knows that his fight is far from over. Now just a couple weeks away from his 48th birthday, he’s still dealing with many of the lasting effects from treatment, including digestive issues that have forced him to maintain a strict diet. But even though he’s still adjusting to all the changes his body has undergone in the past few years, he’s chosen to work with what he’s been given and adapt, just as he’s done throughout his jiu-jitsu journey. “I really look at cancer as just one of life’s challenges,” he says. “Like anything, really, all you can do is focus on getting through the day the best you can and slowly climb that mountain.”

Now that he’s won the battle for his life, Latta can focus more on the sport that has brought him so much happiness. He’s well aware that he’s, as he puts it, “an old man in a young man’s game”, but after all he’s been through, he’s not letting that stop him from proving this indisputable truth to everyone, especially himself: “Although [I’m] different, I’m nowhere near done — the old man still has some fight.”


  1. What an amazing story. What a comeback. Courage- this is a real life definition of courage. You’ve already won Chad Latta and you’ve inspired all of us to be brave in the face of overwhelming odds.


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