On paper, Elisabeth Clay isn’t the type of athlete you’d expect to qualify for ADCC. She was just sixteen years old when she won the West Coast Trials. She didn’t come from California or New York or any other jiu-jitsu hotspot — she had to travel all the way down from Alaska to compete. And forget all the brown and black belts vying for a spot at the prestigious tournament in Finland — Clay proved that blue ain’t nothing but a color when she earned her right to compete at the end of September.
Clay is no fool; she understands that just as she wasn’t expected to win Trials, she’s definitely got the odds stacked against her as ADCC fast approaches. Rather than letting it get her down, though, she’s embracing it. “I love being the underdog,” she says. “I always have.”
Is it just me or do I look waaaaayyyy too happy to have gotten this?! #legacyjiujitsu #thefamilywechoose #dreamchasers…
Of course, it helps that this badass blonde is anything but your average teenager. Not many people her age are willing to go through the constant work and stress it takes to achieve such big things in any sport before they even hit seventeen. But that work is exactly what was needed not only to win Trials earlier this year, but also a superfight against Kayla DeLeon at the Onnit 4 and the title of IBJJF Blue Belt World Champion, and Clay was well aware of that when she set her sights on success.
No one gets this far alone, though, and Clay is no exception. Although her hometown of Anchorage, Alaska, isn’t exactly famous for churning out jiu-jitsu superstars, she’s found a second family and an ideal training environment at Legacy BJJ (which is an affiliate of Osvaldo “Queixinho” and Samir Chantre’s association, Ares BJJ). “Where I’m training it’s super chill, and yet when we need to go hard AF and grind, we can… I think that’s super important to have both,” she says.
Just as Clay’s jiu-jitsu family has helped her grapple her way up the ladder to her dreams, the family she claims by blood has also been crucial to her emergence as a standout athlete. Clay specifically names her mom as one of the biggest influencers in her jiu-jitsu career. “She’s always been super supportive of whatever I wanted, and not just supportive, but willing to sacrifice for what I wanted or needed to get whatever I want.”
Clay may be an accomplished and driven athlete on her own, but all that support is going to be crucial if she wants to win gold at ADCC this year. Her eight-woman bracket consists of not only the other three qualifiers, but also Mackenzie Dern, Beatriz Mesquita, Tammi Musumeci, and Michelle Nicolini. It’s that last name that sparks a particular fire within Clay. “It’s always been a want of mine to compete against her. You know the thing: ‘train until your idols become your rivals,’ and this is definitely just that. I don’t really have any idols in jits, but she is definitely mine.”
ADCC will be here and gone in what will seem like the blink of an eye, especially for this driven competitor. Regardless of if or where she ends up on the podium, though, her return to Anchorage is going to mark the return of her version of “normal.” Clay plans to “just keep training and grinding away,” and rather than setting concrete plans for her future, she’s viewing her current accomplishments as a lesson in working hard and keeping an open mind. “You know, going to ADCC this soon has really upped what I thought my ‘timeline’ was for BJJ, so I’m just gonna keep training hard and competing and we’ll see what comes.”
If her track record is any indication, “what comes” is bound to be something pretty awesome.