It’s been a heck of a week for Damian “Obi” Todd. The 48-year-old purple belt has captivated the martial arts world with his efforts (and success) at a 24-hour rolling session to raise money for the R U OK? Foundation. Now, the 24 hours of pain, sweat, and submissions have been over for a few days, and the Marine veteran was ready to talk about exactly what he went through to achieve his goal.
Obi’s problems started out early. In the very first roll with his coach, Suasday Chau of Chau Kaizen, Obi sustained a cut over his eye. (“Suasday also takes credit for my black eye,” he adds.) At about the ninth or tenth hour, Obi says he started to feel pain in his chest when his “opponents” applied top pressure. “I can’t remember a particular traumatic incident (the whole thing was traumatic, really) that caused the injury,” he says. “But between 8 pm and midnight, everything was a blur. I remember a few of the people who came to roll with me, but I had no idea what day it was and just knew my chest was sore. After midnight, I said, ‘If people can address less pressure to the chest, I’d be pretty pleased.’”
Obi says that that four-hour period was the hardest part of the event for him, but that he never felt like he wasn’t going to make it through. Still, not everyone made his goal easy for him. “Some people [that I rolled with]… I don’t feel like they had the comprehension of how hard the whole thing was, or they didn’t have the empathy because they haven’t had to roll very hard very consistently,” he says, describing participants who seemed to treat their five minutes on the mat as a competitive endeavor of their own. “That’s certainly not how I roll — no pun intended. I just had to ride out the storm. I even said to one person, ‘You can calm down a little bit. You’re not gonna get any praise for beating me up.’ In the end, I just flipped them over and neck cranked them.”
Just because he wasn’t going at 100 percent the entire time, though, doesn’t mean that Obi was just lying down and letting people treat him as a grappling dummy. His grips (which I can personally say are normally virtually unbreakable) remained virtually unbreakable the entire time (again, speaking from personal experience), and he was still landing legitimate submissions on people well after the sun came up on the second day. “I wanted people to come and actually do jiu-jitsu, so it wasn’t like I was just laying there like a wet blanket,” says Obi. “Some people commented on the posts saying I wasn’t going very hard or that I had a ‘lame’ go, but I’d like to see them do it.”
Obi’s superhuman feat required some superhuman help, and he got that in the form of a team that operated with “military precision” to put Vaseline on his skin to cool him down and apply ice to his chest and back during the minute between each round. During the few ten-minute rests he had, a massage therapist and nutritional IV team were on hand to recharge his body as best as they could. “They gave me an IV the day before and one at midnight and it helped. It was a mixture of a saline solution, magnesium, and a bunch of other good stuff,” he says. “Then they did another at 8 am on the second day, and wow. I don’t know what they put in that one, but I felt great.”
You might expect that a challenge like this would get harder with each passing minute, but Obi says the opposite happened… and it solidified the message he was trying to deliver during his roll for suicide prevention. “The further I got into it, the easier it got. I was working with the idea that there was less to do with each roll I finished. I was always going to be tired, but I knew that at midday on Saturday, I’d be finished. That’s the whole idea — that there’s always an end to all the bad stuff as long as we can keep pushing forward. It’ll get better if we just don’t give up.”
Even as he agonized under the physical and mental demands of his marathon roll, Obi could look around and see positivity. “There were so many people throughout the day. I’d look into the cage and see Ash [the massage therapist] giving me a thumbs up and a smile. One of the best moments was when I was rolling and I looked over at [black belt instructor] Mick [Moloney] and gave him a shaka and a smile, and he was just a blubbering mess.”
Obi insisted on spreading that positivity with a hug before each of his rounds. “At five seconds, before the clock started for each round, I could get to the center of the mats and give everyone a hug. I wanted 228 hugs.”
The love certainly spread around the entire gym over those 24 hours. Some of Obi’s friends from the Marines flew in from other Australian states to support their friend of 30 years. People came at all hours of the day and night, some staying the entire duration and others leaving and coming back to continue to show their support. “I looked around and I saw people from different gyms talking and laughing with each other, or white belts talking with black belts, and maybe they wouldn’t have had that opportunity to meet before,” says Obi. “I think about it and get a little emotional.”
It’s been a few days since the event concluded, and Obi is, understandably, still tired and sore. “It’s kind of like the feeling you get with jetlag,” he says, “But I’m still buzzing from it all. After I got done, I maybe slept for twenty or thirty minutes, but I couldn’t rest. I thought, ‘I just went against 228 people and raised a sh*tload of cash for R U OK?. I don’t think the magnitude of it hit me before I did it — I just thought, ‘OK, we’re gonna roll.’ But now, I’m incredibly proud, and I’m not ashamed to say it. I’m trying to be humble and keep my feet flat on the ground. I think a lot of people thought I couldn’t or even didn’t want to believe that I could do it, but I did it.”
As he nurses his multiple gi burns around his wrist and neck and takes some time to heal his injured sternum and rib, Obi can finally rest as well as he knows how, knowing that he achieved what many said would be impossible. His fundraiser has raised almost $30,000 for mental health awareness and suicide prevention, and R U OK? has asked him to be an official ambassador for the organization. Understandably, he gets a little teary thinking about it all.
“I still cry reading people’s messages,” he says. “I’m not ashamed to admit it. I know it doesn’t make me weak. I think I’ve proved that to anyone who might doubt it.”
You can donate to the Roll Around the Clock fundraiser here.
Featured image by Trinity SP Photography