Growing up in a military family, we moved around a lot and experienced a lot of different cultures, traditions, and viewpoints. This created a love for learning, adventure, and challenges. My family instilled good morals, the value of hard work, dedication perseverance, and that bringing honor to your family was everything. You’re a reflection of your family, so represent them well.
I was bullied and picked on a lot throughout my childhood. I was underestimated often, so I would usually have to prove myself by beating them at some sort of sport or activity. The bullying was relentless in middle school through most of high school, so I had to find something to get involved in and escape reality, even if it was temporary. I joined the dance team and found my people. It taught me how to follow, lead, teach, help others, gain confidence, try new things, and how to face terrifying situations, like being on stage or competing. I earned a co-captain position my senior year and proved once again that I was able to be more than what I was told I was.
I stopped most physical activities after college and gained a lot of weight. Finally in 2015 I made the decision to walk into the UFC Gym here in Albuquerque. I had always been interested in kickboxing, but I disliked my experiences with gyms. I quickly learned this was a different type of gym. The members and staff were like family, and the coaches were genuinely invested in the success of the members.
I got a personal trainer named Matt who continues to help me accomplish goals once believed impossible in my life. Between Matt, Coach Ricardo, and a couple of friends, Juliana and Andria, I was talked into trying the BJJ class. It was terrifying (and still can be), but I instantly fell in love with it. It’s challenging and thrilling; something that I am so grateful to be a part of. Through classes and competitions, I have met the most wonderful people, train with beasts, and continue learning from incredible, highly qualified coaches/teachers at both UFC Gym and ONE Jiu Jitsu.
I really don’t feel like I "work out" anymore, but strive to be better than the day before. This health journey has become part of my life, and I hope that through this I can inspire at least one other person to go for it and make the change for the better.
Q&A Session Between Nikki Sandoval and Elite Sports
Question: What inspires you about BJJ? MMA?
Answer: I appreciate how versatile jiu jitsu is. You can be a tiny person and defeat giants, or you can be lightning fast and be stopped in your tracks by a slower, more technical player. It allows people of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, ages, and abilities to participate and succeed. I’m not limited to one style of jiu jitsu, either. Your game changes with your opponent. The layers to this are endless, so it’s always an adventure. You will always have something to learn and ways to get better, and I value the gained knowledge and ability to be better than the day before.
Question: Who inspires you, past or present? Why do they inspire you?
Answer: People who refuse to let their circumstances, backgrounds, or current struggles hinder their growth to be better inspire me. Struggling through something is a sign of a battle being fought, not a defeat. My Mum is one example of this. She keeps pushing through whatever challenge she faces and despite the chaos around her, she continues to love, honor, fights for others, and never gives up. I want to be like that.
Question: What are your goals for this year? Next 3 years? Next 5 years?
Answer: I would like to try my hand at fighting at a smaller weight class and travel to at least one new place for a competition. The next 3-5 years I would like to be a well-rounded, solid bjj fighter, have competed in a few prestigious competitions, and become a personal trainer, helping others overcome their fears and accomplish their impossibles, much like my coaches and teammates have helped me do.
Question: How long have you been training?
Answer: I’ve been training almost a year and a half in BJJ, and almost 3 years at the UFC gym.
Question: How often do you train?
Answer: I train usually 6 days a week, sometimes twice a day if I’m lucky.
Question: Any major accomplishments you’ve been able to achieve in that time?
Answer: The fact that I ever competed is a major accomplishment in my book. Ha! Thanks to my amazing coaches, teammates, and hard work, I've earned a blue belt, and medaled in every competition I've participated in.
Question: Do you have a go-to finishing move?
Answer: Bow and arrow choke is a favorite.
Question: What do you think it takes to be a champion in your sports?
Answer: It takes honesty, dedication, humility, hard work, confidence, and surrounding yourself with people who will challenge, strengthen, uplift, and laugh with you.
Question: What sort of gear do you usually keep in your gym bag before hitting the gym? Do you have different items for specific days?
Answer: I usually have gear for gi, no-gi, kickboxing, DUT, cardio, and/or weight training. Depends on the day, but also a nerdy tank or rashguard and a bandana are always in my bag