Cassia Renee Duval was found dead in a crashed vehicle near an intersection in Wayne County. She was seven months pregnant, and her unborn child did not survive. Her boyfriend told CBS17 that the two were looking forward to being parents. The details of her death are still under investigation, and additional information was not immediately available.
Duval was the manager of a Waffle House and a jiu-jitsu athlete at Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Goldsboro. In a statement to the Jiu-Jitsu Times, the academy owner, Royce Gracie black belt Jake Whitfield, said that Duval had recently received the third stripe on her blue belt.
“Renee came into my life just about four years ago at a time that I was really struggling. She brought with her an infectious energy and positivity. I saw her virtually every day for the last four years, and almost every day I made a joke about her being “extra.” Everything she did was extra. She was extra excited. She was extra happy. Unfortunately when she was sad, she was extra sad. Renee was not the type of person that seemed to understand that moderation was even possible. Everything that she did, she did with her whole heart and her whole being.
The truth is that I am only now realizing how much I needed that extra part of her personality. I was newly divorced when Renee bounced into my life and I was struggling to find my feet. Her extra energy helped me when I didn’t have enough. Her extra enthusiasm made my classes fun, even when I didn’t have enough enthusiasm about a lesson. Renee was the best student I’ve ever had. I’ve taught other people with more natural ability. I’ve taught other people who were more athletic. I’ve taught other people who picked things up more easily. But Renee was the best. Her extra-ness carried over into her training. She came to class every day and she did everything that I asked of her. She believed in me more than anyone that I have ever taught. She worked harder than anyone I have ever taught. She refused to back down from anyone. She refused to quit. No matter how many times that she got tapped or how many times a move failed, she kept trying and she tried with all her heart.
She competed and she did very well. She won lots of matches and she won lots of medals, but she never made excuses when she lost. She just worked harder. I remember the day that she told me that she was pregnant. She had been getting tired faster than normal and she had been getting dizzy. She even got sick a few times. Then one day she walked in and she almost whispered to me that she had to tell me something. I knew what she was going to say before she even said it. She told me that she was pregnant. She was sad that her training was going to have to slow down, but she was so happy. Over time, she could do less and less. I could tell it was killing her, but she also got more and more excited about being a mom. She was going to be a great mom. We talked about putting a swing next to the mat for Aspen, her daughter. We already made plans that we would have a playpen next to the mat when Aspen outgrew the swing.
Renee was a part of my family. My kids loved her. Everyone loved her. When I told my kids that she had passed away, Reagan immediately burst into tears. She told me that Renee was her best friend. As Renee got to the point that she couldn’t actively train anymore, she sat next to the mat and she watched. I could tell she was going crazy. All these new white belt guys that she hadn’t tapped yet. Just one night before she left us, we sat next to the mat and talked about how she couldn’t wait to roll with all these guys.
On Renee’s last day in a Gi, she earned the 3rd stripe on her blue belt. She made an Instagram post after saying that said “This is the hardest stripe that I have tested for. Both mentally and physically. It’s going to be the last for awhile but the best part about Jiu Jitsu is that I’ll have it for life.” That future is what was taken from her and from Aspen. She was supposed to have the rest of her life. She was supposed to have many many years of laughter and love and Jiu Jitsu and family. That’s the part that is hardest for me. Knowing that I will never see her again or hear her laugh or watch her roll. That little bit of extra that she brought to everything she did is the thing that I will miss the most.”
Whitfield also shared a video featuring Duval that had been posted on the academy’s page:
The Jiu-Jitsu Times will continue to provide updates on this story as they become available, and we express our heartfelt condolences to all of Renee’s team and loved ones.