He’s won medals in cycling and swimming at the national and international level. Now he’s added another right here at home – in martial arts.
Two-time heart transplant recipient Robbie Thompson won a silver medal in his first MMA competition, the West Coast Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Championships, on June 7 in Campbell River.
Thompson was one of seven competitors from Peter Song’s Comox Valley Pure Martial Arts (Team Goblins) in Courtenay, and one of five to return home with medals.
It was the first time the tournament was held, and it was submission only, making for dramatic finishes to the matches of the 100 or so competitors.
Thompson’s match was among those. There were no other competitors in his 126-pound weight and age group, so he had to be bumped up to the adult level.
“It was a case of bad luck. I didn’t do exceptionally well, BJJ-wise,” Thompson said.
But his instructor didn’t share that view.
“That’s what he says,” said Song. “(His opponent) has been training for a long time and he’s very good for his age especially. He’s probably two or three weight levels up from Robbie.
“It was a four-minute match and Robbie was going against him for at least three minutes.”
In the end, his opponent was too much for Thompson to handle.
“In BJJ, when somebody chokes you, normally, even normal people they tap (give up). But Robbie was fighting right to the end. It made him pass out. But he was still fighting back to escape,” said Song.
A skilled Brazilian jiu jitsu competitor can atone for weight discrepancies, but generally speaking, a bigger and more experienced opponent leads to a predictable result. Adding Thompson’s medical history to the mix makes for a unique storyline.
“That’s what made everyone so impressed,” said Song. “Most of the people at the competition, especially the referees and some of the guys, knew Robbie’s condition. When we were watching the fight – Robbie didn’t realize because he was passed out – everyone was saying ‘Yay!’ It really brought out the fighter in him,” Song said.
With a collection of medals from the Canadian and also International Transplant Games already to his credit, the 17-year-old Thompson said he took up BJJ because, “I wanted to learn a martial art that would be really good for defending myself. Not quite as much for the fitness, but that’s a nice bonus.”
In fact, after seven months of BJJ, the fitness is quite a bonus.
“I go to Children’s Hospital every six months to a year just to make sure everything with my heart is still working right,” Thompson said.
“The last appointment, I had an exercise test and they said I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been in my whole life at the moment, physically.”
Thompson said his doctors had no problem with him taking up BJJ, and Song has taken a cautious approach with his training.
“With his conditions, there’s certain ways his physical abilities are not up to the level where it should be. Like flexibilities or how you can extend your legs and arms … some ways that his body parts don’t allow him to move like that,” Song said.
“Even under that, he was basically keeping up with all the exercises. We really watch carefully and any time he gets tired or out of breath we make sure he gets plenty of rest before he continues on. He himself watches his own conditions. As time goes on he’s getting better cardio and strength. He’s starting to really keep up with even normal guys.”
Thompson’s dedication to BJJ impresses Song.
“I’m usually there four or five days a week,” says Thompson.
“And he takes two classes a day. He’s doing more than normal people do,” Song said.
Along with BJJ, Thompson does fitness kickboxing and cross-fit circuit training.
“There’s a very positive atmosphere at the gym,” says Thompson. “They’re very supportive.”
While he had to pass on attending the International Transplant Games in Argentina this year, Thompson plans on being in Toronto for next year’s Canadian games.
Along with a wide range of sports, Thompson is a well-rounded student at Navigate powered by NIDES (where he will graduate next year).
“I also do extracurricular stuff at Vanier. Last school year I did a foods course, psychology, military history and dance,” he said.
Team Goblins is located at 204-1995 Cliffe Ave. across from the Airpark and open 5:30-10:30 p.m. For more information, call 250-895-1824.