Nyrene Joan Crowley – remember the name. The 5ft 5 ‘Neutron Bomb’ from East Auckland has her eyes firmly fixed on a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) world championship belt.
Nyrene’s first professional fight was not only her proudest achievement to date but it was like no other competition she’s experienced – and there have been many during her lifetime having played competitively across 15 different sporting codes.
The mental preparation and series of events leading up to the fight were the hardest she’s encountered, making the win even more satisfying.
“I couldn’t spar because it didn’t feel right to kick and pivot on my foot so my preparation was limited.”
The ability to kick did not improve come fight night leaving Nyrene short on options.
“My opponent had really good hands so I knew I had to take her down. I was trying hard to finish it with a submission in the first round but the clock beat me; in the second round she hip tossed me and I rolled out of it and eventually got on top and won with a rear naked choke.”
That description alone amazed me as I watched Nyrene re-tell her special moment. Listening to the physical barriers she overcame was bad enough, but the hardest part was getting her head right which was a whole new battle.
“Emotionally I had to try a different approach. I focused more on floating, meditation, and training my mind which I’ve never done before. I never really valued visualising but I spent a lot of time on my own practicing it during camp.”
It obviously worked on debut. Although what was more amazing to hear was the severity of the injury – what was originally diagnosed as a bad sprain was confirmed after the fight as an ACL tear – an injury which would see Nyrene ring side for up to nine months.
How did you get into MMA?
I met Nyrene during her rehabilitation and was interested to know how she got involved in MMA. She laughed and said it was the most popular question people asked her.
“People put me into a box when they meet me; they think I’m a little girl who should stick to pretty non-contact sports like netball.”
Sitting at the gym with her in that moment I could tell she wasn’t one for labels especially those that placed judgement on people at face value.
She carried on and explained how a work friend encouraged her to attend a boot camp and at the time she was trying to get into shape for the NZ Maori Tag Team so went along. Over the next couple of months she learnt more each session and a love for the sport grew.
“Up until then I’d only been involved in team sports but I knew from the beginning that Muay Thai gave me something extra and as soon as I finished my first fight I wanted more.”
Only in her third year of fighting Nyrene has a total of 15 fights under her belt – mostly across Muay Thai, one boxing and a handful of MMA.
“MMA suits my body type the best. With Muay Thai and boxing I’m always the shorter fighter so I have to work in and out, with jujitsu I can use my strong Samoan legs I got from my mum but MMA allows me to use a combination of them all.”
It is not fame and fortune driving Nyrene to pursue the sport further but the knowledge that with international success comes opportunities to make a difference – opportunities she wants to use to inspire the youth of New Zealand, in particular young girls and women.
Some could say Nyrene is already doing this in her day job at Auckland Council – she is part of a team who help young people with drug addictions.
“In my role I see issues facing our young girls on a regular basis – circumstances mean they get the short end of the stick and it’s hard because most of the time it’s through no fault of their own.”
“It hurts because they suffer from low self-esteem and worth but I can see they have so much potential.”
“As materialistic as it sounds I feel I can make more of an impact if I’m successful in the arena; I know I could reach more people.”
Using sport to make a difference
Nyrene’s family have played a major role in her life. She credits her father for being the main driving force behind participating in sport.
“Dad has always been a strong advocate for health and fitness. At times growing up it was annoying because when you’re a 12 year old kid you just want to hang out with friends in the weekend but he had my siblings and I waking up at 6am to attend road running events.”
In hindsight Nyrene understands the importance of these early morning adventures – not only were they sharing in activities their father loved but he was setting a strong base for their future endeavours.
“You have to be driven, disciplined, and passionate to go professional and I feel my dad set that up without me even really knowing it. It’s something I appreciate and love about him.”
The foundation of continuous improvement and determination to achieve goals is definitely in their DNA; Nyrene’s older sister, Cheree was the first woman in Oceania to sign with WWE (Dakotai Kai) and her younger brother is well-known DJ on the local scene, Earl Sweatpants.
Outside of sport?
I was impressed with her fighting stories but I wasn’t surprised there was more to Nyrene. In her spare time she speaks to sports teams (mostly girls) about her experiences and encourages them to chase their dreams. She is also a talented singer and Auckland University of Technology alumni (graduated with a Bachelor of Communications majoring in Studio and TV with a minor in journalism).
As much as she would love to hang out with family and friends, her relentless commitment to the main goal makes this difficult. When asked how her family would describe her she said her sister might say strong like her mother but also sensitive.
“Perhaps angry too – I think it has to do with my sensitive side because I care about people so when I’m mad about something, I’m really mad.”
Nyrene is moving to Thailand at the end of the year to train full time. “It’s a big move financially but if there’s no risk there’s no reward.”
Not one to have regrets, her only wish was that she started earlier. “27 is quite late in the game but I can’t dwell on it, I have to concentrate on using the time I have now.”
And that’s exactly what she is doing.
Photo credit: Nyrene’s Facebook page