Her name is Serena " The Southpaw Outlaw" DeJesus.
Serena is such a positive role model for so many, her persistence and will to overcome adversity is seeing her thrive not only in the sport that she loves to compete in, but in so many different avenues as well.
The need for positive female role models is forever growing, and so does the need for role models who dare to be different and who can encourage people to stand out from amongst the crowd.
Serena knows a lot about the autistic spectrum, as she is on the spectrum herself, her input into raising awareness has been exemplary, her ability to relate to those on the spectrum is also beginning to see a future generation of youngsters on the autistic spectrum, both male and female begin to shine through the spectrum, and that is something that is so very much needed.
1. What Inspires you to be the very best that you can be?
"Growing up there were no autistic role models and I pretty much bumbled through life and to an extent still do trying to figure things out. I hope that my struggles and triumphs can inspire my fans, friends, anyone who feels their back is against the wall, and my siblings as two out of the three of them are also autistic".
2. Can you tell us a bit about your diagnosis of autism.
"My diagnosis didn't come until after much trial and error. From ages 4-13 I was misdiagnosed and put through so many meds and went through psych wards and residential treatment facilities because of how crazy the medicines made me cause at the time in the 90's autism wasn't well known and the country was in the middle of diagnosing every child with ADHD. When I was finally diagnosed with asperger's syndrome when I was 13 and taken off all medications things kind of made sense. My social awkwardness and avoidance of social situations stayed and my one tracked mind too however with many years of social therapy and help with a case manager along with the support of my family I overcame a lot. But socially I don't think I fully flourished until I started training to fight. It was a form of exposure therapy but one that I chose and wanted to work on. So I put my obsession to learn towards something productive. My parents have told me out of everything I've put my mind to they have never seen me happier or healthier".
3. How did your passion for martial arts develop?
"I was also active and loved watching old school MMA with my dad when I was little from the dark ages of the UFC, PRIDE, Elite XC, Strikeforce, etc so when I finally found a way to learn how to be a MMA fighter I joined up immediately and trained non-stop".
4. Can you tell us a bit about your training regimen and what your average day entails when you are preparing for competition.
"I wake up, do MMA class in the morning and take a break for lunch and then go running three miles, come back for BJJ, muay thai, and boxing classes and go home pretty sore and sleep and repeat. I pretty much train non-stop and makes me happy that with the rise of the internet freelance work is easily available".
Serena and her training partners at Syndicate Mixed Martial Arts
5. You are emerging as a positive role model, what advice would you give to someone who has recently been diagnosed or are awaiting a possible diagnosis of autism.
"I would tell them that it's a new chance for self discovery since they now have a more definite answer. I know before my diagnosis I always wondered why I am the way I am. But with my diagnosis I have taken better steps to know myself and act accordingly. I try to take care of my mental health and know my limits but at the same time try and work on expanding them little by little if I can.
I would also tell them to not be ashamed in being autistic and try to love themselves as much as possible if they haven't already.
For myself I tend to feel very self conscious as everyday I try to fight off the urge of stimming in public and avoiding meltdowns but I need to remind myself if it ever happens that I'm still human and people will understand and still love and respect me. Whether you're neureotypical or neureoatypical you're still human and no one is perfect".
Serena with one of her growing army of young fans
6. You have recently been awarded by Promoting Women in bodybuilding, Fitness and Mixed Martial Arts, what has been the thing that keeps you going through tough times?
"I keep remembering that I wanted to be a fighter for a long time and that I have family and friends everywhere that love and support me and that I wish someone like me was around for the younger version of myself to look up to. So even when things go wrong and I stay in my room unable to converse with anyone I try and remind myself of that and in time I get my gears back in order and get back to the grind".
7. You always seem to have a lot of fun around the people you train with, what has been the most fun part of your martial arts journey so far?
"The most fun I have had is a toss up between my journeys in Thailand training there and meeting my role model and now best friend Roxanne Modafferi which eventually led me to leaving my comfy life with my family in Philadelphia to further my growth as a martial artist here in Las Vegas. I would say that just travelling and meeting new people and making new friends has been the biggest joy and blessing in my life. I had very little friends growing up and I always wanted friends and now finally I have true quality friends who support me through thick and thin".
Serena with her best friend and fellow mixed martial artist Roxanne Modafferi
8. What are your goals for 2017?
"My goals are to get as many fights as I can and depending on what happens hopefully it may be time for me to go professional as a mixed martial artist."
9. If the Southpaw Outlaw could be in charge of the world for one day and could change one thing what would it be? And Why?
"I would make everyone join a martial arts gym. There's something about training that makes people gain a better sense of each other. Also it's great stress reliever and I believe the world needs a little bit of both"
Serena in competition ( photo courtesy of Ray Kasprowicz and TUFF-N-UFF)
We would like to say a massive thank you to Serena for taking time out of her schedule to talk to us, and we are sure 2017 will be the year of the Southpaw Outlaw.
Keep being inspirational Serena :-)
Serena Can be found on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SerenaSouthpaw and on Instagram at www.instagram.com/serenaSouthpaw