Meet Jack Molan, A Sea Captain Who’s Seen it All!

Capt. Jack

Have you heard of “The Deadliest Catch” TV show, where fishing crews risk their lives in angry seas to bring fish to our tables? Captain Jack Molan wasn’t on the show, but he’s been captain of some of the show’s vessels and other boats. He knows what it’s like to get caught in a storm in freezing waters and wonder if he’ll get his crew out alive.

With his special brand of leadership that unifies crews, in ten short stories, Capt. Jack shares his adventures in ferocious storms in the book he released in mid-September.

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: My Thirty Years in the Bering Sea

Below, with permission, I posted the story he wrote about how tenacity got him the job that would threaten his life at times, but he would truly find his passion. Enjoy!

 

LIFE AT SEA

 

At age thirteen, my mom walked me onto the train in Sacramento, California. “Say, ‘Hi’ to Grandma and Grandpa and my sister,” she said and gave me a quick kiss.

This photo of Union Station is courtesy of TripAdvisor

At Union Station in Portland, I found my grandparents waiting for me. Grandpa shook my hand as Grandma said, “You’d
like to worry me sick, Jack Molan.”  Then she smothered me in hugs.

From the train station, they took me to a Greyhound bound for Seaside, Oregon. In two hours, I got off the bus and inhaled the salt air. My pulse picked up in anticipation. Soon I would see what I came for.

My auntie pulled to the curb in a huge Pontiac LeMans. “Oh, I’m so glad you came to stay with us,” she said, but I didn’t plan to spend much time at her house. Each day, on her way to work, she’d drop me with a sack lunch at my true destination. I’d come to hang out at the south end of Seaside, at the cove where I could watch the surfers ride the waves.

I stood on a boulder the size of a small car, spellbound, after hiking a mile over slick, smooth rocks to Second Point. Spindrift blew off waves two stories high that roared past me like locomotives. The white water exploded like bombs going off, the rocky shoreline rumbling under my feet. Smooth, gray faces pitched in perfect peeling curls. I knew this place would someday either give me the ride of my life or a horrible drowning.

Ancient spruce and fir trees formed a lush green wall behind me. Brilliant white seagulls skimmed the water’s surface, not for food but to play in the rainbow of refracted light in the spray, out-running the thundering breakers. The pulsing ocean both frightened and thrilled me.

“I’ll be a surfer and live by the ocean,” I swore on the rock that day.

By the time I graduated from high school, our family had moved to Tacoma Washington. I left my home in Tacoma at seventeen and moved to Seaside, Oregon. Initially, I flopped on Auntie’s couch but quickly landed a restaurant job. Within a few weeks, I bought a Mercury Comet for a hundred bucks and rented a room in a small beach house with a couple of surfers. A job came up at a fish cannery, so I left the restaurant to work on a clean-up crew.

The slimy, smelly job paid better than dish washing, but the night shift is what I valued most. When I got off work, I could jump in my Comet and go hit the waves. I never once considered college. “I can go to school if there’s something I want to learn,” I would say when people asked about my plans for the future.

At the cannery dock one day, I helped offload a shrimp boat, breaking up the ice and scooping out pink crustaceans with my white plastic shovel. Buzz, a deck hand, sat nearby on a wooden crate against the railing, smoking his Camel non-filters and bragged: “I made twelve hundred bucks this week.”

“What?” I stopped shoveling and squinted into the sun at him. “You made that much in a week?”

“Oh, yeah. It’s been rocking. I’ll bank thirty grand by the end of the season.” He took a long drag on his cancer stick. “I just have to stay out of the bar.”

I’d busted my butt working overtime that week and earned a quarter of what he made in three days. “So, Buzz, what do you do all winter?”

“Ah, the guys with families fish dungy crabs, but I go to Mexico—six months on, six months off.”

I leaned on my shovel, dumbfounded. I’d just found the brass ring. Money and time—time and money. I wanted both. That summer, I turned twenty-one and decided my next job would be on a fishing boat.

When the surf was flat, I walked the docks looking for an opening. One day, I met a captain whose boat reflected his pride. The decks smelled of bleach from a recent wash-down. The ropes were hung up, the nets stacked neatly, and the fishing gear organized. His crew was painting deck boards, joking and laughing as they worked. I knew this boat had a reputation as a top producer and was thrilled the captain would talk to me.

“We don’t need anyone. I’ve had the same guys for years.” The captain pointed across the marina to a derelict scow that had rust stains running down the side of the hull, paint peeling off the wheelhouse, and a crew in filthy clothes. “That pile of crap is looking for help, but be careful, kid. I know you’re hungry for work, but don’t do it. Good boats rarely need help, and bad boats always need help. That boat is a widow maker.”

His advice probably saved my life, more than once. I still quote him when young people on the docks ask me about work.

Later that summer, my big break came. I got hired on Pegasus, a brand-new shrimp trawler. The shiny blue hull and spotless gray decks made the boat a real standout—queen of the Astoria fleet. As a greenhorn, I made less, but I couldn’t care less. I had a job on an awesome new boat.

I worked hard, jumping to do things the out-of-shape deck boss avoided. At twice my age, he’d been passed over as skipper. He felt he should be in the wheelhouse, not on deck, and sometimes he took out his frustration on me. I ran up ladders and crawled out in the rigging to untangle knotted lines. I hopped in the hold and waded through waist-deep ice, stacking fish. Nothing stopped me. I asked endless questions about nets, cable rigging, diesel engines, the shrimp we were catching, the weather, other boats, and how to navigate. The grizzled deck boss started calling me “Grasshopper”, referring to the character who always asked the master questions in “Kung Fu”, a popular TV show at the time—and the nickname stuck.

That fall, when fishing season ended, a rusty Chevy Impala, stacked with new bright orange, red, and yellow Lightning Bolt surfboards from Hawaii, pulled into the surfers’ parking lot. I met the owner, David, who had a wide grin and an infectious laugh. At the campfire that evening, long after the others had left, David and I sat on a big driftwood log, still in our wetsuits, and I marveled at his tales of king crab fishing in the Bering Sea.

“We don’t sleep, and the weather is insane. Boats stacked high with crab pots roll over, and big waves punch in their windows. If you live, you make big bucks,” he told me. “I’m leaving to surf in France in a few days. In January, I gotta be back in Seattle to fly to Alaska to fish on the Royal Viking. The crew made a hundred ten grand on deck last year.”

And I thought: I could buy a house in Seaside for forty-thousand.

When spring came, I saw David in a local restaurant. “Hey, you want to come see my new house?” he asked with that giant grin of his.

I followed him through deep green rainforest where big older homes dot the coastline. David had bought five acres on the Tillamook Head sea cliffs, overlooking the best surf spot in Oregon.

“I take off for Dutch Harbor, Alaska in a few days,” he said, gazing out at the ocean. “Should only take a couple years to pay this off.”

“Take me king crabbing,” I said. “I’m ready anytime.”

David laughed. “You can try Seattle, but no one I know is quitting or hiring.”

I was determined to land a job on a king crab boat. My chances may have been slim, but I paid eight-hundred dollars for a ‘66 VW Bus and took many two-hundred-mile trips from Seaside to Ballard, near Seattle, Washington, where the Alaska crab fleet docked in the offseason. Sleeping in my bus at night, I spent the daylight hours walking the docks, using all the charm and energy I could muster to get a job, but no one would talk to me.

One evening, after a long day shoveling shrimp on the Pegasus, I stopped by my auntie’s for spaghetti dinner. “Oh, honey, some guy named David called,” she said as she passed the salad bowl. “He sounds like a fun guy. He left his number.”

I sprang from the table and grabbed the phone.

“Hey, Jack, I just got a job on a new 123-foot Marco king crab boat, so new, it’s not even built yet, and I’ll be captain,” David told me. “It’s named Columbia.”

“Oh, wow,” I said. “That’s awesome!”

“You told me you wanted to go king crabbing. Were you serious?”

I swallowed hard. “Ah, yeah, absolutely!”

“You need a day or two to think about it?”

“I just thought about it. I’ll go.”

He chuckled. “Good. You’re my only greenhorn. You’ll make less money, but you can work up to full share.”

I was so stoked, I’d have gone for free.

Wife, Joanne, on the beach

Joanne and I had fallen in love, but I needed a real job before I could marry her. “He’s a surfer and a fisherman,” she’d tell her friends. One calm evening as we walked the docks she told me, “Fishing is an honorable way to make a living.” And she had my heart.

My Scandinavian beauty has a strong adventurous spirit, and she looked forward to the fisherman’s life. After my first king crab season, we were married. I had just turned twenty-five, and she was twenty-six.

Joanne loved to come to Alaska with me. We spent months on the Columbia exploring much of the state waters, chasing salmon runs. She cooked for a small crew and took watches. Each summer, we’d venture together, taking in the beauty and magnificence of the Alaskan coastline in a storybook romance.

After three years, many thought Joanne would choose to stay home when our son arrived. “Having a kid isn’t going to slow me down,” she would tell people.

The next summer, she stepped off the plane and strolled over the gravel walkway in Dutch Harbor with our eight-month-old strapped to her back. Aboard the Columbia, our son traveled up and down the inside passage as well as crossed the Bering Sea and northern Pacific Ocean. To prepare meals in the galley, Joanne carried Gustav in his baby backpack. Gus’s favorite game was to be put in the walker, hold up his hands, and giggle with joy as he scooted across the room, banging into walls as the boat rolled. The salmon fishing fleet learned we had a baby onboard, and soon we had fishermen coming to hang out with us and our little boy.

But in the next few years, we had two little girls as well. Joanne decided to stay home with our children in Cannon Beach, Oregon. We had a home built there that her father designed, using cash along the way to pay for materials and labor.

The Columbia, Jack’s first boat as captain

Seven years after David hired me, I became captain of the Columbia. I knew I was made for the position, but the job required me to be away from home for ten months of the year. After so many months away, I worried our son and two younger daughters wouldn’t remember who I was. The thought tore me up. I was good at my job, but I had to prioritize my family.

Gratefully, the boat owners and managers arranged for me to rotate with another captain. I worked two months on and two months off. My original idea to fish, make a good living, and have time off became a reality.

When Gus, our oldest, was eight years old, Joanne and I decided he needed more time with me. Toward the end of third grade, we pulled him from school, so I could take him to Alaska. The school district and some of Joanne’s friends thought we were crazy. “What better thing could a boy do than be with his dad?” Joanne would ask.

Gus was a natural. He loved everything about the fishing life. He learned navigation using paper and electronic charts. He hung with the crew splicing lines and mending nets. He helped scrub the deck, including scraping and painting the bleeding rust. Keeping track of other boats’ movements with me intrigued him. Watching whales and sea-lions thrilled him. Catching huge numbers of fish excited him. He enjoyed everything about those first four months, and every summer afterwards, he begged me to take him to the Bering Sea.

When our daughters were younger, Joanne sent them to cousins’ houses in California. The girls bonded with their relatives while Joanne ventured north for a few weeks in the summers, cooking for the crew and spending time on the Columbia with Gus and me.

Bristol Bay gillnet near the Ugashik River. Credit: Carl Johnson (pewtrusts.org/bristolbay) (PRNewsFoto/The Pew Charitable Trusts)

At thirteen, Gus began gill-netting salmon in Bristol Bay and continued throughout his high school years. When Gus went off to college, he felt trapped and emailed: “Dad, I seriously don’t know what I’m doing here. I just talked to one of my professors, and I make more money than he does.”

I wrote back: “Son, the option to return to fishing is always open. Try to hang in there and finish college.”

Gus did graduate from college. He even got a job on land—and only lasted six months. Gus returned to fishing as a deck boss on a large trawler. Within five years, he earned his master’s license and became an alternate captain on a Bering Sea trawler. (FYI: Gus is the guy pounding the ice on the book cover.)

Our middle child, Ahna, at twenty years old, worked a salmon season on land in Bristol Bay. During the summer months, the office in the town of Naknek is the center of the salmon universe. She helped fishermen with housing, meal tickets, fishing licenses, and travel arrangements. I could call her on the radio and get fish reports, and though I couldn’t visit her, knowing she was close was somehow comforting.

 

Jack, Joanne, daughter Kirdy

Our youngest daughter, Kirsten, first came to Alaska the summer she turned seventeen. She worked in the galley by herself on the Columbia, keeping us all fed. Kirdy also grew into being a good tendering deckhand, offloading the smaller gill-net boats’ salmon into our large holds. She adapted quickly to sea life and became a favorite of the fishermen delivering their catch. I noticed longer lines at our boat as the Columbia provided the only opportunity to exchange a few words with a cute blonde on deck. A few years later, she worked onshore in Naknek at the “egg house” boxing up salmon eggs, spending sixteen-hour-days on her feet. She met some great kids but seemed happy    when the season ended.

After Joanne cooked on the Columbia for twenty-five or more seasons, she joined me aboard a 115-foot Arctic research vessel, the Norseman II, a completely different boat and geographical area for us both. The Arctic was a place I’d always wanted to experience, and I knew the vessel and its owners.

A converted king crabber, the boat housed up to thirty individuals. Two cooks alternated twelve hours on, twelve off. They fed thirty people three meals a day, prepared an additional midnight meal, plus they baked bread, cookies, and made ice cream. The job was hard work, but Joanne loved it.

Norseman II, science vessel

Together, we enjoyed watching ice floes, walrus, polar bear, and whales. I piloted the Norseman II from Point Barrow, the most northerly town in Alaska, east into Canadian waters. We skirted the Russia/United States border for days, maneuvering through the ice. I took the boat four hundred miles above the Arctic Circle, a thousand miles north of Dutch Harbor, into seldom traveled territory, completely new to us.

Joanne’s job was physically demanding, but I dealt with the weight of responsibility for keeping the scientists and crew safe. With endless foggy days and ice floes constantly changing, shifting, stopping, and rotating, I’d monitor ice movement from satellite reports, aerial searches, and a few scant ships’ reports. With daylight 24/7, we worked around the clock. I couldn’t escape the exhausting mental exertion of monitoring and navigating to reach our destinations without getting stuck in the ice, nor could I relax my vigilance. After the two-month season, I felt like the stuffing had been knocked out of me.

Still, Joanne and I committed to a few more summers on the Norseman II. Our final season, our youngest daughter, Kirsten, signed on with us. Joanne and Kirdy both cooked amazing, delicious food for the thirty people aboard the research vessel. Kirdy started in the galley at seven in the evening to relieve Joanne and clean up the dinner dishes. When Joanne came on at seven in the morning, she’d clean up the breakfast dishes and begin preparing lunch. Day after day, no darkness, endless work. In 2016, we declined the offer to run the Norseman II for another summer season.

Nowadays, Gus fishes pollock in the Bering Sea, he’s married, has two children, and they live a mile from Joanne and me in Bend, Oregon. Both Ahna and Kirdy have since moved on to other careers. Ahna lives in Los Angeles, has a job in marketing, and is married to Zach, a cinematographer. Kirdy is a director for kids’ camps in Bend, Oregon and is a gifted video editor, although she is tempted to go back to the sea.

In 2016, instead of the research vessel, I chose to run TV’s world famous “Deadliest Catch” vessel, the Cornelia Marie, from Seattle to Alaska for salmon tendering season. Casey and Josh, the regular captains, wanted to take off the summer months, and I looked forward to beautiful bays full of salmon with Joanne in the galley, rather than dodging treacherous ice floes. But running a famous boat for a season is a story in itself. I recently received a call from Sig Hansen to run his boat, the famous captain of the Northwestern, also a vessel on the “Deadliest Catch” TV show.

“I’d love to help, Sig,” I said. “But I’m committed to speaking on the Princess Cruise ships.”

“Are you kidding me?” He laughed. “Oh man, why would you want to do that?”

I’ll always think fondly of those thirty years as a Bering Sea captain. Recently, though, I’ve chosen a different path, writing and speaking, so others may benefit from my years bouncing around on the ocean, both literally and figuratively.

For now…

If you’d like to read more, you can get the book here.

About the book, one review said:

A compelling read and an unbeatable introduction to the reason servant leadership pays off in high stakes situations. Captain Molan protected his crews, and they performed for him. Everyone did well. This is a book for every manager and business school student. It represents a cool and competent approach to success in an uncertain, high risk, high reward landscape. The only disappointment was reaching the end of this book. The hope is that more of the same is in the offing.

And there are 90-some other 5-star reviews to choose from!

Captain Jack is one of my editing/coaching clients, and he’s been a blast to work with!

Check out his social media sites. He offers free amazing photos of things like bald eagles flying in the wild and lots of other goodies.

www.https://jackmolan.com

https://www.facebook.com/JackMolanPhotography/

 

We love comments! If you’d like to let us know what you thought of the story, please leave a message in the field below. Do you have a personal story to tell?

Stephanie Gave Up Her Land for a Better Life – Now She’s The BeauRam® Babe!

stephanie-on-highwayStephanie Lewis, my favorite yoga teacher here in Bend, Oregon, took a lot of grief along the way, but now she lives a fulfilling life and is on the road to success with her innovative BeauRam® backpack.10923267_624767650984368_6846668314303840610_n

“I grew up in a loving family but with a lot of bullshit,” she confides.

Stephanie grew up on a three-generation family farm that produced deciduous trees in Salem. Her parents both went to North Salem High, the same school she and her younger brother attended. After graduation, her dad left to fight in the Vietnam War, part of his quest to please her unpleasable retired military Grandfather Merriweather (Stephanie’s family are descendants of Merriweather Lewis, as in the explorers, Lewis and Clark). When her father returned to Oregon a former sniper and decorated soldier, her parents were married.

Stephanie admits her upbringing had its high points. She cherishes memories of fishing and hunting trips in Alaska with her dad and him teaching her to shoot. In fact, she won shooting competitions as a kid and thought seriously about joining the U.S. Army Research Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). Still today, Stephanie has a permit to carry concealed weapons (her dad’s idea of keeping her safe is packing), though3oewj7te she hasn’t touched a firearm in years.

 “Growing up hunting and fishing, I’m the most un-yogi yogi … [and] the black sheep of the family,” Stephanie admits and then chuckles. “Or the tie-dyed sheep.”

Stephanie also recalls the sumptuous smells of her mother’s homemade pizza; fresh crust baking in the oven and sauce bubbling on the stove. Her mother happily fed Stephanie’s and her brother’s friends. The Lewis’ never went on family vacations, but her mother made their house the go-to place to hang out and have fun.

The community respected her family. No one knew her “upstanding” grandfather was privately vicious to his sons, or that he molested Stephanie at age five or six.

When she was eight, she walked in on her parents making out and said, “I know what you’re doing because Grandpa showed me.”

Her parents didn’t talk about it after that, but Stephanie noticed they kept Grandpa at a distance, which was tricky as they all lived in houses built on Lewis acreage. (Years later, they discovered the family patriarch sexually assaulted another young girl in the neighborhood but was never charged.)

large_3584131250At age 12, Stephanie received her first of what she calls “All I Hate About You” letters from her dad and was devastated.

“[Dad] was coming from a place of unhappiness… [I think] a lot of it was a ripple effect from how he was treated by his father.”

Many more soul-crushing letters later, after graduating high school, Stephanie left the farm to go to Portland State photo-3University. During the summer, going into her sophomore year, she came home to find her dad’s stuff gone. When she asked what happened, her mother burst into tears explaining he’d moved in with the younger woman down the street. Her dad never talked to Stephanie or her brother about his decision – or even her mother. He grabbed his belongings and took off, leaving her mom to find a half-empty closet.

Every time Stephanie and her mom left the house, they had to pass her dad’s new residence. To cope, Stephanie and her mom sneered and made “Dirty Diana” jokes when they drove by. In the end, Diana left her dad at the altar.

Stephanie worked at Nordstrom in Portland in her ladder years of college. When she graduated with a degree in Graphic Design, she worked at Johnson and Walverton for three years as “the go-to-girl” on amazing marketing accounts such as Coca Cola, World Cup, Miller Genuine Draft, and Amnesty International. There she learned how to deal with corporations domestically as well as internationally, and she got to go to London to help manage a large campaign.

lux_660x280_london_housesofparliamentThat trip to London gave Stephanie the traveling bug, and she wanted to make a difference in the world, so she decided to go to work for the Peace Corps. At age 26, after months of interviews and evaluations, the Peace Corps offered her a position in El Salvador. She spoke a little Spanish and happily accepted.

Stephanie quit her job, moved in with her newly remarried mother and step-father, and sold most of her possessions in preparation to leave the country. Then, two weeks before departure, a representative from the Peace Corps called to tell her they no longer needed her in El Salvador, but they had a position available in China. Stephanie couldn’t make the mental switch to another country, a completely different culture, half-way around the world.

“I didn’t want to go to China…I called my mom at work, crying so hard,” she says. “My mom was a medical assistant, totally compassionate. I’ll never forget how reassuring she was.”

Stephanie needed a job, so that same day, she took a trip to Nordstrom.

“They offered me a management position, and I took it. I had my own place within the week.”

By the time Stephanie turned 29, although her dad still sent occasional “All I Hate About You” letters, he also dangled the carrot of taking over the family farm. He’d already set up her brother in an independent nursery, so he told her if she came home to North Salem, as the oldest child, she would inherit the business. But three years into working long hours and learning all there was to know about raising and selling decorative trees, she got another “All I Hate About You” letter.

Heartbroken, she realized her dad never planned to fulfill his promise to let her run the farm. She left for Portland where Nordstrom gladly gave her another management position. A couple years later, when she was 34, Stephanie’s father asked her to come home to discuss the family business. His tone had been upbeat, almost positive. Thinking her family had come to their senses, she met with her parents and her brother in Salem.

But the meeting was anything but civil.

Her brother had become a chip-off-the-old-block and read aloud a scathing letter of his own: how Stephanie thinks she’s “entitled” and accusing her of lying about whatever she’d said to disagree with him. Silence filled the room after her brother’s recital. No one stood up for Stephanie to mention her hard work or her ideas that had made the farm more efficient and profitable.

“I’ve never felt so alone,” she recalls. “Before or since.”

She sold her house in Salem (right before the market tanked) and went to Puerto Rico for six months. When she turned 35, Stephanie returned r59_s45to Oregon, took classes in viticulture, and moved to Bend to be a wine rep/buyer for Ray’s in Sisters, Oregon.

“Bend is a place where people come to heal their souls,” she says.

13686571_10153920283549353_7170499537494372918_nStephanie started practicing yoga in 2009 and began facing her past. She met life coach and counselor, Susan Weisburger, and Suzina Newcomb, the owner of Namaspa. These two women taught Stephanie to come from a place of abundance, love, and conscious compassion rather than poverty. She also kept in touch with her maternal grandmother, now 96, Jean Barry.

13254232_10153780787604353_5090795811865148452_n

“She’s my hero, the most phenomenal Yogi who has never stepped in a studio. [Grandma’s] mindset is of pure love and compassion, total acceptance. She had a tough childhood and rose above it.”

By 2011, Stephanie decided to become a yoga instructor.

“Yoga teacher training is what saved my life,” Stephanie proudly admits. Part of the 200-hour Baptiste methodology includes “peeling away personal [baggage] to own your authenticity in order to help others reach theirs.” It was here that Stephanie truly began to heal.

10915314_624763030984830_2570214685747802784_nTeaching yoga classes at Namaspa, Athletic Club of Bend (which is where Stephanie and I met), at Brasada Ranch, and in La Pine helped her develop a sense of self as well as lead others to discover their authentic selves. Supporting people in accepting and appreciating their bodies and minds led to Stephanie designing the BeauRam® Yoga Survival Pack.

“As a teacher, I wanted to make it easier for people to live healthier lives because I believe that good health uplifts to happiness and contentment.” Stephanie chuckles. “To grab their ‘Beau’ and go.”

BeauRam® Yoga Survival Packs come loaded or unloaded, for beginners to 30-year veterans. If you’re just starting out or your gear is getting worn, the loaded packs include:

  • A yoga mat (travel design patent pending)
  • Removable laundry bag
  • Skin care kit
  • Inspiration piece
  • Carabiners (3)
  • Water Bottle
  • Yoga block
  • Yoga strap
  • Towel
  • and Soothing wipes

Stephanie’s BeauRam® Yoga Survival Packs got incredibly positive feedback from yoga teachers and students when she showed people her prototype, so she made the nail-biting decision to invest her savings in producing a few hundred.

And her BeauRam® Yoga Survival Packs sold out within a couple weeks!

Scared but determined, armed with nurturing friends and her own yoga practice, she took the plunge and sold her house to use the money to manufacture more BeauRam® Yoga Survival Packs!

You can find more information HERE🙂

Stephanie’s ultimate goal is to one day have her own BeauRam® Yoga Studio that provides classes and anything yogis at any level might need to enhance their practice – and their lives.

You go, Stephanie! I’m sure, not too far into the future, I’ll be writing another post about your product launch and one day about your successful studio!

Thanks so much for sharing your story.

For more information, go to Stephanie’s BeauRam® Facebook page.

Meet Jayne, Whose Son Saved Her Life, and Running Saved Her Marriage

10500351_541207862712808_5131535543680842341_nJayne Rodosevich grew up in Ridgecrest, California, a small town in the Mojave Desert – mostly on her own. Her dad, a chemical engineer for Searles Valley Minerals, worked a lot of hours, and her mom, a registered nurse, spent much of the time at the local hospital. Until Jayne turned 15, she practically raised her younger brother and sister when she wasn’t training on uneven parallel bars, the vault or balance beam, or learning floor routines for the next gymnastics meet.

Then in her sophomore year of high school, her mom decided to go back to college to become a nurse anesthetist – in Los Angeles, about a three-hour drive from Ridgecrest. Her mom took Jayne’s siblings and invited their grandmother to live with them to take care of the little ones. A refugee from Thailand who didn’t speak English became the housekeeper for Jayne and her dad while Jayne finished high school and competed in gymnastics meets.

Gymnastics and homework kept Jayne out of trouble. She brought home trophies and earned straight As until she graduated from high school and went off to the University of California in Davis. Jayne went from little to no contact with her family, and she no longer had time for sports. At age 19, she worked in a clothing store, back-bussed at a local bar, and poured coffee as a barista to pay for tuition, books, food and rent – and Jayne was exhausted.

Her husband, back then her 21-year-old boyfriend, introduced Jayne to crystal methamphetamine to give her the zip she needed to get through the day.

And she got addicted.

So did he.

They were each other’s bad influence in perpetuating the crystal meth roller coaster of manic highs and devastating lows. Jayne managed to downloadget through six years of college classes, working three jobs, using speed to keep her going. Eventually, though, paying for tuition and living expenses became too much of a burden. Sadly, she quit attending UC Davis 30 units short of graduation, and they moved to the San Francisco Bay Area.

In the next 10 years, drug use whittled Jayne’s body down to 90 pounds. Her muscles, once robust from thousands of hours of gymnastics training, atrophied into saggy strands hanging off her bones. One cigarette after the next incinerated between her fingertips. Her teeth became mottled with black rot, a side-effect from crystal meth use, and still she and her boyfriend partied.

“We had one rule,” Jayne says. “You could never [mess] up at work.”

Life had become a cycle of self-induced bipolar disorder. Then three months after Jayne and her boyfriend married, she discovered she was pregnant.

Jayne’s life took a 180 degree turn.

Quitting her drug habits had seemed impossible until fear for her baby’s safety became a factor. For the first time in a decade, she put downWk14_Belly_02 the smokes, turned away the frenzied high she craved, and started eating regular meals that included produce and protein. Soon she plumped into a healthy weight, and eight months later, she delivered a healthy little boy.

(Since their son was born, over the last twelve years, Jayne has spent more than $20,000 to fix her rotten teeth.)

But Jayne continued eating the same after she stopped nursing her baby and gained 80 pounds. Her husband, too, blew past his optimal weight, into jumbo jeans.

“Crystal meth messes up your metabolism,” Jayne explains. “Your body holds onto fat in case you decide to starve it again because you don’t feel like eating when you’re using.”

Her husband cut his drug use way down, but it took a couple years for him to beat his addictions. Jayne focused on being a mom to their son and tried to be patient. After all, her husband never had the urgency of a human life growing inside him to fortify his will power.

Eight years ago, they moved from California to Bend, Oregon, where her husband was diagnosed with Type II diabetes, a bi-product of his arrested addiction and current eating habits. He knew if he didn’t do something to improve his health, he would get sicker. Since Bend is known for its mountain trails, and runners populate the bike lanes as often as cyclists, he put on a pair of cross trainers and started logging the miles. His weight began to drop, and he began to feel better.

183122_465327160203974_827085630_nBut Jayne worked graveyard shifts at Village Baker in their son’s early years, so she could be with their little one during the day. Constant sleep deprivation made cat naps more crucial than cardio workouts.

During this time, her mentally ill mother-in-law, estranged from her husband since he was a child, got diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and had nowhere to go.

So Jayne and her husband brought his mother home to live with them.

Jayne struggled to be a mom to their son, caregiver to her confused mother-in-law, and co-provider for the household for a nightmarish year-and-a-half before the woman passed away.

Jayne needed an outlet, a way to deal with stress, yet she didn’t know how to squeeze physical exercise into her busy life. Knowing her competitive nature, honed from years of competing in gymnastics meets, her husband teased her for two years, saying she couldn’t run for reasons that had nothing to do with time, alluding to her weight. Then Jayne and her husband both changed jobs, switching schedules, him working nights as head chef at a swanky restaurant, and her working days at Whole Foods Market after their son started school.

“I started running because [my husband] told me I wasn’t capable,” Jayne confesses. “I wasn’t going to let him be right.”

Getting regular sleep and living in daylight allowed Jayne to join a runners’ training group for a half-marathon through FootZone, an apparel 13346501_10208477979963824_4632028197835674607_nstore in downtown Bend that cultivates and nurtures the local running community. She made lasting friendships with people who supported each other in reaching their fitness goals. That first year, she not only became an excellent runner, Jayne lost 60 pounds and has kept them off ever since.

Three years ago, Jayne got a call from Christina Stavro, a training group coordinator at FootZone, who asked if Jayne would be willing to mentor other runners in the half-marathon group training for the race in Silver Falls, Oregon. A free pair of running shoes sweetened the deal, and Jayne has been mentoring groups ever since.

10433144_450950215071907_7800429536368401572_nIn fact, Jayne has been my knowledgeable, patient, supportive running mentor in both the Silver Falls Half-Marathon and Bend Marathon training groups through FootZone. I’ll be forever grateful for her gentle motivation, talking me through sore glutes, hips, and hamstrings, encouraging me to the top of steep roads and trails that seemed would never end.

In the meantime, Jayne’s marriage secretly suffered from her and her husband’s opposite work schedules. Last year, they had drifted so far apart, they became little more that roommates.

“I wasn’t afraid for him to leave,” Jayne recounts. “I’m not dependent on him anymore.”

At the brink of separation, they decided to carve out running time together, and their relationship began to grow again.10394615_10152840328548189_2315796588886067072_n

“We’ve realized we do better together,” Jayne acknowledges. “He’s my best friend.”

They’ve finally become a good influence on each other. Since March, they’ve trained for and competed in two races together, and she sees many others in their future. On July 9, Jayne will run her first ultra-marathon, a 50K (31 miles) at Mount Hood in Oregon. But her husband won’t be participating. He and their son will be cheering for Jayne as she crosses the finish line.

Thanks for sharing your story with our Tenacity to Triumph readers, Jayne!

 

Readers, can you relate to Jayne’s story in some way? We’d love for you to leave a comment.

Here’s to bad asses everywhere!

Trish Wilkinson,

Author, Writing Coach, Freelance Editor

The Decision that Made LadyDice an Up-and-Coming Hip Hop Star

fcae31d3-71bd-4212-b3ff-5fa9ceb014ddA few short years ago, singer LadyDice, weighed 275 pounds, had never written a song, and suffered from debilitating stage fright. It took an honest, painful look inside herself to break through the obstacles keeping her from her dreams.

 
Growing up in Southern California with her biological father, a mentally and physically abusive addict, she remembers sitting in the courtroom with her mom and dad fighting over who would get custody of her and her sisters. LadyDice’s home life improved after her mom won the custody battle and eventually married a wonderful man.

 
But the damage from those early years had been done.

 
And understanding the source of her self-destructive behavior wouldn’t come until much later.

 
Hitting bottom either kills you or makes you stronger, and LadyDice chose to use that dark, desperate place as her springboard to recreate her life.

“I decided I was ready to become who I always wanted to be,” she says.

Being overweight had always plagued her with self-doubt; that is, until she got serious and dropped 120 pounds.

LadyDice three years ago, before and after she lost 120 pounds.
LadyDice before and after she lost 120 pounds.

“I wish I could give some miracle answer [for how I lost all that weight and have kept it off], but it was just discipline. I LOOOVE food,” she admits, “so I had to figure out yummy ways to stay satisfied. After I got that down, it was easy.”

In a similar way, LadyDice faced her fear of the limelight by forcing her feet onto the stage for the first time three years ago. She’d always wanted to sing, to be heard. No one would stop her, least of all herself. The dreaded shakes and queasiness she’d avoided for so long gave way to joy as her amplified voice filled the room, and the audience moved to the beat. Since then, she has performed in all kinds of venues in several states.

“I pushed myself for almost 2 years, and now I’m doing shows all over the place. I am a model and pursuing my dream in music!!” she exclaims. “You just have to find the belief in yourself.”

12088272_881154771968703_200476865479206303_nLadyDice has discovered her true friends in going after her dream of becoming a hip hop star.

“It’s amazing to see the people who step up and support your career and the ones who don’t,” she confides. “There’s been a lot of good and bad on my journey so far, but the good is definitely starting to outweigh the bad. I’m grateful.”

 

The single mom of a 4-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son, LadyDice finds juggling motherhood and her career challenging at times. “It’s really hard having to be gone and them not understanding why Mommy isn’t home,” she says. Still, her preschoolers root for her success. They love to see her perform on stage, and they sing along and dance to her CDs. Hearing about her travels to faraway places excites them, and LadyDice works hard to be present for her children when she’s home. “Honestly, this is an obstacle I haven’t overcome quite yet,” she acknowledges, “but I believe I’m finding a balance.”

 

Recently, LadyDice left her home in Oregon for a few days to be there for someone else’s little girl in Idaho. Ten-year-old Sophia has struggled with leukemia since birth, and although the treatments have gotten her cancer under control, her kidneys are failing due to the frequent processing of harsh chemicals from chemotherapy. Sophia loves LadyDice’s hip hop, tough-girl music, so her mother contacted LadyDice to set up a meeting to take Sophia’s mind off dialysis and waiting for a new kidney. LadyDice invited Sophia to her recording studio where they experienced a bond neither will ever forget. Not only did they have a great time getting to know each other, Sophia got to see LadyDice record Rachael Platten’s “Fight Song” to accompany Sophia’s video to help raise money to cover medical costs on GoFundMe.com.

 

 

Soon LadyDice will be hearing whether she’ll be opening for a big name act. Fingers crossed. (I’ll let you know the details if this opportunity comes through for her).

In the meantime, here are LadyDice’s five steps for reaching your dreams and goals:

  1. Realize no one is going to do it for you; the only one who can change you is you.
  2. Make a decision and stick with it, consistency is key.
  3. Believe in yourself. Even if there is a long road ahead of you, you absolutely CAN do it.
  4. You will fall over and over again, but you can always get back up and keep going. I refuse to quit until I get where I want to be! We should ALL strive for that within ourselves.
  5. Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do it. This world is ugly, and there will always be people who root for you to fail. You have to know your own worth. None of the other stuff matters.

 

Thanks, LadyDice, for taking the time for this interview. You definitely get our “Tenacity to Triumph” philosophy. You’re a fellow bad ass to the core.
Write questions or comments for LadyDice below, and help her realize her dreams by sharing this post!

When an Infection Eats Your Face: An Amazing Story of an Incredible Bad Ass

2D0688C300000578-0-image-a-6_1443820018926

Imagine you’re born perfectly normal, but then a virulent infection devours your eyelids, nose and lips. Your parents decide they can’t handle raising such a needy kid, so you become a ward of the state – and a doctor gets permission to do experimental plastic surgery on you. After three years in a cage-like crib at the hospital and myriad painful operations, you, the doctor’s work-in-progress, get placed in foster care. Wherever you go, people stare, and though your foster family does its best to make you feel at home, you feel like an outsider, a freak. People assume your misshapen nose and lopsided lips mean you’re mentally retarded rather than a plastic surgeon’s pet project.

This is Howard Shulman’s story.2D07078A00000578-0-image-a-15_1443824642109

Recently, his memoir Running from the Mirror was released, and it’s riveting. His raw honesty in how he describes growing up the “monster kid” at the mercy of his experimenting doctor and the opportunities he grasps to survive as a young adult (not all of them legal) brought tears to my eyes, caught my breath, and occasionally provoked a guilty grin.

I’m not going to lie. Sometimes this is a painful read, for example, when he describes one of his Frankenstein-like surgeries:

“A large nine-by-eight-inch patch of skin was excised from my chest and shoulder, the graft then rolled up and stitched along the seam to create a headless snake of raw, living flesh. One end was then attached under my chin and the other to the tip of my reconstructed nose. This appendage, left to dangle in front of my face for the next six weeks, was a constant reminder of what I had gone through but one that gave me no idea where I was going. Doctor Gratz literally held my future in his hands.”

2D068F4900000578-0-image-m-4_1443820002253If his childhood memories are gripping and intense, Howard’s irreverence in relaying shady career endeavors to keep food on the table and a roof over his head is equally engaging, possibly even a guilty pleasure (I’d give examples, except I hate when people talk about books and spoil the surprises). Ultimately, Howard’s journey as he learns to accept himself and finds love is extremely gratifying.

I actually got to meet Howard a few months before Running from the Mirror was released by Sandra Jonas Publishing House. Howard called and told me he’d met a friend of mine in line at Starbucks who gave him my number. He wanted to talk to a local fellow author about giving writers’ workshops together. We met at a coffee shop in Chula Vista, California, where Howard shared his experience writing his memoir: cleansing yet uncomfortable, often frustrating, sometimes sad or filled with regret. Still, the satisfaction of knowing how far he has come and the hope his story might give to others made the project worth the effort.

Talk about grit. They don’t make ‘em much more bad ass than Howard.

Now in his 50s, Howard has owned successful businesses and traveled, but what he treasures most is his family.2D068F5100000578-0-image-a-5_1443820009163

“When I turned 50, I experienced two miracles,” he says. “The first was my marriage. It never occurred to me…[I’d find someone who would be] beautiful and caring and love me for who I am. The second miracle was that my wife came with the family I had longed for… [By] helping raise my wife’s twin daughters, [I found] parenting is not a one-way street. I am in a relationship with them that provides more love than I could ever have imagined…We respect and learn from each other. ”

Since Howard and I met, my husband and I moved to Bend, Oregon, to start 94.9 FM Central Oregon’s Sports Radio (which has been a harrowing experience, worthy of a Tenacity to Triumph post, coming soon). Howard and I have become friends, though, and I’ll visit family in San Diego County every few months, so we’ll be doing writers’ workshops together in the near future.

If you’re interested in participating in a writers’ workshop with Howard and me, whether you’re a seasoned writer who could use inspiration and techniques to get you to the next level, or you’re someone who likes to write and has a fiction or nonfiction story to tell, please leave a comment with your contact information, email me at writetowinwithtrish@gmail.com, or call (619) 647-5559.

A portion of Howard’s sales go to Hillsides, an organization that works to recreate the lives of at-risk kids. For more informationhs_logo about Howard’s book or to order Running from the Mirror, click here.

A quick note: The link goes to Sandra Jonas Publishing, which is selling the book for 20% off ($12.00) until October 31. You can also get the book at regular price ($14.95), through Barnes & Noble and Amazon (Amazon erroneously has Running from the Mirror labeled “Temporarily out of stock”, but your order will go through).

Comments are ALWAYS appreciated, whether you’re interested in coming to a workshop, or you have something you’d like to share.

Talk to you soon!

(Lots of great posts will be coming now that the radio station is finally on the air. Sheesh!)

Trish Wilkinson

Writer, Coach, Editor, and Fellow Bad Ass

My Hero! Sharon Cooper, Successful Self-Published Author, is at it Again!

sharon-author-2012My friend, Sharon Cooper, just released her lasted book. You may recall other posts I’ve written about her amazing entrepreneurship as a novelist. She’s made more money self-publishing her work and has had a much more fulfilling career than in her experience of working with a subsidiary of Harlequin. If you like a mixture of action adventure and romance, you’d love Sharon’s books! I’m re-posting her blog post below.

New Release – Operation Midnight!

Hi All!

t’s release day! Woo hoo! OPERATION MIDNIGHT, book 4 of the Reunited Series is now available for your reading pleasure! This is Wiz and Olivia’s story.

Midnight 800x533

You remember them right? Wiz is the computer guru who has helped some of his Navy SEAL brothers (Quinn and Malik) get their women out of some harrowing situations. And something you probably didn’t know – when Tyler (from Blue Roses) called on Quinn’s help to dig into Dallas’s background, guess who Quinn called. You got it – Wiz!

As for Olivia, she first made her appearance in Rendezvous with Danger (Quinn & Alandra’s story) when the guys (and Alandra) took a trip to D.C. and stayed at Olivia’s townhouse. She had a bigger role in Truth or Consequences (Malik & Natasha’s story) where she befriended Natasha, argued with Malik about calling her Ollie, and when she and Wiz announced that they were getting remarried.

Well, in OPERATION MIDNIGHT, we get to learn more about Wiz and Olivia – their life together before their divorce, as well as how they never stopped loving each other. We’ll journey with them through some trying times as they leap over a few more hurdles in their race to say “I do” one last time.

Blurb:

No bad deed goes unpunished

Former Navy SEAL turned private investigator, Cameron “Wiz” Miller, has loved only one woman, his ex-wife, Olivia. She’s beautiful, talented and the sweetest person he knows. With plans to remarry her, there is nothing she could ask of him that he wouldn’t do except … one thing.

Olivia has loved Wiz since high school. He is her hero. Her protector. She understands his hesitation to search for the woman who left her for dead. Forgiveness has been a long time coming, but Olivia has made peace with what happened. Wiz hasn’t. For him, forgiveness is not an option.

But the sins of the past have come back to haunt Wiz, placing Olivia in danger. He must tap into his military training and every alliance he has formed over the years to save her. But is it too late? Will he and Olivia ever get that happily-ever-after?

Excerpt:

I want you to find my sister.

Wiz stormed into the living room and snatched his pants from one of the chairs. His heart thumped wildly at the words he thought he would never hear. He couldn’t wrap his head around her request. Clearly she had forgotten about all the crap her sister had done.

“It’s like suddenly I don’t even know you.” Olivia’s voice broke into his thoughts when she silently entered the room.

Wiz shook his head and stepped into his slacks, keeping his back to her. “You know me. You know me well enough to understand that I would rather swallow a grenade than to have your sister in our lives.”

She sighed loudly. “Cameron, I didn’t say I want her in our lives. I’d like to connect with her for nothing more than a conversation.”

Fastening his pants, he glanced over his shoulder to find her standing near the bedroom door. The satiny red robe she wore stopped just above her knees, the color bringing out the warmth in her smooth, dark chocolate skin. His breath hitched as his gaze drifted slowly down her shapely body emphasized by the sash cinched tightly around her narrow waist. Damn if a certain part of his anatomy didn’t spring to attention. He knew what lay beneath the thin material. He knew how soft every inch of her skin was to the touch. And he knew that if he stayed in that room much longer, he would tell her whatever the heck she wanted to hear. Everything but the truth that is.

His gaze moved back up to her face and his heart leapt into his throat. The love radiating in her eyes, even after the way he had spoken to her made the vice around his heart tighten even more. He felt like crap for denying her of her request.

Damn Keisha. Even when she wasn’t around, she was still wreaking havoc. Just the thought of her made him want to rip something apart. But then there was Olivia. Staring at her now, the unyielding love he had for her made him want to take the three short steps it would take to reach her, and pull her into his arms. He wanted to come clean and tell her what happened to her sister all those years ago. But the bastard in him stayed rooted in place because he had vowed to take that one secret to his grave.

Copyright © 2015 by Sharon C. Cooper

*

OPERATION MIDNIGHT (ebook) is currently only $2.99! It won’t be available at this price for long.

So get your copy today!     Amazon  |  Barnes & Noble  |  Smashwords

Note: In paperback soon!

I’m so proud of Sharon! I’m not usually a romance reader, but her books are always a blast to read. If you snap up Operation Midnight and find a cozy spot for some reading recreation, enjoy the ride!

I’ll talk to you soon, especially since I’m planning to write an article about another friend who recently released an amazing memoir you won’t believe.

Until next week…

(Posts will come more frequently since my husband and I have finally settled in a bit after moving from San Diego, California to Bend, Oregon)

Trish Wilkinson

Donna’s Tough Road Led Her to 8 Keys For a Great Life

Donna

Donna May grew up in a happy home in Saint Louis, but as an adult, she got mixed up in an abusive relationship. One fateful night, injured, hysterical and crying, Donna ran her car into her abuser while trying to flee. He’d told her if she ever hurt him, she better kill him, so she wheeled around and ran him over.

Except the body on the street turned out to be her violent lover’s friend.

Donna was charged with second-degree murder and sentenced to 30 years in prison. On December 19, 1990 she entered the Department of Corrections, and her two daughters went to live with her parents.

While incarcerated, determined to make a better life when she got out, she took classes from Lincoln University to add to the 18 credit hours she’d earned from St. Louis Community College at Forest Parks. In the meantime, her father passed away in July, 1996 and then her mother in January, 1997.  Adding to the crushing grief of losing her parents, she worried for her children who had been in their care, but her family came through. Her oldest daughter, then 17, went to live with Donna’s grandmother, and her younger daughter, 14, moved in with Donna’s cousin.

In 1998 after being denied parole, another offender asked if Donna would share her background with a visitor involved in a law school working on behalf of people who were incarcerated for killing their abuser. Though Donna’s situation was unique, a student and professor took her case, speaking on her behalf at a parole hearing in 2000. The board granted her a two-year release date, and she arrived at Saint Mary’s Honor Center on August 22, 2002.

Donna and her daughters, now ages 23 and 19, eagerly got to know each other again, making family unification quite easy. It became Donna’s habit to go to church with her Aunt Jenny, and one Sunday, a member of the congregation encouraged her to visit a group meeting at a coffee shop. She loves coffee, so she attended and found herself in a “judge-free zone”. There she learned about the Dress for Success.

Dress for Success fitted her for a suit the following week in 2002, a suit that she still has today.DFS_Midwest-web

Though Donna knew the Center for Women in Transition (CWIT) only accepted non-violent offenders, she submitted an application anywaylogo-side-gold3b while still incarcerated. In talking to Barbara Baker at CWIT, Donna explained the steps she’d taken to create a better life; her college classes, becoming an effective computer coder for the Department of Corrections, how she had become reacquainted with her faith in God – and Ms. Baker accepted Donna to the program.

With a criminal record, Donna couldn’t get a job in computers, so she took a position working for a cranky boss at a thrift store making $5.15 an hour. During that time she attended weekly Let’s Start meetings, a letsstart_logosupport group for women, and monthly CWIT gatherings to set goals and work with a mentor. She came to understand she had choices, so Donna walked off the job at the thrift store when she decided her boss had berated her for the last time. That same day, she got hired at McDonald’s for $6.00 an hour – which meant she got a raise.

Donna left Saint Mary’s October 2002 and moved in with Aunt Jenny, and continued to improve her life. As a mentee with CWIT, she got health coverage and a therapist. With the help of her therapist and support from CWIT, through Vocational Rehabilitation she was able to attend Vatterott College for a year where she earned a certificate of competence with Microsoft Office. But it was also during this time, in 2003, that her aunt passed away. CWIT paid for Donna’s deposit and first month’s rent, so she could move into her own apartment.

Donna took a position working for The Women’s Safe House, an emergency shelter for abused women and their children, while she completed classes for her Associate of Arts degree in business at St. Louis Community College at Forest Park. By then, she had completed the mentee program at CWIT, but she remained active by attending monthly gatherings.

In 2004, she became a customer service representative earning $10 an hour, the most she’d earned since returning home, where she stayed until the call center closed in March, 2006. In May, she graduated with her AA, but hard as she tried, she couldn’t find a job. Then she got a message on her phone to call CWIT.

“Hello, Donna,” said the director. “We have a job for you if you would like it.”

“God hears and answers prayers,” Donna says. “I could not believe it…as if the path to my future began with becoming a mentee [at CWIT] in 2002.”

The next day, June 7, 2006, Donna went to the CWIT office where she became the Administrative Assistant. By March, 2007, she was askedLogoNewBanner2 CWIT to be a Lead Case Manager. She had no idea what that meant, but she accepted the position – and the pay increase. In working with clients, women adjusting to life outside of prison, Donna had already enrolled in the University of Missouri-St Louis School of Social Work because she felt she needed more education. In addition, once Donna was released from parole in 2009, she became a mentor at CWIT, helping other formerly incarcerated women to set goals and take steps toward recreating their lives.

Despite her history, Donna also took a leap of faith in 2009 and applied for the Payroll Specialist position at CWIT.

She told Executive Director, Nancy Kelly, “…given the opportunity, I know I can learn [Quick Books] and be successful in this position.”

“Donna May,” Nancy said, “I am confident that whatever position I place you in, you will succeed.”

Those powerful words have helped to fuel Donna’s belief in herself ever since.

She remained the Payroll Specialist at CWIT until May, 2010 when she left for a paid practicum position in social work. Due to receive her bachelor’s degree, Donna recognized that effectively supporting people in navigating their complicated lives would require more training. She wanted to apply for graduate school, but writing the required essay terrified her.

“I never chose social work,” her story began, “social work chose me because of the challenges that I have come face-to-face with in my life…”

In August 2011, Donna started her journey in grad school and was able to perform her practicum in private practice where she learned a greatDonna's MSW deal about diagnoses and barriers for those with mental illness. Sadly, after she graduated with her MSW in December 2013, again she struggled to find a job.

logo-connections-to-success-cRejection after rejection, Donna kept reaching out until she eventually applied for a position with Connections to Success, an organization working to break the cycle of poverty with hope, resources and a plan. During her interview in April, 2013, she wore the same suit that had been assembled for her at Dress for Success back in 2002.

The program director hired Donna as a Life Transformation Coach, the perfect position for someone who had been a mentee and spent several years mentoring others at the Center for Women in Transition. Donna knew how to support people’s decisions and goals as well as help them to see what’s possible.

Less than a year later, Donna was promoted to Life Transformation Coaching Manager, and by April 2014, she shared a dual role as Program Director. Today, Donna oversees the database as the Fidelity and Compliance Manager at Connections for Success. She also works with the Restorative Justice Committee on the Board of Directors for The Center for Women in Transition. 

And she makes people’s lives better every day.

Donna’s 8 Keys to a Great Life:
  1. God hears and answers prayers.
  2. We’re never stuck; we have choices.
  3. Past mistakes are in the past; focus on the future.
  4. Learn to think of yourself and present yourself in a positive light.
  5. Never let others define who you are.
  6. Never allow anyone to tell you what you can’t do.
  7. If you are ever in an abusive situation, please call for help. (ALIVE is a great resource, and there will be several others in your community.)
  8. Most important, follow Norman Peale’s advice: “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”
Which of Donna’s keys have you found helpful on your life’s journey?

Former Prison Inmate, Barbara Baker, Helps Women to Recreate Their Lives

Barbara at work at the Center for Women in Transition
Barbara at work at the Center for Women in Transition

My childhood in St. Louis, Missouri was a happy one. My mother had seven sisters, and when they began to have children, they continued to live at home with my grandmother.   Four of my first cousins and I grew up together. We were normal kids who played and got into trouble sometimes, and when we got out of hand, my grandmother was the one who punished us.

The first school I remember attending was Laclede Elementary, which was in walking distance from our house.  In third grade, I got suspended because I hit another student when she refused to give my cousin a piece of candy. I was afraid to tell my mother, so I left for school  the next day as I normally would and walked around the neighborhood. This lady asked why I wasn’t in school, so I told her what had happened. She offered to write a letter to get me back in school, and I left her as happy as I could be. When I got school, though, I found out she had written that she did not know me, but I had been walking around outside by myself, and she was concerned. Of course the principal called my mother and told her to come pick me up. I can’t remember if I got a spanking, but I do know I was glad to return to school.

I liked school, but I couldn’t resist being the class clown and getting into trouble, even knowing that my mother would whip me for it. As a young child, I liked to skate, run, dance, play baseball and volleyball, and meddle with adults. Why, I don’t know, but upsetting them made me laugh. At any given time, I always had a bag of something sweet, mostly candy. In fact, looking back, I realize candy was my first addiction. If my mother or someone else in the household did not give me money for candy, I would steal the change laying around the house, or I would cry and throw a fit until I got it.

When I was 11 or 12 years old, my mother met a man who would later become my step dad. I did not like him and did not want him as part of

Pruitt Igoe Projects, St. Louis
Pruitt Igoe Projects, St. Louis

our family. Although he was a good person, I did not realize that until many years later. He worked hard to support us, but I wanted nothing from him. To this day, I do not know why I did not like this man, except that he and my mother moved us to the Pruitt-Igoe housing projects. I fought tooth-and-nail to stay with my grandmother, but in the end, I had to go with my mom.

In time, I grew to love the projects. I met other teens who were as confused about life as I was. Around the age of 16, my friends turned me on to cough syrup with codeine and weed. I loved the way I felt like I could take on the world if I wanted to, and we could just walk into any drugstore and buy this cough syrup. Then the FDA began to require a prescription to buy it. I guess I was about 18 when this happened, and someone suggested we get some heroin because they said the high was the same as the syrup. Like a fool, I tried heroin and my life was a roller coaster from that day on.

Addiction caused me to be in and out of jail until I was about 45 years old. Drugs had such a grip on me that sometimes when I got locked up, I would be relieved. I was caught in a revolving door where I would get out of prison, get a job, get a house, get my children back, and then relapse again.  I wanted to be drug-free but had no idea how to make it happen. Treatment was not talked about at that time. The mindset was that addicts chose to use drugs, so they had to suffer the consequences.

In my mind, I was not a bad person because I did not steal from my family. I had given myself permission to steal from stores, my rationale being that stores were insured, so no one got hurt.  After going to prison for the third time, I started to look at myself, but I still had no idea that I was an addict or what I needed to do to change.  When I went back to prison for the fifth and last time, I knew I had to do something different.

The day I had been arrested, my family was in the process of moving on a Saturday morning. While my son and daughter, who were living with me at the time, went to get the second load of belongings to take to the new house, I decided to run downtown to Macey’s. I was dope sick and could hardly help with the move, so I had planned to steal something quickly, so I could get my fix.

But I got busted.

inside prisonMy daughter had no job to support her two small children. When she came to see me in jail, I told her that I had violated my parole and would not be getting out. I could see the fear and hurt in her eyes. She didn’t know how she and her children would survive. The pain in her eyes that day, along with my desire to escape from the revolving door, finally got me to seek the help I needed.

I wanted to change and make a better life for myself.  My daughter and grandkids were also a big factor as well as the prison warden. I worked in administration as the Institution Activities Clerk in the same building as the warden’s office, across the street from the prison.  She and I would talk about my life, my children, and my addiction to drugs. She respected me and the way I carried myself while I was doing time.  We met the first time I landed in prison. She was about 5 feet tall, very intelligent, and she dressed smart. She talked to me plainly so I would understand in lay terms what she said to me. Don’t get me wrong. I was not a goody-two-shoes in prison, but I kept up the appearance that I was.

The last time I got high was in prison, and that is where I made the final decision not to get high again, and to this day I have not. I made this decision because I was on work release and close to getting my good time to get out in three years rather than seven. Then me and two other women had used heroin and crack on a Friday, and the next Tuesday I was asked to give a drug test. I prayed as hard as I could asking God not to let those drugs still be in my urine. Cocaine and heroin can clear in 72 hours if you just use them once. Well, I did not drop dirty, and I was grateful.

I had told my roommate I was never going to use again when I got to the streets, but after risking four more years of incarceration, I told her I was not using again in prison either. When drugs came my way, I passed them on to another friend. Had I known what I know today about addiction, I would not have given the drugs to anyone else either.

I came home October 3, 1995. My family would always welcome me back with open arms each time I got out of prison. Like so many families, they hoped I would stay away from drugs. Before this, their dreams had always been dashed when I had gotten involved with the same old people, places, and things. But they never gave up on me. They always did what they needed to do for my children. When I disappeared, they hoped and prayed that the phone call they would get would be that I was in jail and not dead.

That October in 1995 began a new way of life for me, though, because I joined a support group called Let’s Start which is dedicated toletsstart_logo assisting women in transition from prison life to society. I began to find out what I needed to do to stay clean, and I learned about myself and my addiction. I finally let go of those old people, places and things. No one besides positive people and family members knew how to get in contact with me.

After eighteen months of sobriety, my family gave me a birthday party. A woman in my support group had told me to stop counting the days, so I had not realized that I had been out of prison for that long. The most painful thing about getting clean was to learn that my children had suffered the most from my addiction and incarceration. My son is a heroin addict, has been to prison, and is now on probation. My daughter stayed away from drugs, but she struggled as a young single parent who could not depend on her mother for help in any way.

For the first two years, I had an apartment out in the country, so none of my old influences would find me. After I felt people knew I was serious about changing my life, I moved back into the city. During that time, Let’s Start taught me how to approach judges, legislators, probation officers etc. I had no idea how I was going to use any of this information at this stage in my life. I was just desperate to stay clean and out of jail. My way of life had never worked for me, so I listened and took suggestions. I’d always known the God of my understanding had a plan for my life because I survived two overdoses, so there must have been a reason for Him to keep me around.

Then I was hired by the Center for Women in Transition and was given an opportunity to use my past to help other women struggling withlogo-side-gold3b addiction and advocate for alternatives to incarceration. I did not come out of jail with an ideal that I was going to work with other women who had been in my situation, nor that I would become a role model for them. I am so comfortable in this job. This had to be God’s plan for my life. No one could have told me that I would have judges calling to ask my advice about clients, or that judges would reschedule clients’ court dates to accommodate my busy schedule. The God of my understanding has blessed my life so much. I could not be here without His grace and mercy.

My future goals are to live a simple life and be there for my grandchildren. I can’t get back the special times and events that I missed in my children’s lives, but I can give back through my grandkids. I turned 64 at the end of April and am getting close to retirement, however, I still plan to continue to help women get their lives back on track. Supporting other mothers in recovery means that fewer children will have to go through what my children experienced with me drifting in and out of their lives.

“My motto is: A closed mouth don’t get fed.”

             My Advice: If you or a family member struggle with addiction, don’t hesitate to ask for help. I don’t care how well you know a person, when their addiction is active, you are not dealing with or talking to that person. You are talking to their addiction, and it won’t hear you. You have to be ready to show tough love. Don’t get caught up in the fear that if you put them out of the house, they will die out there. If you let them stay and they continue to use, one thing will surely happen: death, jail or another institution. Addiction affects the whole family, but the fact that someone in your family uses drugs has no reflection on you. We can give our children the best upbringing possible, but we have no control over the paths they choose. Tough love is not saying, “I don’t love you.” It is saying, “I’m here to support you in getting help, but I will not watch you DIE.”

If you are using and trying to stop, it can happen, but there are things that you must do.

  • Get involved in some type of support group.
  • Change people, places and things. You can’t have a relationship with anyone who is still using. You won’t get them clean. They will get you high.
  • Go to treatment and get a sponsor.
  • Seek out the help you need.  Look up resources on the Internet.
  • WE DO RECOVER.

In working towards your goals, no matter what they might be:

 

The links in this article provide lots of great information and resources. We’d love to hear your thoughts and welcome experiences you’d like to share. Your comment could be the tipping point in someone seeking help in dealing with a loved one or setting personal goals to recreate their own lives.

Jade Edwards: From Abuse to Belief – In Herself

Focusing on the Simplest Positives Can Get You through Anything

Jade Edwards
Jade Edwards

I am the oldest of three children and often feel like a mother to my brother and sister, even to this day. My mom and dad had a very physically and emotionally abusive relationship, with life-threatening and hospital-inducing fights for as far back as I can remember. There was always some combination of bruises, broken bones, tears, screams, secrets, and fear at home. As little kids, we would hide under the bed, behind the couch, or stay outside during these fights when we could. Sometimes we weren’t lucky enough to find a hiding place. Being the oldest child of abusive parents, I grew up extremely quickly, sheltering the youngest sibling, my sister, as much as possible. Unfortunately, my brother was beaten by both my mom and dad, while I suffered emotional abuse.

 

 

I found refuge in books. On weekends, you could find me sitting in a FROMWHOMTHEBELLTOLLSgrassy, sunny backyard reading classic novels and poetry. On the Internet, I found a Harvard reading list and checked out those books from the library. If I ever had extra money from doing chores for neighbors or babysitting, I would buy books from bookstores. Even as a little kid, I loved Charlotte Bronte, Ernest Hemingway, and Emily Dickinson. I am so grateful for those times when I had access to books, small escapes from pandemonium.

 

By age nine, I had changed schools every single grade – constantly starting over in a confusing and overwhelming environment. The summer of my ninth year, my dad committed suicide, and my mom remarried two weeks later. We moved from Georgia to California, where I entered fifth grade. Starting then, I became largely responsible for raising my brother and sister in the midst of malfunction and adversity. My mom was no longer reliably present in our lives, so I learned the daily tasks of how to prepare meals, find transportation to school, and help my brother and sister with tutoring and homework.

 

A very tortured kid, I had a difficult time making friends, had a poor memory, was always in bad health, and was suffering from a major depressive episode without anyone to talk to. Fortunately, my new fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Richards, took an interest in me and changed my life. I became extremely active in school and maintained straight As without any help at home, all the way through middle school.

 

But the work became more difficult in high school, and although I wanted to go to college, I had no guidance or support. My mom quit school after the eighth grade. She had also fallen into alcoholism and drug addiction, divorcing her third husband and making extremely poor decisions in dating. There were too many new men around, too much chaos.

“My biggest obstacle in high school was learning how and when to get help.”

When I left the classroom at the end of the day and on weekends, I had few tools for success and thought the smallest challenges were impossible. I often did not have computer access, transportation, or even a safe place to sleep. I thought everyone had problems like mine, and my biggest obstacle was learning who to ask and how to get help. Desperate to earn the grades I had been used to, I confided in my tenth grade humanities teacher, Mr. Coulsby. He guided me to sources and people who could support me in getting the things I needed, and I began to develop and grow.

 

jayd_graduationI graduated from high school with honors and earned a Bachelor’s degree at University of California, San Diego, yet I still didn’t know what I wanted to do for a living. I’d worked so hard, and it took me longer than the prescribed four years to get my BA since I always had to hold down a job in addition to my studies. Internships, field trips, listening to speakers from various professions; nothing seemed to help me figure out what career I wanted to pursue.

 

Then I received an undergraduate scholarship from the national McNair Scholars Program for low-income, first generation college students. The scholarship enabled me to work as a research assistant in a developmental neuroscience lab with a stipend to perform my own research. I think this was the first time I found something I loved and knew exactly what to work towards. I love studying the brain and how its experience changes as it interacts with the environment.

 

Currently, I am working as a K-12 substitute teacher, and I just got accepted to the master’s program for psychology at California State University, San Marcos where I’ll be studying social cognition in children. Since it took me slightly longer to discover my academic and professional interests, I’ll be a little older than the average master’s student, but my personal drive has been my faithful constant. I often have to remind myself not to compare my progress with “normal” peers, trying to remember that everyone is different and faces their own challenges.

“I encourage anyone working towards a goal to focus on the simplest positives, and use your strengths (old, new, small, and large) as momentum.”

After I get my master’s degree in 2 years, I plan to continue my studies in developmental neuroscience to earn a PhD. My goal is to get a faculty position at a major research institution. This would give me the freedom to research topics that are important to me, such as the effects of risk and resilience on child development. I also look forward to mentoring students who come from tumultuous circumstances, because I felt so alone when I was young. Helping even one person feel less isolated would make a world of difference to me.

 

As far as my personal life with family, friends, and relationships, I find myself with a different perspective than the average person. It takes me extra time to trust people, which is completely okay, and I have a small group of friends. People usually remark on my independence. I have done my best to simplify my life, allowing in only positive, good people and situations whenever possible.

Jade and Dan
Jade and Dan

 

It would be dishonest not to mention the support, grace, and generosity my fiancé has given me these past three years. Just as misguidance has affected me in negative ways, Dan’s influence has allowed me to grow into an open, honest and confident woman – something I never knew was possible! In learning to surround myself with like-minded, goal-driven people, I met my best friend, the greatest person in the world, and I’m grateful for his support.

 

My fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Richards, and my 10th grade Humanities teacher, Mr. Coulsby, truly saved my life. I have never been able to thank them properly, so I plan to respect their legacy by being a role model for struggling kids and students whom I encounter. They encouraged me to continue through life with the curiosity of a child and the wisdom that only comes from early tragedy. They taught me that I was not alone and I was worthy, which were very important lessons for me as a young person.

 

While I went through the hardest times in my life, I hadn’t understood my strength. I always concentrated on my shortcomings and weaknesses. Now that I am older, my role model is myself – as a child! I finally understand the power of a resilient young person, which has been the inspiration for my research focus in psychological development. I encourage anyone working towards a goal to focus on the simplest positives, and use your strengths (old, new, small, and large) as momentum.

Prosthetics Didn’t Stop Him: Alex Montoya’s 5 Must-Do’s to Live Your Dreams

Alex-Montoya-2012At age four, shortly after Alex Montoya moved to the United States, he knew he wanted to work for the San Diego Padres.

Except Alex was born without arms or a right leg.

Born in Medellin, Columbia, the doctor told his mother and father not to expect much from their son because his abilities would be limited. Lucky for Alex, his folks were people of faith and a fighting spirit. They were determined their boy would do his best with what God gave him. Still, they had to admit to him that becoming a professional baseball player with a set of prosthetic limbs seemed a bit out of reach.

Alex tells a story of being in kindergarten and wanting to climb the monkey bars on the playground at recess. Half of his friends told him he was crazy, that it was too dangerous. The other half said that if he fell, they’d laugh, but if he really wanted to do it, they’d help him get to the top. (He was popular even back then. If you knew him, you’d know why.)

So Alex used his hook-hands for balance and struggled his way up the monkey bars while his friends cheered him on – until the bell rang. The other five-year-olds went back to class about the same time Alex realized getting down would be even harder than going up. Thankfully, his teacher came and rescued him from a precarious position that suspiciously felt like the verge of a fall.

But that day, Alex made a decision: If he could climb the monkey bars with his prosthetic arms and leg,

Alex would find a way to work in baseball when he grew up, the thing he loved most.

As soon as Alex could sound out words, he started reading the sports page in the newspaper. Before long, he noticed lots of people work behind the scenes at a ballpark: journalists, commentators, statisticians, coaches, and trainers. Who knew all the positions somebody with a passion for the game could do to have a career in professional baseball?

“It takes a lot more than a team of players to make a baseball season,” Alex says.

“And I was going to work for the alex_montoyaPadres.”

Alex attended the University of Notre Dame where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications with a minor in Theater. From there, he went on to the University of San Francisco where he got a Master’s degree in Sports Management. It was time to pursue his intention all along.

Alex would begin his career in professional baseball.

Except when he moved to San Diego, California to work for the Padres, there weren’t any entry-level positions available. After the initial disappointment, he took a job for minimum wage at Petco Park as an usher, seating fans before the games. Alex made a point of getting to know the trainers, public relations people, business administrators, members of the press, and grounds keepers.

Every day, he would tell at least one supervisor: “Someday, I’m going to work for you.”

While working as an usher, he applied for three other jobs he didn’t get. Finally, the Director of Latino Affairs, a Hispanic outreach position, became available in the Public Relations Department. This was the perfect position for Alex Montoya, the kid who always knew he’d, one day, have a career in baseball, working for the San Diego Padres.

Nine years later, Alex has given lots of motivational speeches about setting intentions and reaching goals.

If you’d like to know more, check out his books.

AlexMontoya4web-192x300 download

 

http://www.amazon.com/Swinging-Fences-Alex-Montoya/dp/1604627352

 

http://www.amazon.com/The-Finish-Line-Alex-                              Montoya/dp/1622950682

 

 

 

 

You can also follow Alex’s motivational blog posts and quotes on his website: AlexMontoya.org: You Can Do Anything!

Alex’s FIVE Must-Do’s to Reach Your Goals:

  1. Don’t ever be afraid to try something new. If it doesn’t work out, so what? You’ll always learn something you didn’t know before, and if it does, you will open doors you never knew existed.
  2. Have a dream. It may or may not change along the way (I didn’t become a pro baseball player), but it will give you direction.
  3. Make a plan. Give yourself goals and benchmarks to keep you on track.
  4. Sometimes you’ll feel alone, but you’re never alone. Reach out. There are always people who will be there to prop you up, and you’ll be there to keep others on their path, too.
  5. And most important: NEVER GIVE UP.

 

We’d love to hear about your goals and dreams, new or old. Have you gotten stuck along the way? What obstacles have you encountered? What helps (or has helped) you to get back on track and keep going?