Congratulations on getting on the national team! But what exactly is grappling?
Thank you! Grappling is a combat sport that does not allow striking. The idea is to get your opponent to the ground (takedown) and then continue fighting until you have them in a position from which they cannot escape without hurting themselves and have to give up (submission). Depending on the exact rule set, people will also call grappling Luta Livre or Brazillian Jiu Jitsu, which are all very similar disciplines. It’s a physically demanding sport with a very high skill ceiling.
How does one get on the national team?
Well, first you have to already be a successful competitor. I have had really good tournament results recently, which put me into the selection. Then we were all invited for an evaluation - the coaches tested our physical fitness and our technical abilities. After this, the athletes most likely to medal at the World Championship were invited to join the national team. There are some really strong fighters on this list, and I’m excited to be one of them!
On top of being part of the national team, you are also Director Data Science at Bayes. What does a typical day look like for you?
On a regular day, I will try to get up early, so I can do a strength and conditioning session before work. Then I’ll cycle to the office. Sometimes, if my schedule at work permits, I’ll go to the gym instead of lunch and eat quickly at my desk. Then, after work, it’s back to the mats again for another 2-3 hours of training. After that I cycle home, eat dinner and try to be in bed by 11:30. Weekends are similar except that I don’t have to go to the office.
It sounds like a lot. Do you think your lifestyle would be possible in any job?
No, certainly not! The fact that I can have an interesting job and still do this is one of the reasons why I’ve been with Bayes for seven years. I was open about my athletic pursuits when I interviewed and the company has been very supportive and understanding from the start. I don’t work full time, I can move meetings around and I even got special leave for the World Championships!
I try to pay it back by being 100% present when I’m in the office. I think if you look only at my output, you wouldn’t necessarily be able to say that I work fewer hours than others. I’ve also noticed that my productivity at work is closely related to my productivity in the gym - if I’m having an “off” week, everything shuts down and I become less effective in the office, too. Me preparing for a competition is good for business!
You are currently asking for support to cover competition costs. Shouldn’t the wrestling federation pay for your travel and accommodation?
Yes, in an ideal world, this would be the case. However, grappling is still a niche sport, even more so for women. We have to fight for every little bit of money that we receive. Most tournaments are pay-to-compete and then you have to travel there, too. I hope that this will change as grappling/BJJ becomes more popular and widespread. That is why having a good performance at Worlds is so important for the future of our sport.
What advice do you have for aspiring athletes?
Give it a shot, but don’t put all your eggs in one basket. I always wanted to be a professional fighter, but I also got a good education. So when I wasn’t able to make enough money with my sport, I was able to get my job at Bayes Esports. Yes, this way of life is harder than if I was to focus 100% on training, but it also means that I don’t have to worry about what will happen to me financially when I one day retire from competition.
You can support Darina and her teammates by making a donation here https://www.betterplace.me/get-emily-laila-and-darina-to-worlds
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