Everyone has memories of what got them started on their jiu-jitsu journey, and the reasons are often as diverse as the people who make up this great discipline. Many are bullied at school, a lot want to lose weight, and some just like the incredibly bright spandex rash guards. But if you’re mild-mannered blue belt Michael LeMond, it’s because cancer is trying its very best to kill you.
The Texas lawyer was getting a physical on suggestion from his wife a few days before Thanksgiving in 2016 when his doctor discovered a cancerous lump on his testicle. Days later invasive surgery hoped to help eliminate the illness, but further examination revealed that his prostate was also cancerous months later. During the radiation treatments LeMond, 47, suffered fluctuations in his weight unrelated to diet. “Weight loss is actually something they told us to watch out for. They look for it when screening for cancer,” LeMond said.
This time was incredibly difficult for LeMond and his family. To this day his body is still healing from the radiation treatments and constantly bleeding as a result. Having known about his past high school wrestling experience, a fellow lawyer suggested jiu-jitsu as a way to feel better during treatment. “He said, ‘Hey, you’re like me, you’re a-type and you like to win. Let me give you something you won’t win right away.’ And I got my butt kicked!” LeMond said. Deciding to take a chance, LeMond stepped tentatively into United Martial Arts in Lubbock Texas in February 2017.
Despite being weak from treatment, the lovely folks at United understood LeMond’s limitations and worked with him to overcome them. “They didn’t treat me like I was going to die,” LeMond said, “They treated me like anybody else. Sometimes I’d have to sit and puke, but they had me right back up when I was able.” A former lawyer himself, Professor Douglas Bueno also understood when a sudden urgent phone call would take LeMond off the mat and supported his efforts to balance his work and jiu-jitsu. Like most of us, the obsession soon followed.
The mat time LeMond has put up in the short year and seven months of training is frankly astronomical. Averaging eight practices between Monday-Friday/Saturday, LeMond has attended over 500 two hour practices and competed in five competitions at middleweight and one at medium-heavy. He’s had two shoulder surgeries, two broken ribs, and had his cauliflower ear drained twice. LeMond states that there is a significant difference in how he views the pain of his condition and his hobby. “There’s a helplessness with cancer pain because there’s nothing you can do. Jiu-Jitsu pain was something I had a choice over. Feeling pain from getting thrown or choked is my choice. It was a very empowering thing.”
When laid out from sickness or work commitments, online recourses played a big role in keeping LeMond invested. “On the days I couldn’t come into practice, I could go online. I could read articles on Jiu-Jitsu Times, I could watch a video, I could find some way to connect myself with the sport and get out of my current situation,” LeMond said.
Days after becoming an IBJJF Worlds Novice Champion at white belt in Las Vegas, Professor Bueno awarded LeMond his blue belt in an emotional ceremony for the student. Moved to tears, LeMond decided to share a brief summary of his story up to that point on the r/bjj subreddit. The post has since garnered over a thousand upvotes and over 200 comments from people in similar situations thanking LeMond for the positive encouragement. It became a focal point for people to come together and tell their stories, and I was absolutely humbled by all the things I read,” LeMond said.
Looking back at the ups and downs of his diagnosis, LeMond is remarkably grateful for how his life has gone. “If it wasn’t for cancer, I would not have walked into to jiu-jitsu. If it weren’t for cancer, I’d be 50 pounds heavier and sitting at home. There’s no way I would have gotten promoted and posted on the subreddit and touched other people like myself. How much of a help each other world is that? The same people who helped get me to where I am, I get to help through their obstacles. I’m kind of in shock. I never started this thinking this was how it was going to go, but I’m incredibly grateful and humbled,” LeMond said.
LeMond plans to compete at the Dallas Fall Classic on September 29 as a blue belt.
Information on cancer screenings for men and women can be found here.