Cerebral Palsy refers to a group of neurological disorders that appear in infancy or early childhood and permanently affect body movement and muscle coordination. You would think that because of these limitations, people with this condition would be unable to participate in most sporting activities, especially combat sports. Perhaps this is true in most cases, but not for 23 year-old Iran Romão da Silva – Jiu Jitsu athlete at Fight for Peace, in Rio de Janeiro.

According to his family, Iran’s birth took a lot longer than usual and he suffered from a severe lack of oxygen during the initial moments of his life. At times, it was feared that Iran would not survive but he fought for his right to live in this world, and he continues to live with that fighting spirit today.

Iran is an active member of the Fight for Peace Jiu-Jitsu team, and has been for the past three years. With the complex physical maneuvers in Jiu-Jitsu, one would think it impossible for someone with cerebral palsy to participate in such a high contact sport, let alone find success in it, but Iran proved both notions wrong on the 19th of October when he won the “Copa Zona Norte” – a regional Jiu-Jitsu tournament:

Photo: Nick Wong

“The fight began with us on our feet but I kept to the ground, and ended up winning by submission – it was great experience”, he commemorates.

Discipline, education, and personal defense are some of the things Iran enjoys learning in training with the team. He says the experience has opened doors of opportunity for him, now that he has less to fear in life. Instructor Deywson Gourdo de Souza Bernardo, who runs the Jiu Jitsu classes at the Baixa do Sapoteiro satellite academy, wasn’t surprised to hear Iran speak of “discipline”:

“He is more disciplined than other people. Others use tons of excuses not to train: they say that they´re tired, they need to work… But with Iran, he shows up whether it’s raining, if it´s cold or hot, he just shows up, and for me as a teacher that is very gratifying”, Bernardo says.

Those who see Iran at the Academy can sense the playful atmosphere. There is a giant grin on his face and he has the ability to transmit that joy the moment he shakes hands with another person. Soon the whole gym is filled with laughter and smiles.

“I like Jiu-Jitsu because I got to know more people. I have a lot of friends here”, Iran explains.

Photo: Nick Wong

But unfortunately that wasn’t always the case as growing up can be hard for someone like Iran. Purple belt Bruno Galdino da Silva first introduced Iran to the sport. He tells the story of his chance encounter with Iran and how the young fighter was treated in the past, before he started Jiu Jitsu:

“I knew him from the Bahia school and, when I saw him playing football one day, I could see he really wanted to practice a sport. I saw that with football, he didn’t have a lot of agility. He was having problems playing the positions,” Bruno recalls.

But a lack of agility wasn’t the only obstacle that Iran encountered. Many of the obstacles he faced growing up were social ones, as sometimes kids can be cruel to those who are “different”.

“Generally, the preconceptions from society are about race and colour, the strong and the weak, and gender. I thought with his condition, he wouldn’t be targeted. I thought people would treat him well, but that wasn´t the case. Once, I watched a football match and a guy threw the ball at him really hard. In his condition, he can’t be hit hard like that. He could have broken a bone; he could have been really hurt. I told Iran to stop playing the sport, that people were going to pick on him, and he accepted this. But he’s always wanted to be amongst people, you know? To be treated normally”, says Bruno, emotional from retelling the story.

Photo: Nick Wong

So Bruno invited him to train Jiu-Jitsu and Iran hasn’t stopped ever since. Inside the gym, he finally found that sought after sense of normality.

During the interview, before the class, the chattering quickly dissolves from the room and Iran is subject to the same rules as the rest of the team. He doesn’t fall behind on the warm-up exercises. He performs the tumble rolls and catechistic warm ups with perfect execution.

When asked how people treat Iran today, Bruno smiles proudly in reflection of how far the young athlete has come:

“The whole world respects him, now more than ever because he’s doing a fighting sport, but also because of what he is doing with his condition and the problems he has overcome on the tatami mat. Now he doesn’t need anyone to hold his hand to walk down the street. Now he walks on his own.”

Blog Author: Nick Wong