They Lead

‘Proud, But Never Satisfied’: A Marine’s Journey Through Sports And The Military

Emilee White

Growing up, Ian Vernon always loved soccer — it was his thing, something he loved doing, especially when tough times came down on his family. 

While Vernon was just a little kid, his family’s home was foreclosed on and they went into bankruptcy. Faced with limited options, Vernon’s family moved back to his mother’s native country, Ecuador, and remained there for a few years. Despite this, Vernon made the best of the situation, and fell more and more in love with soccer.

“I really started to fall in love with what I thought was the sport I wanted to do, soccer,” Vernon said. “I wasn't the best player — I was just a scrappy defender — but I liked to get up in people's faces. I would always be put on the best player because I'd always be able to shut them down. I wasn't the most skilled player, but I think I contributed in my own way.”
Ian Vernon

After moving back to the United States when he was in the sixth grade, Vernon explained he was a bit overweight and was struggling with his new life, living in and out of hotels and motels, and being bullied. Eventually, Vernon decided it was time to get in shape and joined a local gym in his hometown at the advice of a classmate and just started training. Anything from solo training sessions to fitness classes, Vernon was doing it. 

One day while at the gym, a post caught Vernon’s attention about a new cross-fusion class that was being offered at his gym with professional boxer Scott Fuko. So, naturally, Vernon took all his classes and he was hooked. It was after he hired Fuko to train him personally that Vernon knew he just made the best decision of his life.  

“[Fuko] just texted me one day telling me he was at this beach and to meet him at 3 p.m.,” Vernon said. “We worked out there and it was one of the hardest workouts I've ever done in my life. He then took me under his wing and mentored me, trained me mentally, physically, and then in boxing. We would be out on the tennis courts, just sparring, or we would find a random park. It was the weirdest type of training, but the best kind of training because in my head, I was thinking, 'I can do anything,' and that's helped me so much going forward.”

While Vernon continued to train with Fuko during high school, he also played on his school’s soccer team. Vernon however knew his soccer career wouldn’t make it past high school as he didn’t start on varsity until his senior year. He also wasn’t the greatest student and college was approaching fast so Vernon switched his focus to boxing and everything fell into place. Knowing he wanted to box, Vernon applied to Penn State with the goal to join the boxing team. But that wasn’t Vernon’s only goal.

Ian Vernon
“I went to Penn State thinking that I wanted to be in the Navy as a pilot, but then all of a sudden, the Marine Corps brought me into their office when I was visiting [the school] for my orientation and said they didn't really care about my GPA as much as they cared about my leadership ability and my physical fitness. I thought it sounded absolutely perfect for me, and it’s easier to be a pilot in the Marine Corps than in the Navy.”

Vernon always had it in his head he was going to join the United States Military — his dad, grandfather, and great-grandfather all served in the Army so Vernon grew up listening to their stories. By his sophomore year of high school, Vernon began looking into different service academies for college, but nothing quite fit him. And although he didn’t have the best grades, Vernon wanted to become a pilot and an aerospace engineer so he began applying to schools with Navy ROTC programs. Vernon even applied for a Navy scholarship, but when he didn’t get it, he claimed it was a blessing because he eventually got into Penn State and was introduced to the Marine Corps side of the NROTC program.

In his first year of college, Vernon joined the Marine Corps ROTC and instantly fell in love, all while competing on his school’s boxing team. Vernon soon picked up a scholarship with his ROTC program and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps four years later — he had gone to Officer Candidate School, OCS, his junior year and then went to the basic officer course after he graduated college. From there, Vernon was selected to be an infantry officer out of the Basic Officer Leaders Course and spent about two years with his infantry unit, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines, at Camp Lejeune and did several training deployments, and still somehow fit training into his schedule. 

Ian Vernon
“I had fought for the Marine Corps boxing team right before I left [for the Unit Deployment Program], but as soon as I got back, I went right back into boxing, discussed it with my unit, and they said I could train during the day, I just had to come back and finish up my work,” Vernon said. “So I had long days where I was getting up at 4 a.m., running, going to work for a couple of hours, training with the team from 12 to 4 p.m. every day, and then going back to work from 4 to 7 p.m. It was a grind for a couple of months.”

In March 2022, Vernon finally got permanent orders over to the boxing team and he’s been there ever since. This time next year, Vernon hopes to achieve professional status, but until then, he plans to remain “proud but never satisfied”, a phrase Fuko taught him to live by.

Photo credits: Courtesy of Ian Vernon