Gypsum’s 16-year-old jiu-jitsu champion heads for world competition
By Melanie Wong
Photos by Cody Downard
Lauren Magdaleno is looking for a fight.
It’s Thursday evening at Inyodo Martial Arts studio in Eagle, and 16-year-old Lauren is furiously tussling on the mats with the handful of other men in the room – and quite often, getting the upper hand.
It’s jiu-jitsu practice at Inyodo and these men are Lauren’s regular training partners – most of them have a good five inches on her and quite a few pounds as well, but the amazing thing is, they’re well matched. As the fighters grapple, wrestle and occasionally flip each other over with a dull thud, it’s apparent that the petite, pony-tailed sophomore from Eagle Valley High School is quite in her element.
Then again, Brazilian jiu-jitsu – a form of martial arts that emphasizes getting an opponent to the ground in order to use wrestling-type techniques, joint locks and choke holds to force an opponent into submission – is all about using technique and positioning to give a smaller fighter an advantage over a bigger, stronger opponent.
Lauren has been training in jiu-jitsu since she was 8 years old, usually fighting her father, who taught her the sport, and other men who train at the studio. There aren’t too many female peers for her to train with, and consequently most of her experience has been against much bigger and stronger opponents.
All that training will be coming to a head for Lauren at the end of the month as she heads to Long Beach, Calif., to compete at the World Jiu-Jitsu Championships. Lauren will compete in the featherweight girl’s division against the best in the world, and her goal is to win.
The aspiration isn’t farfetched, especially in light of Lauren’s recent win last month at the Pan-American championships, where she came out on top among her peers. The win is her most memorable, she says. During her rounds, only black-belts were allowed in the coaching area, meaning her father and coach, Isaac Magdaleno, had to stand with the audience while her opponent’s coaches were a few feet away.
“It was kind of intimidating at first, with my opponents having their coaches there,” she says. “It’s nice to have someone there who when you get stuck.”
Still, Lauren showed she didn’t need a coach mat-side, beating her first opponent in a lightning-fast 51 seconds, and then finishing off her last opponent with the same move.
“It’s the biggest tournament I’ve been in so far,” she says. “Having the Pan-Ams under your belt is a huge accomplishment. I was really proud to be there.”
At the world championships, from May 31 to June 1, she’ll go up against girls from around the world, including Brazil and Japan, where the sport has its roots. Meanwhile, she’s been working hard toward that goal, training at the martial arts studio two nights a week, doing CrossFit workouts before school three times a week and competing in Denver-tournaments in the women’s divisions on weekends.
This has been a breakout year for Lauren. Besides her recent victories, she turned 16, allowing her to compete in the highest caliber of tournaments. That also means she’ll now be eligible to earn a blue belt. Eventually, she says she’d love to earn a black belt, one of the highest rankings in the sport and an accomplishment that takes most people 10 to 15 years.
According to Bobby Hermosillo, the head Brazilian jiu-jitsu instructor at Inyodo, Lauren’s strength is in her technical ability, flexibility and speed.
“Jiu-jitsu is designed so the smaller guy is able to have the upper hand on the bigger opponent,” Hermosillo says. “Lauren is the epitome of that.”
A family affair
For the Magdalenos, jiu-jitsu is a bit of a family affair. Isaac Magadaleno, who practices the sport himself, coaches Lauren with the help of Hermosillo. Lauren’s younger siblings do jiu-jitsu and kickboxing as well, and her stepmother has a jiu-jitsu world title of her own.
Lauren says her father, whom she calls her “coach and motivator,” got her started on the sport, but she was hooked on competition almost immediately. She admits that her sport is a bit unconventional, especially for a teenaged girl, but that’s part of what draws her to jiu-jitsu.
“It was always something so different for me and I always enjoyed it. It’s very different from other martial arts. When I got competitive, I actually figured I have a talent for it – I love winning,” Lauren says matter-of-factly. “My friends are really stoked that I’m winning. They always say they want to come watch my next tournament. When I tell new people about it, they are very shocked at how this 5-foot-2 girl can probably whup up on you.”
Aside from her martial arts accomplishments, Lauren says she’s also made school a priority. She’s a straight-A student, and also is one her school’s track and volleyball teams.
At the Inyodo studio, Hermosillo works through a variety of techniques with Lauren, and she picks up his instruction quickly. He describes Lauren as a “guard fighter,” someone who fights well on their back. He has also given her a “top game,” he says, allowing her to fight well from on top.
“She’s really talented – more than she realizes,” Hermosillo says. “She’ll get frustrated, but she doesn’t realize she’s up against guys who are 40 or 50 pounds heavier than she is. She’s really coming into her own.”