“Oh my God, that’s so cool!” That’s how Serena DeJesus reacted when she learned about mixed martial arts and would later become the first autistic female UFC fighter.
Earlier, her mom, Billie Sherwood, had not known about her child’s Autism. She recalls her daughter being put on Psychotic drugs because doctors did not fully understand what was going on with her. Her daughter Serena took all sorts of psychotic medications. Still, they never made a difference until one therapist suggested seeing Serena off the meds so that her behavior could be analyzed further.
When Serena was taken off the medications for one week, the therapist eventually diagnosed her with Autism. “She’s not a single one of these; she’s only autistic,” the therapist said with relief. The Autism diagnosis relieved Billie because she could finally understand her condition without a doubt.
As it turned out, Serena’s dad loved to watch mixed martial arts. Young Serena would often find herself in the room watching mma next to her dad. One night, they watched a match between Paul Herrera versus Gary Goodridge captivated her. It was a match that clicked for her, and she felt that fighting could work for her as an outlet.
According to an interview with Serena’s Mom, the MMA match that her daughter watched made her daughter “excited in her little girl way.” She would snuggle up and watch it with her dad & It was the first time that Serena had seemed to find something interesting.
Serena’s mom made an effort to enroll her in mixed martial arts classes where she could meet other peers with a passion for martial arts. She saw how enthralled her daughter was with the sport and thought it might help her channel her energy constructively while also providing a way for her to express herself.
Serena took to the sport like a fish to water and quickly rose to the ranks of the MMA world. Her skills earned her an invitation to fight in the UFC, making her the first female autistic fighter. It was a monumental accomplishment that inspired thousands.
According to Serena, the fighting made her feel equal to her peers and gave her a sense of purpose. She felt like she didn’t have to be isolated anymore and could just be herself with a feeling of mutual respect.
For the mom, it was amazing to see her daughter excel and grow into a strong young woman who had found something that made her happy. Although, at times, it was tough to sit back and watch her daughter fight somebody who wanted to kill her and hurt her, she found solace in the fact that it was something that helped Serena find peace, and it was her passion.
She adds that while her daughter was in school in the past, she was always picked on, bullied, and made feel like she was different. Her mom would cry and brush it off because she didn’t know how to help her. Also a non-physical approach was the only way to handle conflict in school.
The bullying continued for years until her mom allowed her to use her to deal with it. This solved the problem, and her daughter was confident, happy, and able to move on with her life.
Mixed Martial Arts has become a beacon of hope for many. It allows people to express themselves in ways they never thought possible while developing self-confidence and discipline. Serena says She’s proud of her journey and that she overcame her Autism to become a strong fighter.