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HONORING COACH LEROI RODRIGUEZ

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Jul 18, 2019 • Level Ground Mixed Martial Arts

We are heartbroken to write of the recent passing of our beloved mentor, teacher, and friend, LeRoi Rodriguez. Words cannot do justice to the impact that he made in the lives of myself, Hudson, and countless youth and adults at Level Ground Mixed Martial Arts. I write this on our 6th anniversary (to the day), and do so through tears of sadness and gratitude as we would not have made it this far without LeRoi.

LeRoi was an ardent supporter of Level Ground since it’s infancy in 2013. While still just a small program at Egleston Square YMCA serving a handful for youth, LeRoi believed that we could accomplish great things. He had the unique ability to see the beauty and potential that neither Hudson or I, nor our students, could see in ourselves. He believed in us and our youth when others did not. Where most saw a couple twenty-something, clueless idealists, LeRoi saw future change-makers. Where most saw troublemakers, LeRoi saw future leaders. And his belief emboldened us to believe those attributes of ourselves. Writes Jean Vanier, “love is to reveal the beauty of another person to themselves.” LeRoi loved us and our students in this manner, and for that we are forever indebted to this great man.

LeRoi tangibly showed us love by generously providing our first proper training mats at the YMCA. Students previously trained on mats that we painstakingly duct-taped together before every practice, having little money or resources. While renovating our current gym, LeRoi personally outfitted our entire 2000 square-foot mat space with state-of-the-art mats and equipment. He served as an active martial arts coach and mentor to our students, teaching 4 classes per week, never accepting a penny in return. But beyond the stuff he gave us and the resources he brought to us, the most transformative gifts were simply his patient, gentle, firm, and encouraging presence, and the lessons of leadership and character that he taught us.

LeRoi demanded excellence and the highest degree of work ethic of his students, but hardly ever verbalized his expectations. Instead, he simply modeled what it was to be exceptional, motivating us to follow suit. In his presence, we all eagerly sought to refine the angle of our stance; to ceaselessly drill our footwork; to seamlessly weave and pivot out and set up our cross with perfect timing. Where most teens may tire after practicing the same movements again and again and again, LeRoi’s students enthusiastically practiced and perfected. They were motivated because they could see in LeRoi a master martial artist and gentle warrior, and wanted to be like him – exceptional.

He carried over these lessons to their application off of the mat. Every night after class, LeRoi could be found with young people gathered around him as he would counsel them at length on how to pursue their dreams with boldness and integrity. Where most teens may doze off as teachers lecture, LeRoi’s students craned their heads forward, soaking up every word. They were motivated because they knew they were in the presence of a successful and wise leader, and he made them see that they could become the same. Most of all, they were motivated because they knew that he respected and loved them.

As I have expressed in person to our students: our lives, community, and gym are forever changed in LeRoi’s absence. We will never be the same. LeRoi was the rock that we all leaned on. He was always there and always had the answers, and his passing shakes our foundation to its core. However, we will continue to build upon LeRoi’s legacy, creating a space for our community marked by his love. We are equipped to do so because he prepared us well. His strength, warrior-spirit, courage, kindness, and commitment to excellence live on in his students, ensuring that nothing but great things are in store for this gym that he loved so much.

We express our deepest condolences and love to LeRoi’s family. Our profound appreciation to you for supporting and encouraging LeRoi as he gave of himself to our students. We are thankful for our incredible Jiu Jitsu instructor, LeRoi Rodriguez Jr., who continues to teach our students with the same excellence as his father. We love you.

To our students: Hudson and I look forward to working hard, striving for excellence, having fun, and laughing with you in the days to come. It can feel weird giving ourselves permission to enjoy our lives after such a tragic event. But please remember, nothing made LeRoi happier than to see you smile and shine.

So please, my loves, smile and shine. Keep our wonderful teacher alive in your hearts.

With all the love in my heart,

Big Ali

Alexandra Fuller

Founder and Executive Director, Level Ground Mixed Martial Arts