Fight to protect
THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - August 5, 2019 - 12:00am

World jiu-jitsu champion Meggie Ochoa has been fighting the odds all her adult life. Even when she was already a track athlete in high school and a judoka college, the driven, diminutive pioneer wanted to do more, be more. She wanted to be a mixed martial artist, but she was too small to have any spar with, let alone fight. Her options seemed limited.

“I couldn’t find opponents because I didn’t really have a weight class and ‘cause I’m too small,” she explains. “I really like the fact that even if you’re small you can still win over your opponent ‘cause judo and jiu-jitsu are actually kind of similar ‘cause they have the same roots.”

Unfortunately, because there was still no national federation for the sport in 2014, there was no way Meggie could get funding or sponsorship, unless she did it herself. And because she wasn’t a national team member, she could only join club tournaments. Through crowdsourcing, she raised money to join her first international competition, the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) world championship. She was still just a white belt.

“I give it all out there, not just me but everybody else that was part of it,” Ochoa declares. “So I guess the lesson there is in doing something and preparing for something and committing to something, you really just have to give everything that you have.”

In 2016, the Philippine Jiu-Jitsu Federation was founded. Meggie could now officially represent the country in jiu-jitsu. But her ascent also coincided with a deep, inner search for meaning.

“I had a question of purpose in my head,” recalls Ochoa, then a blue belt. “I was like, why am I winning? Why are people even giving money to get me here? It’s like, other people using up their funds to pursue my goals, my dreams. And then the month of November the same year, 2015, I came across the article. It was about this girl from Mexico. Her name is Carla Jacinto. And from the age of 12 to 16 years old.

She was actually raped 43,200 times. When I read that article, it was because she was actually recruited for child prostitution at the time, and she came from a poor community in Mexico.

And when I found out about that, I really couldn’t sleep for several nights I started researching more about this issue, and I found out how bad this issue was in the Philippines, especially online.

It’s not just the physical child prostitution anymore. It’s evolved into online sexual exploitation of children, and even sexual abuse based in the homes Rates are really, really terrifying.”

After a spiritual awakening, Meggie met a family that trained in one of her classes that happened to run Philippines Without Orphans (PWO), which helps Filipino children find safe, suitable homes to have a normal life. She spearheaded Fight To Protect, teaching self-defense to sexually abused children.

“The main charter is for her to create awareness about sexual abuse,” explains Robby de Luzuriaga, head of PWO. “And the reason for that is because the ratio of one girl that is abused for every four or five girls. It’s a very high quantity. It’s in the millions.”

The program sought to find ways to reintegrate these girls into society by getting them comfortable being around males again, and raising their self-esteem as well as their confidence in being able to defend themselves.

“We worked with a children’s home to see in a local context how sports and martial arts in particular affect orphan children,” De Luzuriaga adds. “And we picked a number of children that were not just orphans. Some of them were abused, were tortured, molested.”

After a long process of patiently coaxing the traumatized girls out of their shells, the work began in earnest. The girls’ transformation was remarkable.

“And it reached a point where several of our girls have won medals already, up to the Pan Asian level,” Robby says. “So imagine that di ba from abused they’re now at that point.”

The fulfillment of helping others helped propel Meggie to the 2018 Ju-Jitsu International Federation World Championship in Malmö, Sweden, where she dominated the 49-kilogram class to become the first Filipino athlete to win a world championship in the sport. Her pursuit of excellence and service continues to not only beat the odds and inspire, but likewise uplift the lives of women everywhere.

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