Have you ever considered a big lifestyle change and thought… I can’t. It’s too much. That’s not me… Or maybe… I don’t know where to start. I don’t have time. I don’t have the willpower… Or maybe someone else told you it was unrealistic… and you believed them.
If so, you are not alone. Consider the people around you. Those you know, those you don’t. Odds are, every one of them has something they really want, but they don’t even try because of their own negative voices, or the voices of those around them.
Mirella Atallah was one such person. But she proved herself and her naysayers wrong.
And you can too, because it doesn’t take superhuman strength to overcome negativity. What it takes is making the conscious choice to say, “No more!” To decide that people can say what they want. Your inner gremlins can say what they want. You’re going to focus on what’s possible and move forward, one step at a time.
Here is Mirella’s inspiring story, in her words:
Life’s road is long and filled with challenges. Along the way, we all accumulate baggage that we drag around with us.
In 2012, I found myself walking around in the freezing Montreal winter. I was far from my home in Lebanon, and asked myself, “What am I doing here? What am I doing with my life?”
I knew I wanted to change my life, and it had nothing to do with homesickness or frozen toes. I was 34 years old, about 200 pounds, with a malfunctioning thyroid, tachycardia, type 2 diabetes, and to top it all off, I was in a toxic relationship.
I didn’t just need a change. I needed a drastic change.
I started my journey at Tristar Gym in Montreal with two simple goals: to lose weight, and to get in shape.
At the time, I had no idea how drastically even my goals would change!
My first week, I felt so lost and nothing made sense. I was out of my element. A gym full of people who seem to already be in shape and know what they’re doing can be so intimidating to someone just starting out.
To make matters worse, a guy in the gym told me I couldn’t do anything and lacked the flexibility to improve. Not only can I not do it now, but he’s telling me I can’t even improve??!! I had already been dealing with naysayers in my personal life. I can’t count the times I’ve been asked, “Aren’t you too old for this?” So that guy’s comment was a huge blow to my confidence.
But I pressed forward anyway. Determined to shake things up and get healthy, I dropped all my medications, started kickboxing, and eventually added in boxing and Muay Thai. I was so curious about Jiu-Jitsu, but felt I was too heavy to even try.
It took three years before I gave Jiu-Jitsu a try, and once I did… I was hooked!!!
Jiu-Jitsu is like a never-ending puzzle. You are always trying to find the right piece for the right place. Against everything – the naysayers, the wounded confidence, all of it – I kept going back. Just six months later, I received a third stripe to my white belt. A year later, I earned my blue belt.
I went from being told I couldn’t even improve, to kicking some serious butt!
You see, I’m not too old and you are not too old. Nobody is too out of shape, too ‘girly’ or too much or not enough of anything, not matter your naysayers may want you to believe.
The only restrictions you have to getting in shape and finding something you love are the restrictions you put on yourself.
There is always a work around. Always a way to achieve what you want. Because it really does start with a single step. And there is always time, space and energy for one step… then one more… and another, and another… You need to believe in yourself and just BE!
In December 2015, I went back to Lebanon. My first love. My home! I looked so hard for a place to train, but no gym felt right. I was ready to move back to Montreal when I stepped into Atos Lebanon and met Head Coach, Daniel Hilal. I knew I had found my new Jiu-Jitsu family.
What Daniel has done for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) in Lebanon is unbelievable! Let’s just say he has made an incredible difference. Against all odds, he placed Lebanon on the Jiu-Jitsu map, worldwide, and I have so much respect for this selfless coach. By continually pushing forward, he even attracted another unique Lebanese Jiu-Jitsu athlete, Professor Said Khatib, a black belt from the Mendes Academy.
I can’t help but be inspired by these two outstanding athletes. They are bringing the game to another level in Lebanon and I’m so proud to have had the chance to train and work with them.
Fast-forward to now, I am back in Montreal. My second home!
The search started again, but this time with great focus! A friend recommended Brazilian Top Team (BTT). I went in and it felt right!
I have been so lucky in my Jiu-Jitsu journey. The people I have been fortunate to meet and work with have been so far removed from that laughably negative guy in my first gym.
At BTT, I have had the opportunity to train with top athletes like Leonardo Saggioro. I felt welcome from my very first day, and the level is incredibly good under Professor Fabio Hollanda. There are also so many top female athletes to train with, especially the Head Female Coach, Juliana Mendes Nogueira. What an inspiring BJJ athlete/mom! She is a real role model for women.
At every training session, I’m reminded that Jiu-Jitsu is not just a sport. It’s a therapy; a type of meditation. When I am on the mat, I am ME.
This is a sport that will give you a voice when you feel you have none. Weakness is not an option when you have to be strong. You’ll discover that you are not actually weak. You just are not strong, YET! And you will get there. You will become strong through your own perseverance, and with the support and encouragement of the Jiu-Jitsu community.
On a deeper level, every woman needs to defend herself from any type of abuse, physical or emotional. I know, from personal experience, that Jiu-Jitsu will build you up with the confidence and skills to defend yourself from both types of abuse. Jiu-Jitsu boosts your self-confidence. You will learn to defend yourself, and to use people’s power against them. It’s an entire physical and mental workout. If your main goal is to lose weight, you will lose those extra pounds. But, more importantly, you will train your brain to be calm and to find solutions for the toughest roadblocks on your journey.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu really is a lifestyle. It teaches concepts like respect, commitment, humbleness, persistence, and care. All of which are tools needed for a productive and purposeful life!
Parents, I strongly encourage you to enroll your daughters in these amazing martial arts classes. Teach them to be strong and confident. Allow them to break the norms and gift them with the empowering knowledge that they can be self-sufficient. They will learn that they can stand up for themselves and navigate through the roadblocks of their lives.
For all the times I’ve heard, “Oh, you are so strong! I wish I could be like you!” I have to say, “Of course you can! You just have to believe in your capabilities! Be patient and never give up.”
I didn’t start out strong. But it’s where I am now. And I am happier now than I have ever been.
It is not an easy path. There were so many times I felt frustrated and wanted to give up. Instead, I found myself on the mat doing those drills again, and again, and again…
Your Jiu-Jitsu community is supportive and empowering. You will gain friends from all over the world, and will never be alone. The numbers are growing and the community is getting bigger, with more and more women enrolling. Why not you? Why not your daughter?
I’m now 41 and received my purple belt in December. I train 6 days a week and compete as often as I can.
Whenever someone asks how I do it, I say age is a state of mind. The only limits are the ones we set for ourselves. It’s not to late. Now is always a perfect time to start! I know that if I can, you can too.
If you are looking for a place to train in the Middle East or Montreal, please reach out to me and I’ll give you the right contacts.
Follow me on Instagram. I’ll be happy to answer any questions and welcome you into the community!
With a passion for exploration and sharing new discoveries, I founded Montrealtips.com, with proceeds going to the UN Refugee Agency, Montreal Children’s Hospital and other causes. I am also involved with NGOs & charities in Canada & worldwide.