Dec 23, 2021
Veteran Highlight: Stephanie Simon
Musician. Marine. Fighter. Trailblazer. Stephanie Simon has spent the last decade growing her career with a deliberate mindset to challenge the status quo and land beyond her goals. She has leveraged The COMMIT Foundation in her transition out of active duty and into a purpose-driven post-service life.
Simon’s father, a Marine, was the first to see that Simon had incredible potential for athletics. Her coordination and even just her run were clear indicators that she would be an athlete. Growing up in Washington state, there were many sports and activity options available for Simon to try on for size. She became involved in her school’s marching band and developed a love for music while also honing an incredible level of discipline. She became involved in a few different sports but finally landed on Taekwondo which also required a high level of commitment and discipline. Eventually, she discovered and fell in love with wrestling which had just started to gain popularity for girls in the Pacific Northwest.
“Going into my first match ever, two little boys ran up and told me that my opponent would kick my butt. They thought because I was a girl, he would beat me,” Simon said. Shortly after the fight began, it became clear that Simon would be winning. She still has a photo of herself after the match; a small pigtailed girl smiling with her arms outstretched in victory while the referee comforts her opponent in the background.
“It was the first time I had that feeling of “you don’t belong here” and I had to earn my way to belong,” Simon said. For some, that discouragement would put an end to their pursuit, but for Simon, it only made her crave victory more. This concept would become a common theme in her life. Overcoming obstacles and fighting the odds became Simon’s specialty.
When she started to think of college, the Naval Academy and the challenge it promised allured Simon. While they did not have a wrestling program, she hoped to change that by helping them start a wrestling team. As she prepared for college, she was given the opportunity to take boxing in the summer as a way to validate the class and not have to do it again as part of the normal curriculum. But then she had her first victory in the ring and everything changed.
“I had to fight a girl in front of 1,000 classmates and I won,” Simon said. “They put me on their shoulders and it was a very thrilling experience. That’s when I started boxing.”
Today, the Naval Academy women’s boxing team has grown by 10 times its size during Simon’s time in. She touts that as something she is tremendously proud of, having done the hard work and beaten the odds to pave a path for the next woman in line.
When it came time to choose a branch of service, Simon gravitated to the Marines. There was an instant connection she had with many of the Naval Academy instructors who hailed from the Marine Corps and she could not deny the challenge it presented, especially upon learning that combat arms were open to any woman who could meet the standards. Since combat arms roles were only recently opened to women, Simon saw an opportunity to make her mark and do work she could be truly proud of.
“The danger that comes with being an amphibious assault Officer is unlike anything else in the Marine Corps. At 23 years old, you’re out a few thousand meters at sea trying to get your guys and 300 infantrymen on a ship. You’re trying to pick a location in the middle of the ocean to meet with the Navy personnel you’re coordinating with,” Simon said. When asked about the amount of fear and stress inherent to her that role, Simon explained, “it makes fighting not scary.” And that is exactly that attitude one would expect the first Captain of the Marine Corps Boxing Team to have.
As she transitions off of active duty to pursue a Mixed Martial Arts career, Simon is working through COMMIT’s Pursue Your Purpose program along with executive coaching with Court Whitman. Having been an athlete and former special operator, Whitman instantly connected with Simon’s fighting spirit and hunger for challenge. He was also able to identify where her hesitancies were. Whitman encouraged Simon to start back-planning her move to Miami and encouraged her to start building up her network there through informational interviews and other networking activities.
“A good fit between a coach and coachee at COMMIT means meeting certain criteria. Value alignment, shared experience, and value are important in building trust and a willingness to work together.” Whitman said. He and Simon were aligned in their values, were both athletes and veterans and she perceived value in what he had to offer upon their first meeting. Whitman is a seasoned COMMIT coach and is well known for his ability to challenge people in a way that will draw out the information they need to design their post-service life, successfully. One of the things COMMIT reinforces is the idea of taking a tactical pause while leaving active duty. Most transitioning service members feel very pressured and rushed to land a job and keep the momentum going from their military service. But with the tactical pause, Simon was able to redirect her energy into something she feels truly passionate about.
Simon will continue her path as a trailblazer and has already signed on with First Round Management to help her navigate her fighting career. “For me when I look back the moments I was happiest was when I found out I inspired someone,” she said. In leading by example, earning titles, and conquering obstacles, Simon will continue trailblazing a path for young women everywhere.