Marion Reneau - UFC fighter and Farmersville high teacher
One of the UFC"s top fighters is also a teacher in Farmersville -- who's 40 years old. Marion Reneau has worked so hard to get where she's at, she's not thinking about retiring anytime soon.
This is what Marion Reneau does for a living -- she fights people. Beats them into submission. Leaves a mark.
“She causes a lot of damage with her hits," says Reneau's trainer in Visalia, Garcie Lara. "She hits hard, that’s why ‘The Belizean Bruiser,’ she’s going to bruise you.”
Marion's husband, Armando Perez, adds, “Sometimes, you know, I sit there and smile and smirk, because they’re some of the best girls in the world, they're over there looking at Marion and they're like, ‘this girl is stronger, faster,’ and they're scared of her and they're like ‘she's 40.’”
This is also what Marion Reneau does for a living -- she teaches high schoolers. Pushes them to set goals. Leaves a mark.
Farmersville high school principal Lisa Whitworth says, ”We have kids coming from a lot of disadvantaged backgrounds, they haven't been out in the world, they haven't done things - they perceive there's limits to what they can achieve. She encourages them you go get it, you work your way through barriers, you work around it.”
The school's Vice Principal, Rachel Chapman, says, “Our young people are crying, all of them, for role models. She is a bright shining light of what could be...a model for what many of our students wish to become.”
Reneau is the UFC's first - and only - 40-year-old female fighter.
Growing up in Porterville, she was a natural for the sport, even if it wasn't a sport yet.
“My first fight was in kindergarten and I even remember who it was with and why," recalls Reneau. "His name was Marky. He had took my apple and I ended up punching him in the stomach and he punched me in the stomach and I got told on because he started crying.”
Reneau was always a great all-around athlete, too. At Long Beach State, she was named Big West Women's Track & Field Athlete of the Year, and Reneau is still one of the top heptathletes in school history.
After college, she began training for the Olympics, before life took a detour.
“I got pregnant and so I put that on hold and made my son my life," says Reneau. "But there was still that competitive spirit in me. And I wanted I wanted to do something.”
Reneau started doing jiu-jitsu, and boxing. One day, she saw a mixed martial arts fight on television -- with women.
“I really needed to save money," says Reneau. "I was a single mom at the time. I was living paycheck to paycheck. And so it was one of those things that I was like, ‘if I can fight and I like to fight. And I can do it well, I can make money.’”
Fighting in local productions, it wasn't much money. Enough to help with gas and groceries. But Reneau stuck with it for the next five years.
Then she tried out for The Ultimate Fighter, and got cut, because at 36, she was too old.
“I was just like, ‘what?" remembers Reneau. "I'm in better shape, I know I can, I can hang with these girls. I can, I can do this.’ I was trying to convince the producers, ‘don't cut me because of my age.’ Still got cut. And I think at that point it was a low point like ‘what am I doing? Is it really worth it.’”
Reneau says she had several people in her life, like her husband, who wouldn't let her quit.
It was only a few months later, the UFC finally came calling. Now, Reneau's ranked seventh in the world for her division.
Reneau says, “I want to fight for the title. I want to fight for the title. I don't look past my opponent now but everything that I do from this point on is to get that title.”
As she pushes toward a title fight, Reneau will work out three times a day - while teaching six classes and 180 students at Farmersville HS - and raising her son, who's now in high school.
“When I think about where I've come from and how hard it's been to get here and how other people want to be where I'm at - I can't take any moment, any time, any second for granted," says Reneau. "I just go into a mode where I just can't stop.”
Lara, Reneau's trainer, says, “I’ve asked her before, ‘how do you do it?’ I’ve never seen anybody work as hard as she works.”
Reneau's husband, Perez, thinks along the same lines. “You know I've been an athlete my whole life you know, and prior military you know, I know how it is to work hard. And I'm like this girl is tough. That's why she's special.”
“She's a spitfire," says Principal Whitworth. "She is so motivational.”
Vice Principal Chapman adds, “I think Marion has has lived a life where she has made everything happen for herself. She has a level of sticktoitiveness and grit that is second to none.”
This is what Marion Reneau does for a living -- she fights.
And this is what Marion Reneau does for a living -- she teaches.
Through both, she's a role model.
“You know, there'll be times when I'm at the gym training and a little girl will come in and she's just like looking at me and her mom's like, ‘well she's watched you on TV, she wants to take a picture with you,’ and I'm like, ‘come, come,’" says Reneau. "Because I want them to have something positive to look forward to and know that even when your circumstances are bad - I had bad circumstances. I was broke. I was living paycheck to paycheck. I was a single mom. It was hard. - that you can find a way out. It might be hard but God is never going to give you something that you can't handle.”
Reneau's next fight is July 14th in Boise, against Cat Zingano.