Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner Meggie Ochoa looks to sustain her successful run in the 2019 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games to be held in the country later next month.
Ochoa slowly rose into national consciousness after winning bronze in the 2018 Asian Games. She followed that up with a gold in the Jiu-Jitsu World Championships in Sweden in November, and another first-place finish in its Asian counterpart in July of this year.
Interestingly, before Ochoa found success in jiu-jitsu, she was a track and field athlete during her college days. But the BS Management alumna bounced from event to event, and couldn't find her footing as a track athlete up until her graduation in 2012.
"I played in the UAAP, although I never really won a medal. I never really excelled in track and field. Maybe because, it wasn't really the sport that I was meant to do," Ochoa told ESPN5.com.
After her graduation, she decided to pursue mixed martial arts as a hobby, but could not find enough opponents due to her diminutive size. All hope was not lost, as one suggested her to try jiu-jitsu.
"[I]f I felt that if I wanted to improve, I had to compete. I had been used to it by then," explained Ochoa. By 2014, she knew that she had found her true calling and started to compete regularly.
Five years had passed since then, and Ochoa has become one of the faces of a sport projected to rise in popularity after the SEA Games. Down the road, the martial artist hopes that the sport could penetrate even the most far-flung areas of the archipelago.
"The thing that I would want to focus on is the grassroots [program]," mentioned Ochoa. "To see jiu-jitsu reach Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao, even the far-flung areas, where it is difficult to go to, my vision is to see children being introduced to the sport."
With such power, she had also found a platform to speak on other issues plaguing society, establishing Fight to Protect, a movement that focuses on fighting against child sexual abuse. It uses sports as a primary tool to help combat the issue.
"There are two aspects, the first one is focused on the survivors. We share jiu-jitsu to some children to help with their recovery and eventually, their self-view of being survivors can improve to being advocates against [abuse]," shared Ochoa.
"The second one is raising awareness about it. So many people in our country do not know it's happening. Sports has a big captured market, and such, as an athlete, I look at it as a big platform to be used to spread awareness," she furthered.
The task at hand
Ochoa admits that having home-court advantage in the SEA Games will do wonders for the local athletes.
"The people you love [will come and watch] to support you. That's really different, especially with the push that it brings. That certainly adds to my inspiration," she said in Filipino.
To boost her chances of winning, Ochoa has been going in and out of Japan in order to train with some of the best jiu-jitsu practitioners in the world.
"In the Philippines, I think the challenge is more, because we have other responsibilities while we're there," shared Ochoa. "When we're away, it's our chance to train as much as we can."
She and the rest of the Philippine delegation have been training in the famed Carpe Diem Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gym in Hiroo, Shibuya, one of Tokyo's more prominent neighborhoods. The practice facility is also just a 30-minute subway ride away. The Filipinos train with not only their compatriots, but also with foreigners as well.
"Since the late part of September, we've been starting to train together more often, since we have to build the team's skills even more, familiarize with each other's strengths, and help each other more," she said.
Ochoa has a very huge opportunity to showcase her strength and technique in the upcoming SEA Games. Fully aware she is one of the stronger contenders to win gold, Ochoa stressed that, despite the pressure, she is focused on the bigger picture.
"I'm not even focused on the results, I'm more focused on doing what I need to do," Ochoa said. "How many people in the Philippines have been chosen to compete in the SEA Games? I'm really just appreciating that fact. I just want to really make the most of it."