Was The Jiu-Jitsu Community Supportive To You While You Were Battling Cancer? They Saved My Life... | Ashley Rollo's Story
Submission Shark BJJ Interview
The BJJ community is truly something special as it is evident in Ashley's story. After a cancer diagnosis, Garry Tonon, Tom DeBlass, and Frankie Edgar did a seminar that raised the remaining money to get her to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas to try a new drug combination as well as get better scans that gave her more insight to where things were.
Ashley is a true warrior with a never give up attitude and is proof that even through the most difficult times, you can rise above the pain and find yourself again. Learn more about her incredible journey and make sure to share this with your friends and family. Make sure you check out the full article as she meets some interesting people and shares her insightful perspective on the art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Full Name: Ashley Rollo
Belt Colour: back at white (long story lol)
Professor: Dante Rivera
Short Term Goals: to get better
How long have you been training BJJ?
Off and on since 2010
Where do you train out of?
Do you prefer gi or no-gi?
No-Gi. The struggle is real with those fancy karate pajamas.
Have your instructors helped you in other aspects of life other than jiu-jitsu?
My instructors Leandro Hernandez and Dante Rivera don’t coddle any of us. They are pretty intense at times and they push me to be better. They don’t let me give up, and they have taught me to have a higher standard for my performance in all aspects of life. I feel like they have taught me how to never settle.
What are some lessons you learned from BJJ that apply to everyday life?
I’ve learned to be more patient. I would want instant results, and now I realize that the greatest things in life take time and practice to happen.
How often do you train Brazilian jiu-jitsu?
I’m always working out. I never miss a day. I try to do Jiu-jitsu 4 times a week but with my upcoming fight, I’ve been focusing more on my standup.
What made you want to start training BJJ?
Being a girl in today’s world is tough sometimes. There was an incident that happened at a bar and I wanted to do whatever I can to prevent it from happening again. Someone told me about Jiu-jitsu and I took a class and I was hooked.
"Jiu-Jitsu teaches men that their strength doesn’t mean as much as they thought it did, and teaches women that they are stronger than they thought,"
Do you plan on training BJJ your whole life?
Of course. I feel like Jiu-jitsu can easily be modified for anyone. Regardless of age or physical limitations.
What’s it about jiu-jitsu that makes it so addicting?
You’re always getting better. No matter what. You always leave class a little better than when you entered, and when you feel like you didn’t absorb what was taught you find yourself subconsciously using that move and you’re like “Whoa. I guess I was paying attention”
What has jiu-jitsu done for your physical health?
I’m getting in better and better shape the more consistently I train. My flexibility has improved, I have way more endurance. Everything is just better.
Has jiu-jitsu benefited your mental health?
I’m a lot calmer. Not like verbally but mentally. I’m way more laid back.
If you could restart your jiu-jitsu journey, would you do anything differently?
I’d start sooner and I’d do more yoga.
What’s your advice for someone that’s never tried BJJ before but is interested in trying it?
Just do it. Embrace the suck. It’s going to be tough in the beginning. Your body will ache in places you never knew existed, but I promise you. It will be worth it.
Do you have any aspirations in jiu-jitsu?
I wanna win worlds next year.
Secret’s out!! Beast Coast Represent!! Gonna show these west coasters how we do over here in Jersey. I’ve been training hard, grinding daily, and I’ve never been more ready. A few more weeks left to sharpen my skills, cut some weight, and then it’s showtime!
Which Martial Arts Competitor has inspired you the most?
Cat Zingano. She has overcome so much in her life, and still maintains a positive mindset. She’s a genuinely good person, and even though she’s super busy she still manages to give back to charity with her Fight to the Bone.
What’s your favourite BJJ move?
Rear naked choke. No guillotine. No, wait. Rear naked choke. Can it be a tie? I like both equally. It really depends on my mood.
If you didn’t discover jiu-jitsu, where do you think you’d be now?
I’d definitely be fatter. I wouldn’t be as happy and I would probably be bored all the time.
#TBT to when I was fat (left) I was almost 180 pounds due to prednisone. Now I'm at 124 pounds. I feel great! I still have some body fat I want to lose and gain some more muscle but I am so happy with the results!
Would you like to see the sport become more mainstream?
Of course. I have a podcast as well as IGTV that I use and I want to speed the good word that is Jiu-jitsu. I want it to get the recognition it deserves.
Have any of your BJJ training partners pushed you to reach your full potential?
They all push me. I mean honestly, I wouldn’t be getting as good as I am if it weren’t for them. They won’t let me quit, and they rough me up a bit. I think that makes me tougher. It’s a lot easier going against other girls after you’ve been rolling with mostly dudes. They’ve all taught me a lot.
When you were first starting, what was the most difficult concept of BJJ that you had trouble getting?
This will sound really ridiculous, but I kept messing up my left and my right. My mind was going a million miles a minute worrying about so many intricate parts of the move I would get so nervous I’d forget the normal things. I mean I’m a little ridiculous, to begin with, but I felt like a toddler when I first started. I could tell it was frustrating to my coaches and they saw I was getting frustrated. They pushed me to focus and eventually it became second nature.
What makes you want to inspire and motivate others?
When you look at death in the face and truly face it, you learn to not fear anything anymore. You learn to prioritize everything and to not focus on any of the garbage that doesn’t matter. I feel like people get stuck in these mental ruts because they focus on things that they can’t control, or aren’t as big of a problem as they make them out to be.
I feel like sometimes I was dealt a crappy hand in life for several things, and when I let the bad things overpower me mentally and emotionally I feel that that’s when I started to digress and become someone I wasn’t. I let my past and things I can’t control dictate who I was and my future. That’s a terrible way to live and too often people allow that to happen. My goal is to get others to see that they control their own destiny.
This is me December 9, 2016. Today marks two years from when I finished my last round of chemo. Now, over 36 surgeries, months (possibly even years) combined nights in the hospital, hundreds of doctor visits later here I am today. If you would have asked me two years ago where I saw myself today I would have said: “Hopefully alive.” As scary as that sounds... It was true. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen to me. I was always so close to giving up, but for some reason, I pressed on.
Never in a million years would I have thought in 730 days I would be a few days away from the biggest event of my life and travelling to California to face off against some of the toughest chicks in the world. People ask me why I’m so fearless. The answer is easy. For almost a decade I was fighting something that I couldn’t see or touch, but always reminded me it was there. I endured endless amounts of pain to the point where I would often cry myself to sleep over it. The medications felt like acid in my veins and burned from the inside. Every ounce of my soul ached. I felt like absolute garbage all the time.
Today that’s all behind me. Today I fight hard every day to make up for all the time I missed out on because I was sick. Nothing will ever compare to the fear of wondering if that day was your last. The fear of this being my last holiday with my family and friends Or if I would one day give up. Once you face all of that... what else is there to be afraid of? Absolutely nothing. So uh yeah. Sorry if I’m not phased by some 5 foot anything girl that weighs 120 something pounds. She might be tough, but she will never be as tough as me. Thank you to everyone who wouldn’t let me give up. My scars remind me of who I am and what I’m made of. Next weekend I’m doing it for all of you. Happy 2nd birthday to me and cheers to a world with more birthdays.❤️ #survivor#fearless
Was there a difficult moment in your life where jiu-jitsu helped you get through it? If so, please explain.
It helped me deal with a lot of anger issues I had when I was younger. I was angry at the world for a bit and was self-destructive. Jiu-Jitsu helped me find a way to take that negativity and hostility and focus it into a more positive and healthier manner.
What was going through your mind the moment you were diagnosed with cancer?
First I freaked out over potentially becoming bald. Then I started thinking about what my loved ones would do if they lost me.
What type of cancer was it and what symptoms caused you to see the doctor?
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. I thought I had the flu or a really bad hangover and passed out on the phone while talking to a friend and somehow woke up in the hospital.
What type of treatment did you choose and did you do anything else on your own to help support your recovery?
Conventional medicine to help me physically. Coloring books to help me mentally, and God to help me spiritually.
What would you tell someone going through cancer treatment and is having a difficult time staying positive?
It sucks. It hurts. You really don’t deserve it. BUT (and I can’t stress it enough) don’t give up. Life is beautiful and it may seem really scary and horrible now, but I promise you that one day you will look around and see the life you’re living. A healthy cancer-free life. You’ll think about how many amazing things have occurred to you since you were diagnosed and you’ll remember the feeling of relief when they tell you that you aren’t sick anymore.
You will realize just how strong you are mentally and physically and that you can literally do anything and you overcame something absolutely horrific and live to tell about it. I promise it will be with it.
Was the Jiu-Jitsu community supportive to you during this time?
Yea. Actually, they saved my life. Garry Tonon, Tom DeBlass, and Frankie Edgar did a seminar that raised the remaining money to get me to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas to try this new drug combination as well as get better scans that gave more insight to where things were.
What would you like to say to everyone that has helped you get through this experience?
Thank you for saving my life. Thank you for pushing me to not give up, and thank you for believing I would get better.
Explain what was going through your mind stepping back onto the mats after you finished your treatment.
I was angry with myself. I suffered a bunch of seizures and I forgot a lot of things. I knew I knew how to do certain moves but I couldn’t connect it. My coach Dante Rivera saw I was getting frustrated and he told me it’s okay. It’s normal for that to happen, but to keep going and eventually, it will click. He was right. I still know there are things I forgot, but sometimes I find myself doing things and I’m like “oh yeah. You do remember that”
What did you learn about yourself after going through this experience?
I am a lot stronger than I gave myself credit for. I was throwing my own pity party and I was the only guest. This taught me so much about myself and they are all lessons I will carry with me for my entire life.
What was the moment like when you found your purpose and how did going through difficult times help you realize it?
I don’t think I ever realized my purpose. I feel like our purpose as humans are to just be good people and leave the world a better place.
What would you tell others that are feeling lost and haven't found their meaning in life yet?
Just focus on doing the best you can and never give up. Life is about learning. You will learn something new every day. Whether it be about yourself or the world around you. You have to be okay with not always having everything figured out yet. That’s the best part of life. It goes on. Every day is a new beginning.
What made you want to work for ESPN? and how has your experience been working there so far?
It’s the best sports network in the world. I love sports. I’ve gotten to work with some of the most talented and hardworking individuals I’ve ever met.
Do you ever feel starstruck seeing famous athletes onset or are you calm and collected?
I only cried once over a guest. Aside from MMA, my next favourite sport is baseball and when Cal Ripken Jr was in the studio I lost it. I cried.
I kinda freaked out and fangirled super hard once too when Dana White was there but now he and I are cool so I was able to get over that. Otherwise, I try to treat famous people like average joes. People forget that famous people have feelings too and that they are just like you and me.
What are your thoughts on the sport of MMA compared to the art of jiu-jitsu...
As someone that is a part of both worlds, what are some similarities and differences you see between the two?
Two totally different animals. One you aim to hurt the other you aim to secure a better position and make life uncomfortable for them so they give up. Both require a lot of time and dedication. You’ll never learn everything as both sports are evolving every day.
Why does it bother you to see "fans" being disrespectful to fighters and do you think more people should train themselves in order to get a better understanding of what these athletes have to go through?
Because people generally suck. They make all these assumptions about people they don’t know. They talk trash about people they’ve never met, and they just trash about something they’ve never done. I hate it when people boo. It takes a lot of heart, blood, sweat, and tears to go out there. We do it on such a large stage for you guys. If you don’t know what we go through I feel like you shouldn’t be bad-mouthing anyone.
Everyone seems to be Monday morning quarterbacks with fights. Just stop. One person could have just been having a better day than the other guy. That doesn’t mean the other person sucks. It just means they had a rough go.
#tbt to when I met @chrisweidmanufc and watched his MMA seminar at Renzo Gracie academy for Live to Fight. He is an incredible person with a big heart who manages to balance his career and family life. I admire him. He gets to do what he loves every day and go home to the people he loves. Can wait to see him in the octagon again. Congrats on the baby on the way!
So I’m minding my own business at work, and this guy shows up... I gotta say... what an amazing individual. Extremely humble, and gave me so many tips. It was super cool just to chat with him and his Jiu Jitsu coach @tussagb (who I can’t wait to see at worlds) and I can’t wait to see @jonnybones fight at #232 in Vegas. Looking forward to making my way out to New Mexico to get some rolls in and learn from you guys!! OSS!!
#TBT to that time @showtimepettis and I wore matching outfits to the @superareshop #UFC takeover. Really awesome person. Can’t wait to see you back in the cage soon. (Btw I was totally not prepared for this picture to be taken)
So stop me if you’ve heard this one... two 125ers walk into a bar... awww just kidding. I can’t wait to see this killer do work this weekend.
@bronzebomber it was an absolute pleasure meeting you today and talking with you about boxing. Thank you for the advice and the tips today. You always put on one hell of a show, and I can’t wait to watch the rematch. Truly a humble and kind person who really loves what he does. You have a solid team behind you too. No wonder you do so well!!
What is the fearless fighter podcast and why should people give it a listen?
Raw MMA show. I’ll ask questions a lot of people don’t think of asking and I’ll show sides to athletes many people didn’t know existed. I don’t like to be too scripted and sometimes I feel like I might venture into questions that make people uncomfortable but I feel like that’s how the world will learn about who someone is and why they do what they do. It will give perspective. I’ll also give opinions that may go against the grain or what other people are saying but at least it will be mine.
If you could have any guest, dead or alive on the show, who would it be? and Why?
Bruce Lee. Just because I’d like to see his take in how the martial arts culture has evolved over the years.
What are some simple things people can do for others to help support your life purpose of leaving the world a better place?
Just be kind. You don’t know what someone is going through or what’s going on in their brain. Instead of trying to tear each other apart, lend a hand and build one another up.
When the journey is over, how would you like to be remembered?
I wanna be remembered as the one who never gave up. That no matter what hand I was dealt I never gave up.
Submission Shark BJJ Interviewer:
Thanks for sharing Ashley! I can't wait to see what the future holds for you as your determination excels in your career and jiu-jitsu performance. Dark times attract kind-hearted people willing to help and I loved seeing the jiu-jitsu community come together for you.
You also left some really great advice for someone that may be going through similar experiences as you. I'm happy to see you're back doing what you love and I truly hope you stay healthy so you can crush your future goals. It was great getting to know the girl that never gave up better.
This was a great interview
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