Saved by Jiu Jitsu – A Love Letter to Team Link

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  • Jeileen and Gary Alvarez look at their students on an iPad while preparing to start their adult Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class on Zoom, Tuesday at Northampton Team Link. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jeileen and Gary Alvarez lead their students during an adult Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class on Zoom, Tuesday, June 9, 2020 at Northampton Team Link. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jeileen and Gary Alvarez lead their students during an adult Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class on Zoom, Tuesday, June 9, 2020 at Northampton Team Link. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Gary Alvarez leads his students during an adult Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class on Zoom, Tuesday, June 9, 2020 at Northampton Team Link. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jeileen and Gary Alvarez demonstrate a move for their students during an adult Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class on Zoom, Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jeileen and Gary Alvarez lead their students during an adult Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class on Zoom, Tuesday, June 9, 2020 at Northampton Team Link. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jeileen and Gary Alvarez look at their students on an iPad while preparing to start their adult Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class on Zoom, Tuesday, June 9, 2020 at Northampton Team Link. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jeileen and Gary Alvarez lead their students during an adult Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class on Zoom, Tuesday, June 9, 2020 at Northampton Team Link. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Notes left by students decorate the window of Northampton Team Link. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jeileen and Gary Alvarez lead their students during an adult Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class on Zoom, Tuesday, June 9, 2020 at Northampton Team Link. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jeileen and Gary Alvarez look at their students on an iPad while preparing to start their adult Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class on Zoom, Tuesday, at Northampton Team Link. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Published: 6/11/2020 2:55:25 PM
Modified: 6/11/2020 2:55:12 PM

It’s been three months since I’ve hugged my mom, three months since my 10-year-old went to school, and three months since I was in the Northampton Team Link gym training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, getting ready for the (now canceled) New York Spring Open with a crazy plan to go to Worlds this summer.

I’m the least likely person to join a grappling sport. I’m 40, a woman, and prior to this my biggest physical activity was gardening.

Last year, a month before turning 39, I walked into the Team Link gym on Damon Road and never looked back. Jiu Jitsu, for folks who don’t know, is a martial art that is free of striking and focuses on grappling and elements of Judo. It’s also surprisingly strategic, but with a lot more strangling than chess. It takes a lot of trust in a grappling partner and a great deal of kindness from those partners for people like me who are just starting out. More than that, it takes a great cohort of coaches to create a space that is so safe, and kind, and absolutely fierce.

Thanks to the Team Link coaches Gary (Alvarez), Jeileen (Alvarez), and Tom (Gomes), all the members of our gym have been able to keep training, working out, and seeing each other (remotely of course).

Every week, Gary and Jeileen provide six live-streamed Jiu Jitsu and MMA Cardio classes, and two kids classes. Last month they had bi-weekly classes after sundown for a teammate who’s observing Ramadan. Another teammate is leading a weekly yoga class. I’m taking them all. It’s desperation, sure, but it’s also working.

In addition to all of the live classes, the three coaches have been working hard to create practice videos with new techniques, recorded cardio workouts, and even workouts wherein we get to challenge our teammates for a prize. There’s a 45-minute non-stop workout challenge coming and I can’t wait. You can’t win them all, Fred!

Our coaches check in on us. They text us. They message us on Facebook. They send silly photos of their dogs to teammates they know are living alone. Even though they’re working other jobs, they’re putting in hours and hours every week to help us stay together as a team.

Before Jiu Jitsu I didn’t really understand the bond a team could have. Working as an English instructor for a lot of football and soccer players at WNEU I had some idea; it’s all they could talk about, but the idea of my having that sort of bond with people outside of my immediate family didn’t seem possible.

Like many other people, I lost my job because of the pandemic. No one wants to send their kids to a creative writing camp right now, and colleges are struggling to figure out what the fall semester will look like and how many students they’ll even have. Teaching has been a core part of my identity, and working to help young people become better writers is one of my greatest joys. That is gone. And the loss, especially with a suddenly expansive amount of free time, has hit me pretty hard.

I haven’t asked my teammates if they’re still working, and with one exception haven’t told them that I’m not. I guess it’s out of the bag now. But whether they know it or not, my teammates – and particularly my coaches – are helping me get through an online class at a time (and maybe even keeping my family safe from surprise Kimuras).

Our gym closed before the state required it, as a precaution to make sure we would be as safe as possible. In the pre-pandemic world, I spent about 12 hours a week at the gym. It doesn’t take all that many hours of burpees before you start to kind of like the person doing them next to you. It takes even less time when you’re grappling.

The Team Link gym is particularly welcoming. Respect is very important for the head instructor and third-degree black belt, Marco Alvan, who is primarily at the main gym in Ludlow. In the gym we all feel like family.

I love my teammates. I love my coaches. And getting to see them during online classes is keeping me sane and (mostly) happy.

Right now, if you’re driving down Damon Road and you look over at the Team Link gym as you pass, you’ll see that the windows are covered with signs and pictures. It’s a lot of inside jokes and bravado, but under that is love and appreciation. My teammates, grateful for the 6 p.m. cardio class on Monday, and the 6 a.m. HIT class on Wednesday, seeing how much time and effort and care our coaches are putting in, needed to let Gary, Jeileen and Tom know that we see how hard they’re working for us. There’s no hugging, so the team tried a more visual approach.

We can’t wait to get back into the gym, however that looks. It might be 6-feet apart with grappling dummies. We might only get to go every other day, maybe with only a few teammates at a time. But however long it takes, whatever it will look like, we’ll be there.

And if you’ve ever thought that competitive hugging might be for you, now is a great time to start. The people are spectacular and the coaches are better. Plus, you might whittle down a little of that less-than-svelt pandemic spread.




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