As Lillian Marchand makes her way to the top of the podium, you would be forgiven in thinking it was déjà vu.
That’s because, in a sense, it was.
The 16-year-old Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) star from Vernon just wrapped up an incredible season, winning gold in all four major worldwide events, dubbed the Grand Slam: World Championships, Brasileiro, European and Pan Championships.
Her conquests are the first ever for a female Canadian, garnering recognition for the sport and for young female athletes around the Okanagan.
BJJ is a form of martial arts that relies on flow. Competitors have a set time limit during a match where one tries to score as many points as possible by executing moves. If you do end up submitting someone, that is an instant victory.
“I felt like I had a little bit of pressure on me during the first event (European Championships) because if I didn’t win that one, then I wouldn’t have been able to win the Grand Slam,” Marchand told the Morning Star. “But once I won it, I had confidence in the next few tournaments.”
She took up the sport when she was just five, after getting bullied in school.
“We put her in the sport as a way to benefit her mental and physical health,” said her mother Rachel. “After about five years, she came to us and asked to continue in the sport, as she was beginning to fall in love with it.”
Lillian admitted she wasn’t good at it initially. But, due to her family’s competitiveness, she stuck with it.
“When I did start winning, I then thought that I could actually do this, as it’s been fun and pushed me to keep going,” she said.
Lillian trains out of the NOS BJJ and MMA camp in Vernon, and has been coached by Mario Deveault since she first stepped foot into the gym.
“When she first started, she seemed to have a passion for it right away,” Deveault said. “When she got the taste of competition, she just went full bore and it became a daily routine.”
Last year, prior to the start of the season (which runs from January to May), Lillian, who is nicknamed Lillatron, made the move down to California to train at a higher level, at the renowned Atos Jiu-Jitsu Academy
“When I was 15, I lost the championship and that to me was an opportunity to fully commit and take (BJJ) seriously,” Lillian explained. “So we made the decision for me to go train down in San Diego with the top team, so that I could hopefully win the World Championship in the juvenile division.”
And win she did in 2023. It started with a victory at the European Championships in Paris. Then, a win at the Pan Championships in Florida. Following that, a gold at the Brasileiros in Sao Paulo, Brazil, then a fourth gold at the Worlds in California.
“The year was great. It was so cool to travel, as I had never been overseas before,” she said. “Paris was amazing, also because I am in the French program in school so I was able to try the language out.”
Her most valuable trip was to Brazil for the Brasileiros, where BJJ was birthed.
“The experience in Brazil, that was my favorite, because I got to embrace myself in the culture where jiu-jitsu came from. It was really cool to see the different styles of jiu-jitsu and the people are very passionate, a lot more passionate than they are anywhere else.”
Lillian attends W.L. Seaton for school, although the majority of classes she takes is online. Her mother credits the school for how flexible they have been during the year, as she enters Grade 12.
“Her friends are there, so it was important that she was able to continue education at Seaton and so many of the teachers have gone above and beyond to support her,” said Rachel.
“It’s been a little bit tough in certain aspects,” explained Lillian. “It’s kind of hard to keep focused when all I want to do is train, but I have good teachers who are willing to help me and work with me.”
Robin Coggan-Penner, Elizabeth Brown and Kara Ross were a few of the teachers that were mentioned by name in helping Lillian.
Lillian is also First Nations, proudly representing the Okanagan Indian Band.
“It is pretty cool thinking about it, knowing that I’m probably the first Canadian First Nations to do all this stuff.”
As for what’s next, the Lillatron will be entering into the adult division in BJJ, as she turns 17 next month. But that won’t stop her desire to continue to win.
“I want to win in the adult division. I want to have an outstanding year like I did this year. There will be bigger people, stronger people and it’ll take a lot more to win, but I’ll be ready.”