SAN ANTONIO — Fabiana Borges grew up in the slums of Brazil, and fighting on the mat was a way of survival.
“There were shootings between drug traffickers, and sometimes we would hide ourselves a little bit,” she recalled.
At 11 years old, her dad took her to her first jiu-jitsu class. She was a little girl with big dreams of becoming a veterinarian.
“It was the only sport I did. I tried soccer and volleyball. I didn't fit in,” she said. “But when I found Jiu-jitsu, I wanted to do it every day.”
At 16, Borges had her first gold medal. At 17, she was teaching and today, Borges is a six-time Brazilian national champion and a silver medalist in the 2010 World Jiu-Jitsu Championship.
“Jiu-jitsu makes me feel proud and it helped me to see that I could be more than the slums of Brazil,” she said. “It’s very empowering to know what your body can do – to know what you're capable. The mat is my therapy."
Her success did not come without obstacles - on and off the mat.
"When I thought about opening the gym, somebody told me I needed a male figure at the gym to be successful,” she said.
She proved them wrong:
"At the beginning there was fear. But once they started to learn, I saw that I didn't have to have a male here,” she said. “I believe everybody can learn, I believe everyone can get something from jiu-jitsu."
Ten years ago, Borges immigrated here – alone – with $400. Now she speaks English fluently and earlier this year became an American citizen.
“Today, I am very happy to be where I am,” she said. “Sometimes we put limitations on ourselves. We depend on others. I feel like we as woman we can do all.”
Borges says jiu-jitsu is not about being violent. It’s an art and a skill, and these days she's teaching those skills to tough men twice her weight and height right here in San Antonio.
“As a coach, I am tough. They have to train, they have to work hard,” she said. “I love when someone comes in all tough and they learn to be technical without losing toughness. I show them that they can be both.”
These days, she reflects on her journey to the U.S. and says – have faith in life - it might surprise you.
“My dream as a kid was to be a doctor, to wear a white uniform. It came true,” she said. “I wear my white uniform. Jiu-jitsu is about helping others; it's giving back. I think I became a doctor in jiu-jitsu.”