Working illegally in Rio de Janeiro was not a plan but at the time my only option possible to keep food on the table and a roof overhead. The low rate of pay and limited selection for work are important points to anyone who considers taking a leap of faith to Brazil without a plan of action including proper documentation. Most who travel here to stay do not do so to work a full time job for minimal pay that will eat up the time. This type of lifestyle defeats the purpose of coming to Rio de Janeiro in the first place, which is to enjoy the city and what it has to offer. When I broke my leg it created a feeling of panic as the training that my life was built around was no longer an option. Being an athlete means a great dependence on physical well being. Immediately the impending fact of a need to generate an income from somewhere else was quickly encroaching. Most of the sponsors who where always by my side disappeared overnight and would not return my correspondence. I am however very thankful to have had Barney Langner Jr. as a business manager and friend during this time. Because of Barney’s support I had medical insurance and was able to get surgery to initially fix my broken leg.
The first option for income that came to mind for work requiring no athleticism whatsoever was teaching English. Being an illegal immigrant in Brazil without proper documents or a degree in English, options where not plentiful.”Teach private language lessons”, was a common suggestion among people who do not know any better. Great idea but the missing detail… students, you must have a network of people to teach in order to make a living. Language schools that would hire took complete advantage of the fact of my illegal status in offering a rate of pay well below standard. Weighing my limited options and diminishing funds I took a job with Picadilli Circus for R$7.00 an hour. At the time the exchange rate between US Dollar and Brazilian Real was 3.5 to 1, so my rate of pay was $2.00 dollars an hour. Fair enough, it was work and there where needy people in the country working for much less but I could not help asking myself what the hell I was doing working for less than $2.00 an hour! Working there created a strong desire to seek out more, creating a way to make a living involved with Jiu-jitsu. Remember, in 2003 there was much less interest in the sport World wide and even less of a market to make a living. Rio de Janeiro at the time was a different place and although it was improving, public safety was not as it is today. Regardless there where still a number of travelers willing to make the journey.
During the forced down time after breaking my fibula, there was plenty of time to think and an incredible number of thoughts to process. Working an illegal job that ate up my time motivated me even more to quickly find an alternative means of generating an income. This combination lead me to an idea that would allow me to be involved with Jiu-jitsu and keep myself afloat. Selling kimonos in Rio and shipping them to academies around the World was one of several ways that I was able to scratch an income but only in combination with other activities would it be sufficient.
My first six months in Rio where spent living at the OTM apartment in Barra da Tijuca on Av. General Guedes da Fontura. This stay was fundamental in my getting situated in Rio and a great time. A few months into the stay I began looking after the apartment when Scott and Danny where away. OTM founder Scott Nelson and part owner Danny “Do nothing” encouraged me to find a house and start my own Jiu-jitsu hostel. There was a demand that continued to grow as Jiu-jitsu’s popularity continued to increase throughout the World. That increasing popularity had many people making the journey to Rio, wanting to experience Jiu-jitsu in the motherland of Arte Suave.
Having found my way in Rio de Janeiro and going through some of the more difficult situations that are obstacles to most all travelers in the city, I wanted to help those who where new to Rio. What better way than to help with than with affordable accommodation and a hand in finding the way in this city. A few short months later the first Connection Rio house was taking in it’s first guests. The name Connection Rio would not come about until years later but that is where it began.
As for working illegally in the city of Rio de Janeiro, from personal experience it is not something I suggest. A much better option is to plan out a move, saving money, making a plan and having a backup plan to overcome unforeseen obstacles.