Jiu-jitsu community comes together to mourn coach

Students raise funds for Laura Cardella's husband to keep teaching art

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – A well-known aerial athlete coach in St. Augustine died recently, and now members of the close-knit community are coming together to raise money in order to keep her dream and teachings alive.

Dozens turned out Saturday to mourn Laura Cardella and work to raise money to help keep the gym open so her husband can keep mentoring young students in her memory.

Cardella was loved by many. Her work in the St. Augustine community and beyond will forever be remembered, especially by the students she taught to express themselves through aerial athletics.

"Laura definitely helped me. She's always had my back, and I think that's what being an aerial athlete is all about. It's about having a family and a support group. That's what Laura did for me," student Ellaina Parham said.

Cardella was a blue belt and an aerial instructor and performer.

She died of respiratory complications. Now, people whom she taught at the Relson Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy want to make sure her hard work doesn't stop. She left behind her beloved husband, Phil Cardella, who's also her business partner. 

"Jiu-jitsu has touched our whole entire family, my circle," said student Shiloh Pelchat.

She said the academy is a staple in the St. Augustine community and no one wants to see it go away.

"We want to make sure Phil can continue with this academy and continue giving the gift of jiu-jitsu to all of us. That just makes the world a better place," Pelchat said.

Friends say what's more tragic is that Laura Cardella died on the couple's anniversary.