South Mississippi Strong: Navy vet takes battle against mental illness to the mat

South Mississippi Strong: Navy vet takes battle against mental illness to the mat

D’IBERVILLE, MS (WLOX) - A Coast woman is no stranger to a good fight. Navy veteran Lisa Shackelford is training in the sport of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, competing nationally and internationally. But it’s the battles she has fought off the mat that really make her South Mississippi Strong.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a tough sport. It requires those who train in the sport to be even tougher. Lisa Shackelford knows that well after training for two and a half years.

“It’s a very humbling sport. And so, it forces you to really face who you really are. I mean the good, the bad, and the ugly," she said.

World Master Medalist and Navy Veteran - Instructor Highlight

Behind the scenes with Lisa Shackelford. IBJJF Worlds Masters Championship Medalist, Instructor, Navy Veteran, Wife, and Mother. See how Jiu-Jitsu has empowered her in life.

Posted by American Martial Art Academy/Soul Fighters BJJ Mississippi on Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The blue-belt athlete initially came to American Martial Art Academy to learn self-defense. She had no intentions of competing but after mastering techniques that will make anyone think twice about messing with her, she decided to give it a try.

“I did the first competition, and I thought oh my gosh, this was so fun. Okay, I’m doing this again. I want to compete again,” she said.

Most recently, she won a bronze medal in this year’s World Master, an international competition for thousands of competitors over the age of 30.

Posted by Lisa Shackelford on Thursday, September 13, 2018

It’s not just the accolades though that keep her returning to the mat. The sport is part of the Navy vet’s journey to improve her mental health.

“The reason I got a medical discharge out of the military was for depression and anxiety. I felt like it said that I was weak. I wasn’t as strong as my peers and my counterparts in the military. I felt like a failure," said Shackelford.

She say it is one of the biggest obstacles she has had to overcome in life.

"Depression and anxiety, you can’t just pull yourself up by your boot straps, and say ‘Okay, I’m going to be good today, I’m going to have a great day,' It doesn’t ever go away. And it can be scary if you’re in that dark place,” she explained.

She fought her way out of that dark place through faith. It’s the reason why Psalms 144 is stitched into her uniform, known as a Gi.

“It’s just a constant reminder to me that God gives me what I need to face and confront my fears with courage whether here on the mat or in everyday life,” she said.

Though she still struggles some days, Shackelford counts herself victorious. She’s no longer on any medications and she credits the mat for that.

“This is my therapy. This definitely helps me get through those difficulties with depression and anxiety and it helps me refocus my mind.”

Her story inspires her teammates.

“Very genuine person. She’s one of the most genuine people I’ve met in a long time," said Elizabeth Wood. "She always has a smile and a kind word for people. And that really shines through when you meet her.”

Shackelford said her smile is her way of sharing her story to let others know that despite the toughest challenges, she’s even tougher.

“We always say failure isn’t fatal. The problem isn’t when you get knocked down. The problem is, are you going to get back up? So I have got back up from that," she said, "And it sort of helped me adjust my perspective of all of it, that it’s just part of who I am.”

Shackelford is now training to compete in her next competition in December.

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