Robert Long now spends time traini
Millies2018

From The 'Scrapheap Of Life' To A World Champion

When Robert Long lost both eyes in Afghanistan says he felt he was "on the scrapheap of life". Now he's a Jiu-Jitsu world champion.

Robert Long now spends time traini

In July 2010, former Lance Bombardier Robert Long lost his sight following an explosion from an improvised explosive device (IED).

In what he describes as "pitch black" darkness, Long found inspiration through a new form of combat.

For overcoming the change in his life, the veteran has won the Millies 2018 'Overcoming Adversity' award.

A former kickboxer, the veteran was determined to overcome any his new obstacle as a blind man and continue as a martial artist. He decided to switch to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, a grappling event that relies on touch more than sight.

Training partner Major Shamus Kelly immediately noticed his potential: "As soon as Rob got on the mats you could see he is an outstanding athlete.

"He’s extremely strong, extremely powerful. His sensitivity, agility, responsiveness, it’s what you’d expect of a guy that’s fully sighted."

Once involved in the sport, Long was winning able-bodied competitions after just two years. In 2018, he took gold for a second consecutive year in the Army's BJJ Championships.

Coach Andy Roberts said that Robert was "a bit apprehensive at first" when invited to grapple with those who had their sight.

“I just told him, ‘You’ll be fine', and he comes out and wins!"

 

Having also won a gold medal for Great Britain at the Para World Championships, Robert Long is now able to reflect on his remarkable journey.

“I went from being a frontline soldier in Afghanistan to not being able to look after myself.

"I had to learn living skills from scratch again. My independence was shattered.”

But mastering one sport has enabled him to re-learn these skills. Having once felt "broken" and "on the scrapheap of life", Long now inspires many, including his six-year-old son.

“He doesn’t understand World Championship medals, he just sees a shiny medal and me - his silly dad! It’s fantastic I’ve had these opportunities to set an example and be a role model to him."

Long is now regularly on the mats with the Army, but also with Jiu-Jitsu sporting royalty. 10-time World Champion Roger Gracie admires the determination shown.

“He comes training on his own, on the underground, walking around town. It’s very rare to see that in someone who’s been through so much."

Major Kelly thinks everybody can take something from this story in the face of adversity, adding:

"If you could bottle Rob’s passion, drive, motivation and talent - not only would you become a billionaire overnight, you’d make the world a much better place."