Abu Dhabi: Joao Rocha was tipped as one on the most promising jiu-jitsukas to come out of Brazil five years ago. By the age of 20, he was already a black-belt holder at the peak of his career and scaling dizzying heights on the mat. He had everything that a youngster would dream of, until one day a dreaded opponent — cancer — swept him off his feet.
It was during a bout that Rocha experienced tremendous pain in his body and within a week he was handed the life-changing news that he had testicular cancer.
“It was the same year (2013) that I first completed here at the Abu Dhabi World in the brown-belt category and made it to the semis. By September, I had a black belt and everything was going like a dream until I was diagnosed with cancer,” said Rocha after making through to the main draw of the Male Gi Adult Black Belt (110kg) at the Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship at the Mubadala Arena on Wednesday.
“After making it to the semis here, I went on to win the Rio Open and also was in the final of the World Championship in California and was given the black belt there,” he said. “But cancer treatment completely put me out of action for one year.”
The 26-year-old defeated compatriots Mauricio Lima in the quarter-finals (submission), Rodrigo Ribeiro in the semis (2-1 on advantage points after a 2-2 deadlock) and Matheus Felipe Da Silva Xavier (4-2) in the final of the Brazilian qualifiers to make it through to the main draw yesterday.
“I had four chemotherapy sessions and had lost all my hair,” he added. “It was a long journey to comeback where I’m today and I extremely happy to have made it to the main draw and, hopefully, I can go on and win a medal here.
Rocha also recalled that his energy levels had dropped considerably and he had to start from scratch.
“It was like picking up from where I started walking back through all the belts,” he said. “I had to be mentally strong and I slowly fought back. My family was always by my side and it is because of their support that I have comeback to where I was before.”
Rocha’s message to all those dealing with cancer and other illness is to stay positive as much as possible. “One should always remember that all testing times pass,” he said. “One just has to believe and support from your loved ones is important. Once you are mentally strong everything you can overcome. Now I take things day by day and live it to the fullest every day as if there is no tomorrow.”