MIGHTY 25: Navy veteran and MMA fighter Kelsey DeSantis will still be in action


Kelsey DeSantis was 18 when her life trajectory changed forever. It was the day she became a Marine.

Before she started to improvise, adapt and overcome, life was difficult. I grew up in Southern California and grew up pretty tough. I like to say the way some people can relate – the projects we grew up in got scrapped, ”she said with a laugh. “It’s always been a bit like a dog-eating dog world, you know? And it was a little scary when I was a kid, to be honest. There were times when I was like, it just doesn’t feel right. My mom always taught me to check my six.

The lessons of a difficult childhood in a socio-economically depressed environment fostered a sense of courage upon which DeSantis would learn to depend. “I I got into martial arts and martial arts really saved my life, ”she added.

DeSantis admitted that she horribly lost her first fight. In fact, she called him “getting his face beaten”. But she got up and stepped into the ring. A lesson she would remember. DeSantis got better and started winning fights.

Growing up, she was heavily influenced by an uncle who was a Marine during the Vietnam War. “He wasn’t my biological uncle, but he took care of my brother and me when he didn’t have to,” Desantis explained. Just as she was starting to gain traction in the fighting world, an offer to go pro with MMA was put on the table.

She chose the Marine Corps instead.

“I wanted something more and I wanted to serve my country. And I knew that because… I will not be unrealistic and I will say great answers, besides the fact that number one, the most amazing people I have ever met were members who have served our country ”, a- she added. I graduated from business honor in my bootcamp class. I told my uncle that I was going to do this. “

From 2007 to 2012, she was attached to the HMX-1, the Presidential Helicopter Squadron as the K-9 Military Police Manager working for both President Bush and President Obama.

Photo courtesy of Kelsey DeSantis

We researched explosives and did reconnaissance missions, overseas and in the United States, which were really, really interesting and a lot of fun. I learned a lot. And then I went to the Martial Arts Center of Excellence, ”Desantis said. I had to fight a few more times and the Marine Corps really opened my eyes to jujitsu. Before, I was just a standing fighter and wasn’t very proficient in the various martial arts. The Marine Corps gave me this in a very special and unique way.

There, she was the first female Marine to teach at the highest level for the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MACE). She also invited and brought actor and singer Justin Timberlake to the Marine Corps Ball during this time. Not serious.

MIGHTY 25: Navy veteran and MMA fighter Kelsey DeSantis will still be in action
Desantis with Timberlake at the Marine Corps Ball.

Five years after becoming a Marine, she was ready to try something new. DeSantis used his GI Bill to graduate from Nova Southeastern University. She also established the first NSU student veterans organization, the NSVA, and the NSU Veterans Resource Center (VRC).

DeSantis was selected to be Ms. Veteran of America’s Iron Princess in 2014 and even featured in a Dr. Pepper “One of a Kind” commercial in 2012. In 2019, she graduated with a Masters in Public Relations from the University of Miami. .

Over the years, DeSantis has worked his way through various marketing or non-profit opportunities before landing his current position at Grunt Style, leading its strategic partnerships.

When she looks back on how far she has come, DeSantis admits that it can be overwhelming at times. I come from nothing. There were so many times I thought about suicide when I was a kid, when I was a kid, you know what I mean? And these are things I wouldn’t say to my VA advisor… because they would write a welfare check or something, ”she said. Child, if you had told me or if I had been able to see a replay of some of the things that have happened in my life since then I would have said there was no way.

MIGHTY 25: Navy veteran and MMA fighter Kelsey DeSantis will still be in action
Photos courtesy of Kelsey DeSantis

So what would the public be surprised to know about this badass Marine, MMA fighter, mom and powerful woman all around? DeSantis digs into things like keeping a journal in his Passion Planner and getting dirty. I love gardening and walking with my feet in the mud. There is just something really special about being outside, ”she added.

As for what DeSantis would like the military community to move away from its history? The message was simple.

“Never stop fighting because we are all fighting for something.”

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