Mike Odiotti has led high school and college wrestling teams to winning seasons before earning undergraduate and graduate diplomas from Boston College and a Doctorate of Education from the University of Pennsylvania. As principal of Cristo Rey St. Martin, he leads our more than 400 high school students on their journeys toward mastering school, college and life.
But on a Friday at the start of the school year, he headed to O’Hare and hopped on a flight to Las Vegas. There, he traded his slacks, button-down shirt and tie for a “gi” to take his place competing for the top spot in the World Master Jiu-Jitsu IBJJF Championship held at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
“I fell a little short of my goal of winning,” he said.
But placing second in the world in this most prestigious Jiu-Jitsu event for athletes over 30 years of age, is no small feat.
It speaks volumes about how the Northbrook resident, father of three and principal entering his 10th year at CRSM pushes himself every day to inspire students to be the best they can be.
“I’ve learned it’s all about the journey,” said Odiotti. “In many ways the students have modeled for me what it is like to pursue and be committed in the face of obstacles in life. It was important to me to push myself to get better.”
His training regimen was brutal. With a summer to train, Odiotti trained twice a day, five or six days a week at Tactic Sports Performance in Northbrook and New Breed Training Center / Bonsai Jiu-Jitsu USA in Niles.
He is passionate about the self-discipline it takes to strive for new goals.
“The competition was a way to test myself and where I stand among other people around the world,” he said, noting that competitors came from as far as Australia, Barcelona, Brazil and Japan.
Heading out to the championship with the 20 members of his local team was a great thrill and exciting part of the training journey. What he loves about Jiu-Jitsu, a form of mixed martial arts, is that it emphasizes leverage and position as a way to compensate for size and other physical differences among opponents.
“It is a sport that is open to anyone – the blind, deaf or someone missing a limb,” said Odiotti. “There are no barriers to entry and you also have total accountability for your performance. You can’t say ‘I played well, but my team didn’t.”
Odiotti always reminds Cristo Rey students that success is not an individual sport. Rather, the result of work by many in the community. That is why he is quick to thanks to his wife Virna Malalis Odiotti for the extra shifts she handled caring for their three sons last summer and for numerous friends, colleagues and former team members and coaches from his collegiate and high school wrestling days as a Rambler at Loyola Academy in Wilmette.
It is in high school that the mission to “be women and men for others,” was ingrained in him, he says. Today, his actions speak volumes about leading a meaningful life of leadership and service in the imitation of Jesus Christ.
“It takes a community to build success,” he said.