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I TOOK UP RHYTHMIC GYMNASTICS AT THE AGE OF SEVEN, WHICH QUICKLY ESCALATED TO TRAINING UP TO 35 HOURS A WEEK AT AN ELITE LEVEL. I RETIRED AT THE AGE OF EIGHTEEN AND THEN IMMEDIATELY STARTED TRAINING FOR TRACK SPRINT CYCLING (ON THE VELODROME). Although I did have some promising results, such as winning the Austral Wheelrace, I was never content with not making the Australian Team. I decided to give competitive cycling a rest and start my university degree. Fortunately for me, that’s when I also discovered Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ), and as they say, the rest is history.

Jiu jitsu has made me a more grounded, more balanced, happier and healthier person. All aspects of my life have improved since I started five years ago. The mental aspect of jiu jitsu teaches me how to deal with anxiety, claustrophobia, nerves and conflict resolution. The physical side has made my body strong, fit and lean. I have learnt a lot in the last few years; my skill set has expended, I am able to defend myself against a much bigger and stronger opponent and my fitness is at its peak. My training has become more advanced, the volume has also increased and I have gone from training 2-3 times per week to two times per day.

The most rewarding part of training is learning new skills and pulling them off in competition. Getting better at jiu jitsu involves solving a puzzle, correcting mistakes, learning new moves and integrating them into my practice. The satisfaction I get from performing in training and in competition can’t be put into words. I also love seeing my partner and my team mates improve, becoming stronger and better every day.

This is the third sport I am practising at an elite level. Changing sports is not easy, not only physically but also mentally. Going from being top of the crop to the bottom is challenging, but with persistence, perspective and hard work, anything is possible.

As a young rhythmic gymnast I was riddled with disordered eating and body dysmorphia. It took me to my mid-20s to be able to eat in public and to accept my body the way it was. I slowly learnt that exercise should be fun and enjoyable and not simply a tool to lose weight or punish myself. Now, I feel as though my body is a result of my training and not the other way around. I don’t exercise to achieve a certain look; I exercise to feel good about myself, to be strong, fit and functional. I have a balanced diet and I don’t restrict any food groups. I don’t feel guilty if I eat cake - I enjoy it, knowing that with the amount of training I do, it won’t make the slightest difference to my weight.

Training jiu jitsu has helped me in dealing with claustrophobia and anxiety. After I started working with my sports psychologist Anthony Klarica, I began to understand a lot more about myself. Jiu jitsu is a sport where I am put in very extreme situations every single day, which means many problems surface quickly, forcing me to deal with them right there and then.
I am now a much calmer, more balanced, kinder, stronger and a more patient person than I was five years ago.

My motivation is internal - it comes from a desire to execute a skill and to keep adding to my game. I want to be a well rounded, technical jiu jitsu fighter and each day I am getting closer to that goal.

Additionally, I like competing and I like winning. There is no better motivator then the next fight. The feeling of getting your hand raised at the end of a match at a high level competition is awesome. Similarly, losing gets me motivated to improve more than ever before.

I have a busy year of competing around the world, including Japan and Los Angeles in May and perhaps Asia or the USA later in the year for some more competitions (depending on funding). In the meantime training doesn’t stop - there is always something to work and improve on.

I am also trying to grow the women’s team at Absolute MMA and Conditioning by running women’s only BJJ classes and making the ladies more comfortable in a male-dominated sport. The numbers are slowly growing and I will be working hard on retaining women in the sport.

Health and fitness is a lifestyle and not just a passing fad. Find a form of exercise you really enjoy and stick with it. Results will come, but not overnight. Getting in shape is a lifestyle choice and not a two- week diet. There is really no substitute for hard work and no magic pills. Eat well, exercise every day and don’t punish yourself if you have an off day. Celebrate you for the way you are.

You can stay up to date with Livia at www.livjiujitsu.com.au

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