By Mike Calimbas
Jordan Watkins and his inspiring story of commitment to BJJ and how the sport has helped him back in his fight against testicular cancer
HOUSTON, TX, August 27, 2013 – Like training, life in general often throws unexpected roadblocks our way that test us as individuals. And like our training, we have to do our best to persevere through our struggles, to channel our bodies and minds in order to survive.
Such is the case with one individual. His name is Jordan Watkins. Like many of you out there reading this he’s fallen in love with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. After finding the sport he tailored his life towards the BJJ lifestyle – sacrificing time and money so that he train and compete because it’s what he loves to do. Unfortunately for him his journey has been sidetracked because of one big life-altering event – finding out he has cancer.
Here’s his story.
Falling in love with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
“I was working a machining job and had been a fan of MMA for a few years but never thought to do it myself. I eventually became very bored of my job and needed to make a move. After a job offer from a neighborhood bar I decided I was going to bartend 3-4 days a week and train MMA on a whim. I showed up at the gym (Paradigm Training Center) to take kickboxing classes. For a month or so I avoided grappling but then one day for shits and giggles I tried a no-gi class and couldn’t get enough. I bought a gi the next day and completely forgot about kickboxing.”
From there Jordan Watkins went into overdrive with the training. Training two or three times a week was no longer enough for him so he started training 2-3 times a day, six days a week instead. He loved seeing his game grow in class and began competing not long after he started training.
Jordan Watkins even went to IBJJF Worlds to compete as a white belt.
“I love the rush of competition. I competed in Worlds that year and after seeing Mundials in person you have no choice but fall in even deeper love with BJJ. I lost my first match by one advantage but after that I made it a goal of mine to win Worlds.”
Focusing on the goal to win the BJJ Mundials
Not long after returning from the 2012 IBJJF World Jiu-Jitsu Championship Jordan was promoted to blue belt by his Professor, Igor Santos. That promotion drove him even more towards chasing his ultimate dream in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.”
“I told myself I would win Mundials no matter what it took this year (2013) as a blue belt. I was using every bit of the little money I was making at the bar to pay membership dues and bills. I had to figure something out. Shoyoroll craze had just started about this time so I would make multiple paypal accounts and use friends cards to purchase Shoyoroll gis and then resale them on eBay to the highest bidder.”
After two months of hustling, selling gis and saving money and doing whatever he could to tailor his life towards BJJ Jordan Watkings was able to save enough money to quit his bartending job and buy a ticket to fly to Brazil for two months to attend the GF Team Mundials Training Camp and go compete at the 2013 IBJJF Worlds.
“I was focused. I was going to win gold without a doubt in my mind.”
Discovering the cancer
Three weeks after arriving in Brazil the first tragedy hit for Jordan Watkins. His dog at home fell very ill and he had to make a big decision. Would he stay or would he go home?
“He is like a son to me so I had to make the decision to fly back home and use all the money I had saved for Brazil to give my dog the surgery he needed to survive. Everyone thought i was crazy for this but i did it anyway. I got back the Wednesday before the Superbowl just in time to pick him up from the vet after his surgery. After spending the rest of the week hanging out with my girlfriend and my dog I was going to resume my training for Mundials here.”
Then the second tragedy struck.
“The Monday following the Superbowl I felt a throbbing pain in one of my testicles. I went to the doctor that day because the pain was unbearable. That’s when they found the mass. I was sent for an ultrasound to confirm it was a mass that day, and sure enough it was. So I got scheduled and went to a specialist who draws blood, examines me, and informs me I have testicular cancer. They gave me a CT scan and removed the testis and that was that. On Valentine’s Day 2013 I was officially diagnosed with Stage 2B testicular cancer.”
Fighting Cancer with BJJ
By the time they had discovered cancer in his body it had spread to a lymph node in his pelvis. Right away the decision was made to start a chemotherapy regime.
“The doctors told me to put BJJ on hold while going through the chemo because the drugs used in my particular case are relatively brutal on your body. The treatments were 5 days a week and roughly 5 hours a day with one week of chemo then a two week break to help my body recover before the next part of my four cycles would restart.”
“So I had to move home with my parents as no one would hire me because i would have to miss so much work. Nobody would hire me then because I would have to miss so much work. I found a (BJJ) gym back home and was just going to watch since i had no money to pay dues there. After talking with the owner and telling him my story he offered to let me train whenever i felt up to the task. So that night I unpacked my gi and went to train. I went morning and night and noticed that I actually started to feel better.”
Against doctors’ orders and without them ever finding out Jordan trained every day and even competed, all in the midst of his chemo treatment.
“I was at the gym whenever it was open whether I felt good or bad that day. People started telling me it was inspiring them and then it turned from something I was doing for myself to something i was doing for others. I would leave straight from chemo and go to the gym to train to show everyone all you have to do is continue fighting no matter the situation.”
Surgery and Ongoing Treatment
Two months ago Jordan Watkins’ chemo treatments came to a close. A follow up CT scan revealed that the chemotherapy had done well but not well enough. The lymph node tract that was suspected to be cancerous had to be removed and surgery was required.
This past Monday, August 26th he went in for the procedure and it went well. They removed the lymph nodes that were treated with the chemo and are now testing it for cancerous cells. If it comes back positive it will have to be another round of chemo for Jordan. If it comes back negative he will be considered in the clear for now and will be placed on surveillance with regular testing including CT scans and blood work for the rest of his life.”
Surviving Cancer with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu; How to help
“The only way to deal with the pressures of this life-altering event and all the pains, aches, and side effects associated with it for me was Jiu-Jitsu,” says Jordan Watkins.
“I moved back to Houston after my chemo ended and Reed Shelger (co-owner of paradigm training center and local purple belt) graciously waived my membership fees so that I could continue to train and get my body in the shape it was before the chemo took its toll so that my recovery from surgery would be quicker and better.
Prior to cancer, my coach Igor Santos has always told me this phrase ‘bad weather all the time’ when I thought I was too tired to continue or when i was injured and wanted to be rolling. I knew this phrase meant that things will not always be the best but if we stand up and fight we can make it through them so I have carried this motto with me everywhere since, including with this fight against cancer.
If people are curious as to how they can help the best thing for me would be to keep my in your prayers and add me on Facebook if we are already not friends. I recently started to work with a charity organization and plan on teaming up with them and a BJJ company if all goes as planned. This project will raise the much needed awareness for testicular cancer and also help raise funds for cancer research so that hopefully one day no one will have to endure the cancer treatment process. This project will take a little time but by adding me on FB and keeping your eyes open i will constantly be posting updates as to my condition and that of the program.
Thanks to everyone for listening to my story and to Mike and TXMMA.com for reaching out to write it. Thanks for the kind words, the awesome pictures, and the continued support for the sport I love so much.
If we leave this article with anything it’s that I want all cancer patients to know that no matter how bad you feel, find an outlet – something that makes you sane and allows you to not only fight but fight hard. Whether it be BJJ, running, drawing, or basket weaving, just find something to fight for and NEVER stop.”