When most people dream of being a champion they do not picture the bumps in the road along the way. For Alfonso “Big Sal” Washington His path certainly did not come without struggle. Would you believe in the months leading up to the Pan Ams that Big Sal considered retiring from competing in Jiu Jitsu?
After losing in the first Round of the European BJJ Championship, Al was removed from the A-team roster and forced to compete in his real age category, the Masters division. Investigations by the coaches uncovered the fact that multiple fish filet sandwiches and Qdoba breakfast burritos (CONTRABAND!) were a regular part of this “serious” Jiu-Jitsu athlete’s diet. The only way to make it back to the A team for the Pan Ams would be for him to compete and win at the Masters division and lose over 40 lbs. All this had to be accomplished in less than 3 months! Just the thought of this would be enough to make the average person quit.
In order to prove himself, Big Sal flew out to California to compete at the “easy” masters divisions – he ended up being choked to sleep in the first round. When he returned, he said he was going to retire from competition, and even skipped jiu jitsu class to train Muay Thai. As everyone would dress in the locker room after practice, Sal would sigh loudly and mutter that he would retire from BJJ competition. Motivated by the immortal words of Adele, the coaches told him, “Nevermind, we’ll find someone like you” and ignored his attention getting tactics.
Desperate times called for desperate measures and so Big Sal embarked on an ALL LIQUID diet. Everyday before and after practice, he was forced to weigh-in. Before one practice, he showed up, having gained four lbs from the night before. When asked why he cheated on his diet, he replied that he felt like he was going to die and it was either go to the hospital or eat some grits (true quote). That ended up being one of the toughest practices we have had in a long time. However, his diet did improve. Sal showed up with a notebook and video camera to record techniques and his practices. He became a more serious athlete!
After deciding to return to his training and cleaning up his diet, he entered the New York Abu Dhabi Pro Trials. After an outstanding performance, he ended the day with a Gold Medal in his weight division and the Absolute. He rode this momentum all the way to the Pan Ams, which is the second largest Jiu Jitsu Tournament in the country. He was facing an unusually large Ultra Heavy Weight division. Big Sal won 5 matches that day to become the 2012 Blue Belt Ultra Heavy Weight Pan Champion. Along the way, he defeated the returning 2011 World Champion and also found God between the quarterfinals and the Medal Round.
Remember, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows on the way to Gold!