By Gretchen Pahia
Photo Courtesy of Nivian Oliveira

Martial arts are quite often thought of as a man’s sport – especially Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. However, one North Phoenix resident is fighting stereotypes and finding huge success. Nivian Oliveira is currently the 2020 defending Pan American Champion and is ranked #5 in the world. Now, she has her mind set on moving up to the #1 spot.

Oliveira was born in Belo Horizonte, Minas Geris, Brazil and is the middle child of three girls. She has always been into sports – competing in track and field events, women’s heptathlon, and basketball. At the age of 11, a private school for athletics discovered her. “At the time this was a big opportunity for me and my family, so I could receive a better education by way of sports. As a young athlete my schedule differed from other kids, including my siblings. I had full-time obligations to travel, study and stay on track,” says Oliveira.

At the time, her focus was on the basketball court where she excelled until she retired her jersey at age 22. Then, she looked for other athletic outlets to explore, finding her joy with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. In 2018, she came to the U.S. to compete and put her skill to the test here in the Valley at a world tournament, where she placed in the top three. After her experiences in Phoenix, Oliveira decided she wanted to move to the U.S., and by 2019, she was invited to Arizona by a world-class team. “I took a leap of faith and welcomed the challenges of learning a new language, culture and discovering unexplored parts of my body, mind and spirit with respects to my professional career.”

Oliveira is a strong advocate for women’s self defense and teaching other women to be able to protect themselves. She is often involved in self-defense classes throughout the greater Phoenix area. She trains in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at Gracie Barra Scottsdale.

To her, it isn’t just about winning, it is so much more. “Participation in sports is good for all ages and, in team sports, we learn cooperation, discipline and strategy,” she says. “we all have challenges and I believe that as a female competitor in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, I can inspire both men and women to be greater than yesterday’s version of themselves.”

Gretchen Pahia, an Arizona native, is a seasoned journalist and public relations specialist with more than 20 years of experience under her belt. She is currently living in the Valley with her husband and two boys. You can find her on social media on Facebook and Instagram @gpahia.