By Jordy McElroy | 8 September 2020
Andre Pederneiras is no superman.
You won’t see him patrolling the streets of Rio de Janeiro in tights, a bright red cape and a Jheri Curl. He can’t fly, see through walls or pick up objects 100 times his bodyweight. And no, he isn’t striking classic poses and flashing smiles wide enough to be blinded by his pearly whites.
Pederneiras, the man known as “Dede,” is ordinarily extraordinary—a flesh-and-blood Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu teacher moonlighting as a humanitarian hero. A casual combat sports fan couldn’t pick him out of a lineup of coaches, even though he’s directly linked to some of the greatest fighters of all time.
Yet, fame and notoriety are trivial concepts in the grand scheme of his mission to simply pay it forward. Whether that’s administering aid during a national pandemic or steering wayward young men in the right direction, the face behind the name Dede isn’t half as important as the acts attached to it.
An Invisible Enemy
People need heroes at a time when countries are being ravaged by death and illness amid a Coronavirus pandemic. The total number of cases has risen to over four million in Brazil with well over 125,000 deaths.
People are dying by numbers that you’d typically see in a war.
Like most countries, the choice to social distance is constantly being weighed with the need to work and make a living. But a rise in cases also means a rise in the death toll. It means hospitals being overrun with sick patients and eventually crushing the medical infrastructure.
At the early onset of the pandemic, Pederneiras shut down his training facility in Rio and sent all of his fighters home to self-quarantine. That essentially left him all alone with an entire gym to himself. So the gears in his head started turning. Why not turn the empty gym space into a temporary Covid-19 treatment center to help alleviate some of the stress being put on local hospitals?
And just like that, the gym went from housing some of the best combat sports athletes in the world to being filled with everyday people actually fighting for their lives. It was a reminder of how quickly life can change in this world. More importantly, it showed how even one helping hand can make a difference.
But Pederneiras’ work would eventually catch up to him. Nearly two months after opening his gym to Covid-19 patients, he went on social media to announce he had contracted the illness. It was a gut-punch moment for the entire community—and also a reminder that the virus doesn’t discriminate. It will take whoever and whatever it can.
Yet, even while he was sick, Pederneiras doubled down on his work from a distance. He started up a fundraiser campaign aimed at going into the streets and passing out basic food baskets to those in need.
“Regardless of whether I am unable to go to the street, our army of ATHLETES AND COLLABORATORS will continue to distribute the basic food baskets at the scheduled times – and as soon as I am free, I will be back in front of everything, buying and distributing the food TOGETHER WE WIN THIS WAR,” said Pederneiras, via Google Translate.
Paying It Forward
Many of the athletes in charge of helping distribute food baskets are the same men Pederneiras took in when they were troubled kids. Along with rushing to the frontlines of disaster relief efforts, Dede is mostly known for the significant impact he’s had on Brazil’s youth.
He has often used BJJ as a conduit for reaching out and offering real-world guidance to kids that come from a low socioeconomic status. It’s the same kids that are typically forgotten and left with the fewest opportunities.
Pederneiras acts as a sort of father figure by helping them make the right life choices, while also sharpening their martial arts skills. Former UFC and Bellator champions such as Jose Aldo, Renan Barao and Marcos Galvao can all trace their lineage back to Dede.
But the ultimate goal has never been about building world champions.
It’s about building better communities. It’s about making the sort of commitment to the youth and instilling in them life lessons they hopefully pass on as they get older. It’s about making the world a better place.
In the middle of a pandemic, those same athletes that came to Pederneiras during their time of need are now passing out food baskets in the same communities they were born.
The ripple effect from one small act of kindness is immeasurable.
Paying it forward and blessing a stranger in the same way that you were once blessed is the core principle of Pederneiras’ teachings. Even when he was incapacitated, those teachings stuck with his students and propelled them to pick up the mantle and head out onto the frontlines. That kind of compassion is more powerful than any virus.
So no, Superman may not exist. But through Pederneiras’ endless acts of generosity and tireless work within the community, he’s constantly proving real-life superheroes do.