HARROGATE, Tennessee, March 11, 2019 —Olivia (Reynolds) Parker thought her athletic career had ended when she wrapped up her final season as a member of the Lady Railsplitters basketball team in 2005 and graduated to adulthood. But now, years later, the wife, mother and high school English teacher rediscovered the competitive side of herself in an unexpected way and literally kicked off 2019 making her debut as a professional MMA fighter.
Parker had put aside her competitive spirit to focus on a family and a career. Then she started a weight loss program five years ago and accidently wandered into an MMA gym operated by Knoxville Martial Arts Academy (KMAA). That night changed her life. After losing over 150 pounds and surpassing the fitness level of her college days, Parker developed a new passion that has elevated her game in all areas of her life.
As of Jan. 19, 2019, Parker, aka Pheonix, is 1-0 as a professional fighter, continuing her undefeated status from the amateur ranks where her record was 5-0. She is ranked 3rd in Tennessee and 8th in the Southeast among female MMA fighters in the lightweight division.
In addition to her role in Railsplitter athletics from 2001 to 2005, Parker majored in American studies, pre-law and history. She was a member of Phi Alpha Theta, the historical honors society. She also received her teaching certification from LMU and went on to earn a master’s degree in history from Norwich University Online.
“Loved, loved, loved my time at LMU. I loved the close-knit student body and my professors who pushed me to be a better person. I really grew into the person I am today at LMU,” Parker said. “The school and my friends there were a very important part of that.”
In the classroom, she expands minds teaching American literature and after the bell rings, she’s at the track training students to reach new goals as athletes. She reflects fondly on playing for one of LMU’s most successful coaches and describes how his influence made a difference in her life.
“I loved playing basketball for Coach (Roger) Vannoy,” Parker said. “He is such an amazing man, and he taught me so much about both sports and life. I learned to be technical and intense, giving everything I have, but I also learned how to inject humor and fun into it as well. It’s helped me immensely as I am now a coach and teacher myself.”
As an educator who spends her free time throwing punches to take down her opponents, Parker has become a celebrity at her day job at Heritage High School where she teaches American literature and coaches track.
“The reaction varies. Some people think I’m crazy while others think it’s neat,” Parker said. “I always have several students, athletes and coworkers at my fights, so they support me.”
Being a fighter provides personal fulfillment in many ways, including keeping her fit and enhancing the other areas of her life.
“I feel it helps with coaching because the kids know that I’m working and juggling things just as they are,” Parker said. “I know what it’s like to wake up so sore I can barely dress myself then go to school all day and train again as well. My athletes have been very supportive and very encouraging during hard training spots because we get each other in that respect.”
Parker and her husband Phil reside in Seymour, Tennessee, with their two sons Kyden, age 9, and Cameron, age 8.
Lincoln Memorial University is a values-based learning community dedicated to providing educational experiences in the liberal arts and professional studies. The main campus is located in Harrogate, Tennessee. For more information about the undergraduate and graduate programs available at LMU, contact the Office of Admissions at 423.869.6280 or email at admissions@LMUnet.edu.