At 16 this Jiu-Jitsu champion sells cookies to compete in his dream sport

World Today

16 year old Jiu-Jitsu champion sells cookies to compete in his dream sport16 year old Jiu-Jitsu champion sells cookies to compete in his dream sport

What would you do to fulfill a dream? For Brazilian Gabriel Bona, the World’s youth Jiu-Jitsu heavyweight champion, there is always an alternative when you don’t have athlete sponsorship and money is scarce.

CGTN’s Lucrecia Franco has this story.

He is just sixteen-years-old. But when Gabriel Bona needs to compete abroad, he puts on his kimono, hangs his medals around his neck and sells cookies to raise money since he doesn’t have athlete sponsorship.

A good spot is one of Rio de Janeiro’s subway stations and that’s the strategy he used to raise the funds and compete to become the world’s Jiu-Jitsu Youth Heavyweight Champion.

“I won’t give up,” said Bona. “I rather do something than blame Brazil’s economic crisis or complain that athletes don’t get support. If I sit around waiting nothing will happen.”

And hardly anyone remains indifferent to this unusual scene.

“People may think it is humiliating but he is a winner,” said Dala Kezen a resident of Rio de Janeiro.

Gabriel receives full emotional backing from his parents. Every day his mother picks him up from school and takes him to the academy.

“We are hard workers. His father works, I workm” said Karina Loiola, mother of Bona. “But we can’t afford to pay Gabriel’s international trips to compete.”

Though he was not sponsored to compete in the 2019 World Jiu-Jitsu Championship that was held in California, he returned with the gold medal.

“Everybody faces difficulties but to make a dream come true you have to make some sacrifices. I am not enjoying my adolescence. I could be partying, drinking but I prefer to invest in my future and train hard to be somebody in life,” said Bona.

And to become a black belt champion, as he is determined to be, he follows an exhausting routine.

“I wake up at 6:30 AM, go to school, then I have lunch, go to the gym, train, then I sell cookies, and train again,” said Bona. “I get back home at 9:30 PM and sleep to repeat everything again the day after.”

He has been training since he was eight-years-old thanks to head coach Rogerio Poggio and owner of one of the best Jiu-Jitsu academies in Rio.

“We have good training facilities and I offered him a scholarship,” said Poggio, the owner of Infight Academy. “But when he began growing up I told him he had to earn it and one of them was to compete and help on the maintenance of the academy.”

Gabriel says he can’t remember how many medals he’s won since he started competing but some are special.

“This one is the most important of all, the world championship gold medal, but unfortunately athletes can’t eat medals, so we need sponsors to survive.”

And while they don’t show up, the teenager, who is not just a world champion, but a two-time South American and a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu champion, is willing to keep on selling cookies to pay for his next international challenges.