Where a lot of people would at least temporarily let an island-leveling hurricane get them down, it was Hurricane Maria that kicked Angela Whitley into gear.
Whitley grew up an overachiever. Working hard in all aspects of life led her to many accolades, and by her early 20s she had her undergrad degree in Marine Biology with a Masters in mind while becoming the first woman of color to skipper for Texas A&M’s sailing team.
Post-college, Whitley began globetrotting, spending time in Dubai and Australia, among other stops, and she had a heavy hand in opening the first Antarctic penguin exhibit in the Middle East. She then did the same Down Under. Whitley enjoyed the ride, but she was interested in leaving her current industry to pursue higher education.
Taking advantage of the lengthy application process, Whitley used the time to set up shop outside of the U.S. and put a hobby of hers to good use.
“While I was waiting to be accepted I decided I would live in the Caribbean, specifically Puerto Rico, because I don’t need a passport or anything to be there since it’s a U.S. territory,” Whitley said. “I’m also a scuba diving instructor so I figured, ‘ok, this should be easy.’”
All was going according to plan. The University of Miami accepted Whitley’s application and allowed her to defer her acceptance for a year. The hobby she picked up overseas - Muay Thai - was going smoothly and it seemed all had fallen into place.
Mid-September of 2017, Hurricane Maria struck and leveled her adopted home of Puerto Rico like nothing before or since. The Category 5 storm left most buildings on the island in shambles. All of the structures Whitley relied on were gone.
“That hurricane turned everybody’s life upside down and I really didn’t know where I was going at that moment because that was such a devastating natural disaster,” Whitley said.
While scuba was still possible, nobody was coming to the island to vacation anymore. Schools had no more Masters funding and the sport that she began putting more focus in than she had ever originally considered had been taken away from her. Even with as much wreckage as she was dealing with, losing fighting was one of the hardest pills to swallow.
“I definitely never thought I was going to fight again,” Whitley explained. “I didn’t think the school was ever going to open back up.”
Perseverance paid off. Whitley never gave up, never let the flame die. Call it luck, call it a lifetime of preparation, but doors were cracking open for Whitley and it started with Muay Thai.
“After that, the USMTF asked me if I could fight at the world championships for the ISMA and I was like, ‘Oh my goodness!’ I’m getting these opportunities after the horrible, horrible event but how am I going to train for that?” Whitley wondered. “But things lined up for me to be able to pursue what I wanted to do.”
The University of Puerto Rico came calling as well. The lifetime of academic hard work had both financially and metaphorically paid off. Whitley is now putting the finishing touches on her PhD in Environmental Sciences. If the world thought Angela Whitley was motivated before, having it all taken away and being shown that hard work put her back where she left off has turned her into a rocket, shot straight for the moon.
Catch Angela Whitley as she takes on Taylor McClatchie in the co-main event of Lion Fight 65, ONLY on UFC FIGHT PASS!