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Meet the bereaved military child and jiu-jitsu world champion who dreams of becoming a UFC fighter


15-year-old Poppy Swinnerton was only a baby when her dad died while serving in the Army – an event which would change the course of her life. In 2015, she joined Scotty’s Little Soldiers, the charity for bereaved military children, and just under three years ago – hoping to improve her fitness and learn how to defend herself – Poppy used one of the charity’s grants to take up Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. What started as a hobby quickly became a passion, and Poppy is now the World, National, International, British and European Brazilian Junior Jujitsu Champion. It’s an unbelievable achievement for someone so young, but Poppy’s ambitions stretch beyond just jiu-jitsu.

Poppy Swinnerton

A world champion at 15 years old

“In the past year, Poppy won gold in the World Championships for the second time, as well as winning the National title, British title and the International Championship title,” says her mum, Michelle. “And even since then, she’s developed so much. She’s now being recognised by lots of fighting bodies and getting asked to participate in lots of invitation-only shows, so our lives are pretty non-stop.”

Most of the time, these shows are submission-only, meaning there is no point system or set number of rounds. The fight continues until someone taps out or on referee’s decision. And it’s not only children and teenagers her own age Poppy is taking on.

“Since there’s not many girls of her age fighting at a similar level, she’s fighting more adults now to push herself as much as she can.”

“It's more challenging,” says Poppy, “but that's what I'm looking for. There’s lots more people to fight this way, and there’s different rulesets which allow you to do a lot more than you can fighting with teenagers. I’m able to use more of what I’ve learnt and try out things I wouldn’t be able to against younger people.”

Poppy winning her second gold medal at the junior BJJ world championship

Training six times a week

Poppy first started Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as a way to have fun way and stay fit while gaining some self-defence skills. Three years on, fighting has become a passion that defines her life, and she has moved into other areas of martial arts such as kickboxing, Muay Thai and MMA. She trains a minimum of five times a week, often stretching to six in the run-up to competitions.

“It’s quite common for fighters to start with one discipline, then spread out into others,” says Poppy. “Obviously for me that’s jiu-jitsu, but I love the idea of being a mixed martial artist. My dream would be in the UFC.”

“You should see the state of her legs,” adds Michelle. “They’re literally covered in bumps and bruises all the time. I try not to think about how much worse those bruises would become and the possible injuries, but she’s just so passionate about it all.”

Poppy after winning a match

Scotty’s support

The Scotty Allowance, a grant Scotty’s Little Soldiers offers every member to help pay for extracurricular activities, helps Poppy and her family cover the cost of the training she needs to reach her dream.

“The Scotty Allowance contributed towards some Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu private lessons,” says Poppy. “It’s after those private lessons that I started to see a big improvement in myself and began entering competitions. I always used things I learnt from my private lessons and it definitely helped me win championships.”

In addition to benefiting from the Scotty Allowance, Poppy and her family have attended a number of Scotty breaks.

“We really enjoy the breaks,” says Poppy. “It’s a great chance to get together as a family as we’re all normally busy with work and school and stuff. We’ve been to Blackpool, Haggerston Castle, Great Yarmouth and Center Parcs. Scotty’s is so important to me because it’s supported me loads and connects me to my dad. I’m really grateful for it.”

“Scotty’s are unbelievable,” says Poppy’s mum. “They've been there for us almost from the very beginning. Like Poppy said, it’s a connection to her dad and a connection we’ll always have. She looks forward to the treats she gets every year, the birthday presents and vouchers. It’s great to know Scotty’s aren’t just there for a year or two, but will continue to support her as she grows up as well.” 

Baby Poppy with her dad

Becoming a sponsored fighter

After winning gold in so many championships, it’s no surprise that Poppy has attracted the attention of companies looking to sponsor a promising young athlete who can represent them.

Her mum explains: “She's sponsored by drinks company Good to go Recovery, a fight wear company called Reality Jiujitsu, Fresh The Meal Prep Co. and Close Protection Security. She promotes them, and in return they supply us with lots of things that are really useful for making sure Poppy always has the best equipment and resources available to her and even help towards competition costs. We are all so grateful for all their support".

Michelle continues: “Since taking up jiu-jitsu, I’ve seen such an improvement in her self-confidence. She no longer avoids situations and is always challenging herself, which she never used to do. Her mindset has completely changed since she started the lessons. She won silver in her first competition and although she was really pleased with it, I could see how much she wanted that gold. We sat down and I asked her how serious she was about this, and she made it clear she wanted to go as far as she could. I could see how much passion she had for it.” 

One of Poppy's official promo photos

Celebrity attention

As a result of increased media attention and lots of celebrities taking up the sport, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has become much more popular over the last few years – something Poppy couldn’t be happier about.

She says: “It depends on the day, but I’m normally training with 30 or 40 other people. Everyone is super supportive of each other and I love the atmosphere. Loads of people are getting involved now. Even famous actors like Tom Hardy, who was in the news for winning a tournament. Hopefully I'll get to fight him at some point!”

Poppy winning gold at the European junior BJJ championship

A role model for young girls

While Poppy loves fighting, chasing her dreams so intently means having to make sacrifices. In this case, it means not being able to socialise or spend as much time online as her friends. Fortunately, this is a compromise Poppy is more than happy to make.

Her mum says: “While Poppy’s friends are going out after school, Poppy is having tea and training, then it’s bedtime and she’s back doing it again the next day. It’s how she likes it, though, and it’s great to see how driven she is, especially since all her hard work is clearly paying off. It’s not a sport you see many girls doing as it’s so physical and full-on, but she’s completely taken to it and I think she’ll be a brilliant role model for other young girls interested in the sport. We are so proud of her, and I know her dad would be too.”

“I love it,” says Poppy. “I know lots of people who don’t even have any hobbies or do any kind of sport at all. Because it’s such a big part of my life, I really struggle to imagine how I’d fill my time without it.” 

Poppy posing for the camera

Supporting bereaved military children

Scotty’s Little Soldiers is a charity dedicated to supporting military children and young people (0 to 25 years) who have experienced the death of a parent who served in the British Armed Forces.  

Inspired by the experience of Army widow Nikki Scott, following the death of her husband Corporal Lee Scott in Afghanistan in 2009, the charity, which was set up in 2010, provides support and guidance to hundreds of bereaved military children and young people throughout their childhood.

Scotty’s currently supports over 670 members and services offered include access to child bereavement support, guidance to parents and carers, personal education and learning assistance (including grants), and fun activities such as holiday respite breaks and group events. These are all designed to remind the children and young people supported by Scotty’s that they are not alone.   

If you know a child or young person who has experienced the death of a parent who served in the British Armed Forces, they could be eligible for specialist bereavement support from Scotty's Little Soldiers. Hundreds of bereaved military children aren’t getting the support they need but we are here to help.

If you know a bereaved military child who could benefit from Scotty’s Little Soldiers support, visit our Get Support page for more information.


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