Many jiu-jitsu practitioners believe that couples who train together stay together, so what are the odds for a couple who earned their BJJ black belts together?
The love story of Shane O’Neill and Sharicka Long-O’Neill began in 2009 when the couple met online, but before the couple had ever crossed paths, Shane had started his jiu-jitsu journey, not knowing how it would impact his life and future marriage for the better. “I had been a Powerlifter for most of my 40s. I had grown to 250lbs from years of constant lifting. I looked like a big linebacker. However, my health was not good due to lack of cardio and an illness which was the result of military service in 1975,” says Shane.
Knowing that he had to make lifestyle changes, Shane, who was 48 at the time, started taking jiu-jitsu classes in 2005 under David Ruiz of Colorado BJJ, also learning judo from Simon Sasia. Six months later, Shane earned his blue belt and was competing (and doing remarkably well) against much younger opponents.
Four years later, Sharicka and Shane would meet online. Shane says the woman who would become his wife was also a military veteran (serving in the Kosovo Campaign, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom) and interested in MMA. They both had daughters from previous relationships (Shane’s attends CU in Boulder and Sharicka’s works and studies in Oklahoma City). Despite an 18-year age difference, the two fell in love and were married just a year later in 2010. Shane’s first efforts to get Sharicka training BJJ weren’t entirely successful — Sharicka initially preferred striking, running, biking, and weightlifting. It wasn’t until 2012, when the couple moved to Denver from Colorado Springs, that Sharicka finally became interested in jiu-jitsu.
After some trial and error, Shane and Sharicka finally found their “new home” at the now-Lovato-affiliated Kompound, which was owned by Shane’s former teammate Brad Nicolarsen and located just two miles away from the couple’s house. Shane praises the academy’s Masters program, saying that the team generally sends about ten people to World Masters and has a habit of coming home with multiple gold medals.
Sharicka, too, thrived on the mats, and her progress and skill were apparent from the very start of her BJJ journey. “I entered Sharicka in a local F2W event after only three months of training,” says Shane. “Sharicka did not want to go. She won her first match 36 to 0. From there on, Sharicka proved to be a formidable competitor, having won six straight gold medals at IBJJF World Masters. She has taken to BJJ like a fish to water.”
The two are now the definition of a BJJ power couple, collecting nine gold medals between them at World Masters and other IBJJF events. In 2014, Sharicka was promoted to blue belt and Shane ranked up to purple. They continued to progress together, both earning their brown belts in 2017. And then, finally, they earned their black belts together in September of last year, receiving the honor from Nicolarsen and Rafael Lovato Jr. Shane was 62 and Sharicka was 44 when they reached the huge milestone. “Brad has been with us for the past eight years. It was extremely satisfying for both of us to be promoted together,” says Shane.
Shane’s love and appreciation for his wife is apparent in the way he brags about her progression in jiu-jitsu, especially as her involvement with the martial art has expanded over the years. “She is a tireless advocate of women’s BJJ,” he says. “She is a Girls in Gis ambassador. Sharicka is also a ghost writer for Girls in Gis. She and Stephanie Linkus founded Women’s Rocky Mountain BJJ retreats.”
Shane and Sharicka may have begun their love story with BJJ and each other a bit later in life, but they’re living proof that it’s never too late to find what you’re looking for.