A couple of weeks ago, we shared the story of BJJ blue belt Alia Garcia-Valadez, who was preparing to compete at the IBJJF World Master Championship. But Garcia-Valadez was no ordinary competitor. She’s survived multiple strokes and a car accident that left her hospitalized, each time returning to the mats despite the odds (and you can read her full story here). Having pushed past every obstacle that has stood in the way of her goals, Garcia-Valadez arrived in Las Vegas earlier this week and faced her biggest competitive challenge yet. And when it was all said and done, she was able to reintroduce herself as a Super-Heavy silver medalist at World Masters.
Garcia-Valadez had a total of four matches throughout the day — certainly not as many as some competitors, but a far cry from when she’d show up to a tournament and have no one in her division. She won her first via submission (an Ezikiel choke variation she’d “been drilling for MONTHS”) after being up 9-0. She won her second match 17-0, then won her third match with an Americana after being up 7-0. However, she lost her last match on points after her opponent was able to get mount. That single loss, however frustrating, has given Garcia-Valadez the motivation she needs to come back better than ever. “ALL of these ladies were tough. It was awesome,” she says. “Looking back at all of my matches on FloGrappling, I see where I made mistakes, and I’m hellbent on getting back to training to fix them.”
Given that this was, by far, the largest tournament she’s competed in since beginning her jiu-jitsu journey, Garcia-Valadez’s accomplishment is particularly significant to her.
“This medal means I’m exactly where I should be. And I’m not going anywhere anytime soon. Not to disregard any tournaments or opponents I’ve had so far, but this was a challenge FOR myself and TO myself in order to see how I stacked up globally against women closer to my age and size,” she says.
Beneath the surface, though, that tiny piece of metal means a lot more for a woman who is both lucky to be alive and who never takes for granted the opportunities she’s been given. “This medal is for my kids and family and all of the nights & weekends I missed out on because I’m always working or training. For all of the people who have reached out and shared how my journey has inspired them, this medal is for you,” she says.
“And for my teammates and coaches, past and present — I’m up on that podium because of your unrelenting support and encouragement not just on days where I feel like I’m not progressing at all, but EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. This medal means I am here because of you.”
While no one would’ve blamed this blue belt for just walking out there and simply enjoying the moment regardless of the outcome, Garcia-Valadez was, as ever, laser-focused on her goals. And her relentless drive paid off in the end. “In the days since I shared my story, I had some folks tell me how awesome it was for me to just be able to participate and just BE here at Masters,” she says. “Which…yes. Going into this, though, I wasn’t trying to really hear any part of the “just go have fun” talk. I was focused. I had the mindset of ‘I’m going to WIN. I’m not going to just participate. I’m f*cking WINNING.’
“It’s like, I didn’t come this far to only come THIS far, ya know? I was confident in my physical prep because my teammates (School of Jiu Jitsu/BTT Lake Jackson) have been relentless during drills. Just straight putting it on me. Which I love because, as you know, I live for that push. My coaches had me working MY game leading up to Vegas. Which is still so weird to say because as a white belt, my game was just about survival — lots of defense. As a blue belt, I’m now much more strategic and thoughtful in my movement. Jiu-jitsu has given me an appreciation for my body, its size, and a much better understanding of how heavy weight is distributed and applied with minimal exertion.”
While that shiny silver medal is a physical representation of how much Garcia-Valadez has grown as an athlete and a human over the years, she also experienced a more personal, bittersweet moment that made her realize how far she’s come. Her former coach and longtime friend, Rob Giles-Dunlap, had still played an instrumental part in her pre-competition preparation even though she’d moved away and switched gyms, giving her little pep talks before each tournament even when he couldn’t physically be there, but this time around, something had shifted.
“About two months ago, I asked him to give me the talk and reminded him that we needed one before I flew out. Then last week sometime, I don’t know how or when the dynamic shifted, but I told him that I didn’t NEED it anymore, which kinda felt like I was telling him I didn’t need HIM anymore. And holy f*ck, it was one of the hardest things I’d ever had to say to him. I cried so hard afterward. Hell, I’m crying now. But what he said back to me was EVERYTHING. He said his whole goal has been to work himself out of a job with me. And in that moment, I realized that he’d become my security blanket of sorts. He’s always been my enforcer (on the mat and off). My mat guardian. The one who’d tear me down & be the first to build me right the f*ck back up. The one who used to never tell me he was proud of me, but I always somehow knew he was. And here I was telling him I didn’t need him anymore. It was like a whole other level of my journey and training was happening. SO MANY EMOTIONS.”
Given what we’ve seen from this constantly growing athlete so far, you can be sure that a silver medal at World Masters is just the beginning. She’s shown us that she can beat the odds in life and then beat her own goals on the mats, and there’s no telling what obstacles she’ll beat down next.