Health and Physical Education Major Builds on Success, Shoots for Gold at Pan American Games
His legs are contorted into pretzel-like positions that look breath-takingly painful. His arms are twisted every which way. His face – serious and focused – tells the rest of the story.
No matter how intense, challenging or difficult those moves, all part of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, are, they’re what East Stroudsburg University senior Frank Rosenthal lives for.
Rosenthal, 22, has dedicated himself to Jiu-Jitsu, which is part of the martial arts family. His love and dedication are taking him to his fourth Pan American Games, which are this Saturday in New York City. The Pan Jiu-Jitsu NO-GI Championship is a one-day event that could end with Rosenthal taking home a gold medal, something he’s never won.
“You can have been a very successful athlete your whole life, but the reality is, your first however-many-months in Jiu-Jitsu, you’re going to get beat up, and you’re going to get beat up very badly,” Rosenthal said. “That doesn’t mean you’re going to get hurt, but it does mean your ego is going to get tested because more times than not, you’re going to be tapping out (voluntarily ending the match). You learn to deal with failure, and you learn that failure doesn’t mean that you’re not good. It just means that there’s room to grow and there are things to learn.”
The health and physical education major, who will graduate in December, won a silver medal last year after taking home the bronze in 2011. He did not place in his first Pan American Games in 2010.
Rosenthal will have to win three, 7-minute matches to advance to the final round in the Light Feather (136 pounds) weight class. The competitor with the most points at the end of each match advances, unless someone taps out first. In that case, the individual who taps out loses and his opponent wins and moves on.
Rosenthal, a 2008 graduate of Tappan Zee High School in Rockland County, N.Y., is a relative newcomer to Jiu-Jitsu. His passion for it actually developed out of a dare by his best friend, Eric Sherman.
Sherman, who was already learning Jiu-Jitsu, challenged Rosenthal, 18 at the time, to use his wrestling moves to see how they’d stand up against his Jiu-Jitsu moves.
“It sounded like martial arts, not really effective,” Rosenthal admitted. “Then I think I got tapped maybe 10 times in about four minutes. From there on out, I was like, ‘Wow this is amazing.’ I was intrigued by it and started training at Renzo Gracie-Northvale in N.J. From Day One, I fell in love with it.”
None of it has come easily, though.
Rosenthal, who is student teaching at Wind Gap Middle School, manages to squeeze in two workouts a day that total between two and four hours. In the two months leading up to the Pan American Games and the upcoming World Championships, which kick off in early November in California, he trains seven days a week. Most other weeks throughout the year, he rests only on Sundays. His regimen, in addition to training on the mat, is filled with cardio workouts that emphasize running, sprint intervals and swimming.
Rosenthal admits there was a stretch during which his parents, particularly his mother Amy, worried about his safety. Although she still has her moments when she struggles to watch the crazy moves his body gets into, he’s relieved those days have passed.
“I’m glad that they understand the benefits that it’s brought rather than looking at the picture of ‘Oh, it can be violent,’” Rosenthal said. “They’ve seen the benefits it’s brought physically, spiritually and mentally. I’ve gotten less injuries through Jiu-Jitsu than I ever did through wrestling. It can look quite violent but in reality, it’s practiced in a really efficient manner in that if you’re put in a joint lock or a choke, you tap out and your partner lets go. Because of that a lot of injuries are avoided.”
Rosenthal, who has his purple belt, is contemplating the thought of taking his talents to the Ultimate Fighting Championship one day. But that’s not his focus. He wants to be a Jiu-Jitsu World Champion and own an academy where he can pass along his passion for the sport; he already teaches youth classes at Renzo Gracie-Northvale during summer and winter breaks.
For now, all Rosenthal has on his mind is Saturday’s Pan American Games.
“More than anything else, Jiu-Jitsu has taught me that you can’t think too much about the big picture,” Rosenthal said. “You can’t think of all the things that could go wrong. You have to just problem solve one thing at a time.”