Laura Rivera is a real life wonder woman that is making a difference in the lives of hundreds of kids in the inner city of New York. She is a mom, a wife, a life long martial artist and a true inspiration that needs your help…read on to see how you can help.
When did you start training in Jiu Jitsu and MMA and what led you to the martial arts? I started training at the age of 9 under Shuseki Shihan William Oliver in a Kyokushin style of Karate. I received my black belt when I was 18 years old right before I left to college. I would train on and off throughout my adulthood but really started getting into Mixed Martial Arts in 2013 when I was introduced to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I’ve been training ever since in MMA and Jiu Jitsu and love it! I am continuing my Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai training at East Coast United Bronx, under Coach Tito Hartz. My Husband and 10 year old son also train there. And I also train with Master Darryl Phipps with Evolve MMA NYC for Combat, Traditional, and Krav Maga training.
Please tell us about the Young Life in New York City organization? Young Life is a non-denominational youth program that focuses on mentoring kids throughout New York City. My program in the Upper West Side, which I sort of went away from the traditional Young Life model serves kids of all backgrounds especially kids from under-resourced communities. Many kids often feel misunderstood and neglected and are being raised in environments where hope for the future is sometimes limited. Our program strives to provide the best in quality and personal attention to the needs of Urban and at-risk youth in New York City.
- Martial Arts Program: Through our martial arts and yoga program. Martial arts and Yoga have proven to help kids with academics, behavioral improvements including decrease in violence and aggression; Emotional regulation by improving mood and decrease anxiety, and provide confidence and physical health.
- Girl Power! Girl Empowerment Martial Arts I create a place and forum for Middle School and High School girls to do what they do best, be females. All too often we are told we can’t do things or feel inferior because we are “girls”. Through Girl Power! we show them we can fight, be tough, break the glass ceiling and still look cute. We guide them through their journey of self and empowerment through Mixed Martial Arts and Girl Talks.
- Mentorship: Spending time kids and providing positive role models in their life
- Leadership Training: Helping kids with job training and becoming leaders of tomorrow.
- Hangout and Real Talk Group: a weekly event that includes games, singing, and talks, introducing kids to a positive community group and talking about real issues.
- Camp!: Summer Camp opportunities provide inner-city youth with an opportunity to get away from their urban confines
How has training affected your life in a physical, mental and spiritual way and what are you seeing in the girls you are teaching? Since I started training as a kid and throughout my adulthood, I have learned that martial arts is not about just fighting, but truly is a life journey. It has also taught me that the techniques I’ve learned can and also be applied to life. It’s taught me about mental balance, discipline, joy, hard work, triumphs, dealing with defeat, team work, friendships, and most of all learning to get up when you get knocked down. My goal and what I have seen with the girls that I meet with is to create a place and forum where girls get to do what they do best, be girls. All too often we are told we can’t do things, or we can never be as tough as boys, or we should aim to look like the next Kardashian, or feel inferior because we are “girls”;. Through Girl Power! Club we show the world we can fight, be tough, break the glass ceiling and just be who we are and not who the world expects us to be. We guide them through their journey of self and empowerment through Mixed Martial Arts and Group Girl Talks where we discuss real life. I am big on Mind Body Spirit Balance as I am also a yogi and feel that Martial Arts has taught me how to effectively target and balance all three.
Can you share a story where you were met with a serious challenge in life and you overcame it? Life has brought me many challenges. If there is one that comes to mind, it will be a recent challenge that occurred this July 3 rd . We had to say good-bye to our precious Labrador retriever, Hera. My heart was broken and my family was just devastated. She was part of our life for a little over 12 years. The challenging part was not dealing with saying good-bye to a family member, but still having to be my best self for my son, family, the kids in my youth program, and the people that I coach. Then I saw this quote from Bob Marley with a picture of a Lion looking up to the sky. It said “You never know how strong you are, until being strong is your only choice” This made me thing about a time when I was 17 years old and I was in Kumite fighting class. We had some really tough fight sparring nights. I was sparring with this really big guy, who did not take it easy on me. I got hit pretty hard with a hook which sent me flying and I experienced my first seeing birds over my head moment. My teacher came up to me, asked me if I was okay. I took a brief moment and said yes, he then said good, go wash your face off and get back and fight! He said, don’t let anyone, not even life, knock you down without getting back up to fight. I was reminded of this moment and I put on my Gi and went to train. My head was clearer and I while still a difficult time, I know that my family and I will be fine because we are all fighters.
Who do you look up to– -who are your heroes? I have two. One, is a real life hero and one that is a fictional hero. My real life hero is my mom. My mom had me when she was 16, but regardless of the hardships we had, she always made sure she created a life that was full of love and laughter. She took, what most might see as a bad situation, and made sure to utilize all the resources and programs available to ensure that her kids were successful in life. She also took her life experiences and instead of sulking and oppressing herself, she helped tremendously in the community as a mentor and advocate. She coached other teenage moms and was a director for a youth after school program for under-resourced kids in the South Bronx. She has been my inspiration and has taught me always work hard, give back to the community, always be a fighter and always reach for your goals.
My fictional hero is Wonder Woman. William Moutlon Marston created Wonder Woman as what he aimed to be a model of that era’s unconventional, liberated woman. Wonder Woman is a powerful, strong-willed character who does not back down from a fight or a challenge. Yet, she is an ambassador who strongly seeks peace first before a physical altercation. She’s all together both the most fierce and most nurturing member of the Justice League, and the only female surrounded by men. She can definitely hold her own. I feel there is a Wonder Woman in every female, but we all have different powers. As a mom of a 10 year old, wife, Martial artist, BJJ practitioner, and Life/Health and Fitness and Youth Coach, I am always embodying my inner Wonder Woman. Also, I know what if feels like to be one of the only females on the mats sparring and rolling with the fellas.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years? Where do you see the Young Life program? 5 years from now, I hope to have my Life / Fitness / Female Empowerment Coaching business Self Dynamics LLC in full effect. I hope to continue to grow with my family and be the best mom possible. I also hope that I will continue to train in MMA and Jiu Jitsu. I know most might think I’m crazy for saying this, but I would love to get in the ring and have 1 amateur fight. Yes, even at my old age (I am now 38) I am hoping to experience that as part of my bucket list. I also hope to compete in more BJJ competitions.
As for Young Life… I am currently in transition mode and have decided to take the tools and resources that Young Life has taught me and decided to venture out to create my own not-for profit program. I am naming it Youth and Community Dynamics (pending 504c3). This will enable me to really focus on the vision of Mind Body and Spirit Growth by focusing on community and family empowerment. I feel this will help me grow the vision, especially the Girl Power! Empowerment MMA program. I hope and pray between now and the next 5 years, I will not only be able to have this program in the Upper West Side, but throughout NYC and who knows, maybe nationally.. (Aiming high). I am currently in building phase and have created a fundraising page to make this dream for me, the girls, and youth in the community.
Here is the fundraising link
Please visit https://razo.io/JKCiBu to support Youth and Community Dynamics
Take us through a typical training week. How do you balance life, school. work, relationships and training etc. I don’t train as often as I would like, because of life responsibilities, but I do try to train 3-4 times a week. I normally do Gi Jiu Jitsu training 2 times a week and what I call Triple Threat Thursday at East Coast United Bronx which is Muay Thai, No Gi BJJ, and Ground and Pound full sparring MMA. I then try to train once a week. I train at Evolve MMA NYC for Combat, Traditional, and Krav Maga Training (continuation of my black belt training). When I am not training, I am usually taking my son to train at East Coast United Bronx (we sort of live there lol). I am able to wear many hats of Mom, wife, entrepreneur, Youth mentor, Life/Fitness Coach, and Consultant by prioritizing my calendar, knowing when to say no, and most of all taking care of myself first so I can be the best for others. I am always in prayer/mediation. I wake up early to do Yoga and get my 30 minutes of strength training workouts, and just make sure I focus on total mind, body, spirit balance. Everything just falls into place when you are balanced and take time to breathe. Life is too short to focus your life on stress and chasing jobs. I make sure my family always comes first.
Music: Hip Hop, Electronic, Pop, Regeton, Salsa, Country, Christian Popular, Metal (I like it all)
Movie: I have so many favs (Goonies, Xmen (series), Avengers, Karate Kid)
Book: The Bible and The DaVinci Code
Submission: Ezekiel Choke
Tell us how you found out about Fight Chix and what you think of the brand or your favorite item on the site. I found Fight Chix via Instagram. We shared some of the same followers and people we follow. This led me to look at the Fight Chix site and I was in awe!. I love the mission, what Fight Chix stands for and the awesome gear! I have a couple of favorite items. I love the Belt ranked spats (The white belt one is awesome, usually we are forgotten lol) and the Spiritual Warrior Pullovers. I always say that I am a spiritual warrior. It actually is my gamer name tag. And of course, your Wonder Woman gear.