Exclusive: The True Story Behind Why 65 Year Old Betty Broadhurst Started Jiu Jitsu
A picture of a clearly emotional Betty Broadhurst spread throughout the internet after she was presented with a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) at the age of 65.
She had just competed in the 2021 World Master IBJJF, winning gold in her category, when her Professor Diego Bispo surprised her on the podium.
“I didn't know I was getting it. So that's why it could not have been more perfect, like a perfect storm, all the stars lined up perfectly. You know, I had a person my age, I won the match. I won by submission. I got the gold metal. And I got my black belt at a world championship. I'm so grateful, I still kind of pinch myself.”
Many people have seen this monumental moment in Broadhurst's life, however not many know the reason she started jiu jitsu 11 years ago as a woman in her mid 50s.
The truth is for 18 months Broadhurst was stalked and threatened by an angry individual.
Broadhurst had never experienced anything like this in her life. She clarifies that she had a good life with a solid career as a pharmacist. She has great kids, and although divorced, remains friends with her ex-husband.
The person that terrorized her was not related to her family life. He didn’t obey restraining orders, and would show up at her house on multiple occasions. At one point, he framed her for stealing a neighbour's dog, and even hired someone to run her off the road while she was driving.
“That is when I knew I had to do something to take care of myself. So I started seeking out self-defence, looking for courses, deciding whether to get a gun, that sort of thing. And I'm telling you being stalked by someone for that length of time and seeing them not follow the law, it makes you almost lose all your self-confidence. And I had always been a very confident person. But I lost confidence and became fearful of going out. I thought, I cannot live like this.”
Broadhurst heard that BJJ was a good martial art for smaller people, women in particular, and is used to help prevent bullying. After a quick introductory class, she began training one on one with a BJJ Professor. Each week this professor would bring in a different person for Broadhurst to practice with. This helped ease her into group classes.
What started as a way of seeking self-defence skills changed her life forever.
“I started noticing how people would praise each other. They would lift each other up. And once I joined the group, I felt community. We were all doing combative moves, but we were all safe. We were all taking care of each other in a safe way so that we could practice. No one was trying to hurt each other. So from then on I started to get a little bit better, and my confidence was building. And then I decided that it would be pretty cool to compete.”
Broadhurst started competing within two years of starting BJJ. With very few people in general, let alone women practicing at her age in the world, she joined in competition paired up by belt class. She remembers her first competitive opponent was around 18 years old. Both of them white belts.
“She grabs the back of both my legs. I remember being lifted up and I landed about six feet across the mat. And then she ended up on top of me. Then I wrapped my legs around her. I had her in closed guard and I was actually reacting to what she did. And I was reacting the proper way, even though I didn't win the match. I responded the right way as if I was in real combat.”
After this experience Broadhurst was hooked and started to take her role very seriously as a BJJ ambassador.
“The minute I hit that mat, it was like an adrenaline rush. It was like something I had never felt before. It was the best feeling."
Although over the last five years the number of women in the sport has grown dramatically, there still aren't enough to fill every age category, belt class, and weight class. Broadhurst is passionate about giving as many women as possible the opportunity to compete, so she takes part in as many competitions as possible.
In the past she has lost 15 pounds to enter a lower weight class and has even competed against someone 100 pounds heavier than her. The 2021 World Master IBJJF was the first time she competed against someone her own age.
She also started a non-for-profit company called Roll Forever, which supports the North Carolina BJJ community by bringing in world class competitors to do workshops, organize competitions and give locals more opportunity to compete by sponsoring athletes.
The word 'roll' is slang for sparring in BJJ, and Broadhurst has made it clear that she is never going to stop rolling and practicing the sport that has brought her out of the darkest time in her life.
“I think when I found Jiu Jitsu, it was like that lifeline. It pulled me into a protective community. It gave me tools to defend myself and to help my self confidence and things started getting brighter. I started feeling better about myself and braver and sure enough things worked out. That dark piece of my life is gone and ended, but it brought me into jujitsu and into this wonderful chapter of my life.”
Now that she has her black belt, Broadhurst is also allowed to teach classes herself and is excited to help older people practice BJJ in adjusted ways for their bodies.