Stories & People
Courage comes in many forms. We’ve compiled a diverse and amazing collection of human experiences below. Browse and share stories to help us meet our $10,000 goal.
I am a Warrior and a Survivor
At the age of 23 I was a runner, an athlete in every aspect. I could run 3 miles in 18 minutes flat! I could out-perform most men and women my age and barely break a sweat. I had a lot going for me. I had just begun the process of joining the Army, I was just beginning what I thought was my adventure in life. As it turns out other plans were set for my future. Plans I am still discovering.
The day before I was to go in and sign my life over to the Army I was in a 4-wheeler accident that changed my life forever! I blew apart my L-4 vertebra, and cracked three others above it. You can’t see the cracked vertebra on this picture of my x-ray, but you can clearly see the split vertebra: (Year 2I was in the hospital for five days and sent home with a back brace and a prescription for pain killers and physical therapy and a follow up appointment with a neurologist. After one year of “healing” the doctors discovered that the disc above the split vertebrae had been slowly leaking and preventing the bone from regrowing, at this point they decides I would have to have surgery to correct the problem. So at the age of 24 I went in for my first major surgery. They cleaned up the area, placed two rods and with four screws holding them in place along with bone scraped from my right hip on the right side of my spine and a synthetic bone blended with my hip bone on the left side of my spine to cause it to fuse together. Once again I was in the hospital for five days and sent home with more pain killers, a bone re-generator, and eventually physical therapy. I thought all was going well, even my doctors thought my back was healing well. They even gave me the okay to begin exercising again! I was really excited about this because I went from 115 pounds to 165 pounds over those two years. A combination of depression, poor eating, and the inability to be active took its toll on my. Especially the depression, that was the worst part.
Then in 2008 my husband received his orders for Iraq, this was devastating news because my back had once again started giving me problems, although we didn’t know why yet.
While my husband was deployed for training I received the terrifying and heart breaking news that my body had rejected the synthetic bone, and my spine had began to collapse. I was by myself, and felt so alone. My doctor told me I may need two surgeries to correct the problem, but he wouldn’t be able to tell until he was actually done with with was now my second surgery. After that news most of what he said to me is blurry. I was devastated! I sat in my car for nearly an hour after that appointment and cried. I was going to have to go through this one alone. I didn’t have a choice but to have the surgery.
The second surgery consisted of a plate, cage, and more screws and more bone being scraped from my hip to secure my lower spine. I was really scared with this one because of the nature of the surgery, there was a good chance it could paralyze me. Thankfully my husband has some really good men in his unit, he was able to take 2 weeks of leave so he could be with me during the surgery. I am grateful he was there! When I woke from the procedure I couldn’t feel my left leg. I freaked out! I began crying, and repeating to the nurse that I couldn’t feel it. Well, once feeling did return I wished it were still numb! I had extensive nerve damage and it made my entire left leg feel like it was on fire, literally like it was on fire from the inside out. Nothing could touch my leg without intensifying the pain to a level that made me scream out in pain. I would wake myself up screaming in pain…there was nothing that would ease it except time. It took nearly 8 months before the burning sensation was dull enough to touch my leg, and nearly 3 years before the burning sensation went away completely. Mind you I had this surgery in 2008, so by 2011 my leg was finally not hurting on a daily basis.
In 2009 I was still having back pain, and was referred to a plastic surgeon for a breast reduction to further help the healing process…then in 2011 I had to have a hysterectomy which was nearly just as painful as the back surgeries, and even more devastating…
Through all of these surgeries I had my husband and my family there for me. No one else, no friends, no other family members…and even now my closest ‘friends’ have no idea the struggles I have.
I have overcome so many challenges in the last 6 years of my life! I am very thankful that my back is healed, and I have recovered from all the other surgeries.
I am running and working out again (although it’s painful…I still have weakness in my left leg and struggle with pain in my back), but I am determined to overcome it and get strong again. I have since earned my Associates Degree and am currently pursuing my Bachelor’s Degree. I have found inspiration in my experience to help others through their struggles. I have set up a workout group, hiking group, and host workshops to help teach people various low impact activities, along with the importance of maintaining a healthy diet, and ways to stay motivated and beat depression.
I am proud to say that I am currently training to run my first half marathon on April 27th in Nashville! The training has been really long and slow, but progress is progress, and I am close to accomplishing my goal. My daily mantra, “never give up - never give in…perseverance is key!”
“Victim to Victorious!”
As an Olympic Gold Medalist, Award-Winning Stuntwoman and Hall of Fame Martial Artist, many people think that I must have ‘something special’ that they just don’t have. Yet, the only thing that I have, that perhaps they do not, is more fear.
I guess that is a result of being abandoned at the age of three and growing up in suicidal and abusive situations. Living on the streets, in Half-Way Houses, Government Shelter and finally a Foster Home at age sixteen.
It seemed like I was always feeling shy, alone, unwanted, ugly, picked on, inferior, and just downright stupid. My only salvation during those dark years was retreating to the daydreams in my mind: dreams of love, hope, a loving home and family. Hey, I even dreamed the impossible… of one day becoming an Olympic gold medalist.
Yet for the first twenty-two years of my life I ran from any chance, challenge or dream because it felt as if the two words, “I CAN’T” were tattooed onto my forehead! By the time I was a young woman I felt like a total failure!
That is, until one night at the age of twenty-two; in sheer desperation, heartbreak and loneliness, I almost took my life.
Yet that night changed my life forever. For the first time I truly realized how this fear was ruining everything for me. It was ruining my goals, my relationships, even my love of life!
So it was that dark and stormy night that I finally got angry and told myself, “NO MORE!” And I swore that from then on, I would draw a line in the sand, make a stand, and FIGHT for what I wanted! And to help me stay strong with this resolve, I also decided it wise to dedicate myself to the martial arts.
So, a few years later when I placed second at my first national Taekwondo fighting competition and it was announced that our sport would be included in the next Olympic Games just three years away? It felt like God SMACKED me on the forehead and said, “Yo!” “Wake up!” “I’m giving you the chance to make your dream come true!”
That very night, I swore to myself that I would take my dream and MAKE it come true! And if I failed? Well at least I would know, for once in my life, “I was NOT a failure!”
So I took one tiny step towards my dream and figured out where I was, versus where I needed to be. I set goals. I made a game plan. That one step led to another step, and then another and another.
For the first time in my life I began to learn about preparation, perseverance, focus and attitude. And although my thinking and actions did not change overnight, I eventually discovered how much is truly possible when you can just ‘step up’ in life, take a chance and put 110% effort into what you want.
And now…so many years later…after Olympics, and seventeen years as a top Hollywood Stuntwoman performing car hits, fights, crashes and burns on Block Buster films…I am a Motivational Speaker, sharing my stories of success and failure. And yes, there are many times I am STILL afraid. I imagine it is a battle I will fight the rest of my life.
Yet I have finally learned that the thrill of victory IS worth the possible agony of defeat. Because the only thing WORSE than failing…is being too afraid to even try. Believe me, I know!
Who would have thought that a shy, timid, ‘mouse’ of a girl could do so much with so little! Who would have thought that it is possible to change your life with one step with courage? Well, I have just two words for you. You CAN!
A Helping Hand
A friend of mine picked me up from medical school. I was wearing my scrubs, hauling my books into the car and exhausted. On our way home we ran into a little traffic in an area not known for traffic around this particular time.
As we approached the scene, I see an elderly woman had fallen off her bicycle and onto the rocky path. There are no sidewalks on this two way street, only rocks and fences. A realization came over me that while we sat in this traffic for a few minutes, each of these vehicles never stopped to help her.
This broke my heart and angered me at the same time. I told my friend we need to pull over to help her but he said no it’s not our business. I couldn’t believe he would say something like that. I told him if you don’t pull over then I’m jumping out. We were only going about 10mph so it wasn’t a big deal for me to jump out of the vehicle. He pulled over anyways and let me off.
I ran over to her and I could see she was bruised up and had some cuts from her landing on the rocks. She was having trouble standing up and getting her bicycle up. I grabbed her arms and allowed her to pull herself up. She was so grateful. She said she tried asking for help and waiving for someone but people just kept on going. She said she felt dizzy but when I asked her if she wanted me to call an ambulance, she said no and shared with me that she lived just around the block.
As I was speaking to her, another vehicle pulled to the side and asked if she needed help, then another pulled up behind us and asked if she needed a ride. I helped her walk to the lady’s truck and the lady put the bicycle in the back. The elderly woman was so appreciative she tried offering me a lunch date. I respectfully declined and told her I was just happy to help. She gave me a big hug, said thank you and left.
On the way back home my friend said to me, “I don’t know how you can do things like that, I freak out when people look hurt. I guess that’s why you’re studying for this profession, you’re going to make a great doctor.”
That made my day. I realized that the world needs more people to step up to the plate and lend a helping hand because not everyone has the courage to do something like that.
Learn to Accept Yourself
This is not a story of how I was beaten as a child or how I survived a near-death situation, this is the story of how I learned to live with myself, and accept myself for who I am.
When I was in second grade my mouth started twitching involuntarily. My parents continuously told me to stop but no matter how hard I tried I could not. They looked down on me and their eyes read that I was attention seeking and abnormal. After 6 months or so, the tic started to fade, and I believed it was over, it was just a faze.
A few months after starting third grade my eyes became heavy and I had to close them for seconds instead of blinking normally. I had this tic for 3 years with many emails from my teachers to my parents asking if there was something wrong with me. My parents decided that I needed my vision checked and it turned out that I did need glasses. But that didn’t stop the motor tics. My parents would tell me constantly to knock it off and warned me that I appeared ridiculous, but I could not cease the twitches.
In sixth grade I started to have side effects from the unknown disease. OCD and trichotillomania. I would tap walls constantly and thought that if I did not count to certain numbers, everyone I loved would die. I began ripping out my eyebrows and could not stop. Around this time I was ridiculed to the extremes by my family. My sister would constantly tease and imitate my hair pulling and my parents would yell at me to stop. But I could not. Several people thought it would be hilarious to imitate my sudden movements. Although a few times the mocking would be to my face, I made an educated guess that people were smirking and ticking behind my back.
Many years went by and my parents ideas led me to believe that I was just stupid and attention seeking, because of course, nothing could be wrong with their child. So I thought for seven years that I was silly and it would all fade eventually. But in the back of mind I knew something was wrong. None of the other kids at school had necks that jerked back at any moment or legs that could not stop shaking.
Up until this year I truly believed it was all a faze.
Then one day I did some research to discover what was happening over these many years. I finally found something called Tourette’s Syndrome. I realized I had every symptom (Except for a strong vocal tic, although about once a week I had to release a noise for no reason). I wanted more then anything to become diagnosed so my parents would realize there actually was something wrong, and I was not just being attention seeking, but every time I brought it up they would deny there was anything very different about me.
After this, I decided I definitely had either Tourette’s or Chronic tic disorder. Either way, I decided to get over my many tics and persevere through them. I am now extremely open about my tics and stopped apologizing every time I experienced tics in the middle of a conversation. I managed to overcome trichotillomania. If someone imitated me I would laugh. I would own the tics, I would not let them own me.
Gold Boat Journeys: A Personal Voyage
Over the past two years, I’ve navigated rogue waves and stormy seas. My youngest daughter graduated from high school and started college. Our beloved 6-year-old family dog died of bone cancer. My eldest daughter left the U.S. to study in Europe. My dad got sick, spent a month in the hospital, recovered, and moved into a retirement community with my mom. I was laid off at the peak of the recession after seven years as the communications director for an environmental nonprofit.
One year later, I officially entered the ranks of the so-called long-term unemployed. Through crises of confidence and bouts of depression, I managed to steer myself through the choppy patches into a few sweet spots:
- I wrote articles for Westways, Patch Media and Pelican Hill Magazine about Big Sur’s Henry Miller Library, Bantry’s West Cork Literary Festival and Laguna’s Pageant of the Masters;
- interviewed chefs, artists, designers, curators and foodies about topics from pasta to paper, art glass, 20th-century art, Guatemalan textiles and how to deter masked apple bandits (of the raccoon variety);
- volunteered as a mentor for WriteGirl, ushered numerous plays at South Coast Repertory and Laguna Playhouse, helped install vegetable gardens with Transition Laguna; cooked and served several dinners for 50 homeless clients of the Laguna Beach Relief and Resource Center; and explored trails in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park;
- took on writing, editing and marketing projects for UC Irvine, Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific, Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy and Earprint Productions;
- developed a daily creative writing habit, won first prize in the Friends of Laguna Beach Library’s 2011 poetry contest and had a poem published in the UK; learned to give and appreciate constructive criticism in twice-monthly meetings with the Laguna Poets; took my first solo trip abroad for a writer’s workshop in Ireland; and planned a low-budget, arts- and culture-oriented trip to Spain.
One morning in March 2012, after another round of interviews, job applications and delays, I decided to stop waiting for my ship to come in and put myself to work. When I wrote my business plan, hired a logo designer and started developing the Ship’s Log (blog, aka slog), I still couldn’t see where the voyage would lead. One year and many false starts later I have a clearer idea. Inspired by my memory of the little Iron Age boat I saw on a solo writing trip to Ireland, my dream become an ongoing lesson in patience, flexibility, determination, dedication and humility. It’s never easy to picture where you want to go. It’s even more difficult to stay the course. I’ve filled my little gold boat with hope, heart and hard-won wisdom.
After surviving the first year largely by working 12-14 hour days hunched over my computer, I’m able to spend more time building community online and locally. In partnership with two local businesswomen, I’ve started offering monthly visual marketing workshops. Through connections I made online, I’ve begun packaging trips and creating marketing materials for travel websites. And I’ve found my focus: taking time every day to unplug and adjust my sails, contribute as a volunteer, parent, partner, friend and citizen and encourage others to do the same. As rough as the self-employment seas can be, I’m committed to staying the course, and I won’t give up the ship without a struggle.
When I needed courage the most
I always have been one to fear job interviews. Maybe its the time where I wonder if my resume will be good enough or if anyone would consider me for the position. I always seem to come up with a reason in my head as to why they shouldn’t hire me. Some being: lack of hours, I’m too shy or my experience isn’t good enough.
When I had my first job interview I was so nervous and was shaking the whole time. In the end I got the job but at the time, sitting in the chair in front of the manger, I knew I would be laughed at and rejected. As time went on and I built some confidence I still would be nervous and shaky but I always ended up getting the job.
The one person who believed in me more then my mom or even myself was my grandpa. He said to my mom once “Don’t let her apply for jobs she isn’t strong in or ones that aren’t good for her.” It stuck by me so well that any other job I applied for or considered applying for I would think this though through my head first and then decide.
You wouldn’t think anyone from a different generation would know what was going on now a days, but he, a 78 knew. He believed and he knew for me what was the best and not.
He helped me build my confidence back and now I am working at a career that is for me.
Thank you doesn’t describe it but it sums it up well enough. Having someone believe in you when all else fails is the best feeling anyone can get.
Thank you grandpa from the bottom of my heart.
I don’t know where to start. I don’t remember when I started.
From the mists of my earliest memories, I had already known. I had to be one thing when I grew up. I had one mission, one goal, one call. But, what I didn’t know was the hope, the faith, and the endurance that I would need to carry it through.
Going through school, I was different. Everyone else knew who I was and what I wanted to be. But, no one knew how that affected the rest of the life around me. People looked at me differently. They treated me differently. Because of my call, they respected me. And, I respected them. I was nice to them. I was there for them, just as they were there for me. I’ve done my best to keep up with them. But, some that I had known as brothers still became nothing more than a memory. And, every time I do look back, especially at those I haven’t seen in a while, I have this nagging feeling, this emptiness, that I wasn’t there for them when they could have needed me. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
All the way from Elementary to High School, I lived in the same small town. At the end of High School, I left. Like so many before me, I wanted to get out. I wanted to leave. No one seemed to hate the city that we lived in as much as those who actually lived in it. The grass was always greener on the other side. And, just like almost every other student before me, I jumped town to go to more school, to get a higher education.
Six hours away still didn’t seem far enough.
I left my friends, my family, and my job. I left all that I had known. But, it seemed worth it. I knew I had to go to school for my calling. So, I had no other choice. I hoped that I would make more friends, that I would find a home-away-from-home, and that I could have another job. I did do all those things. But, I still remembered those I had left. While I was off at school, my mother and father were going through some of the hardest times of their lives. My brother and sister were growing up without me. My friends were falling into lives that I could have never imagined them leading before. And, I was six hours away.
Coming home for holidays and summers wasn’t enough. There was no way I could be there for them as much as I should have been. There was no way for me to be the part of their lives that I could have been. But, although everything seemed off, everything had changed, most of my friends made me feel as if I had never left.
Still, even after undergraduate school, I needed to move on. My calling required a Master’s degree. And, there are only two institutions in America that provided the one I wanted. Once again, I found myself parting ways with friends, leaving a place I had come to know, and saying good-bye at work once more.
Once I got to graduate school, I realized that it was nothing like I had imagined. I made few friends. My family seemed farther away than ever before. I hardly managed to scrounge up a job. And, I could not escape the feeling that I just don’t belong here.
Still, I clung on to what I knew: I was called. I will endure.
I realize that these things like moving, leaving family and friends, isolation, and lost-ness, may all just be a part of growing up. I’m sure many of you have been through quite the same thing. But, when I began I didn’t know the perseverance, the strength, the trust, the courage, that it would take to follow through.
I have waited until the end to share this with you. But, my call, the reason it was different, my call is to be a pastor. I don’t want this to become religious. I don’t want to make you get a detestable feeling in your stomach, “Not another Jesus-Freak!!!” But, I do want you to know that this in itself takes courage.
Any time that anyone stands up for anything they believe in…
Anything they believe in with their heart, mind, and soul…
That takes courage.
And, here, in my field, it takes courage to carry on in order to help people although it feels like you’ve neglected so many others.
It takes the courage to trust that God is there, guiding me. It takes the courage to know he will provide, even if I fail. It takes courage to continue on knowing that, just like every other Christian or any sort of believer, my faith will be tested. It will be tried. That’s a promise. It takes courage knowing that I will be seen differently because of my beliefs. It takes courage to remind the world that I believe there is a God. And, it takes courage to even bring topics like this one up knowing that it may be screened. It may never be published, but doing it anyway. Because, somehow, somewhere, you have found the courage.
Three years ago I wrote a poem about being seen as a wolf amongst a flock of sheep and a sheep amongst a pack of wolves. Belonging nowhere. An outcast wherever I desired to call home. I was made to believe that I was the fragile victim balancing on the center of a double edged sword, a sword ready to fling me up into the sky and slice me in half for no other reason than for existing.
When I was 13 years old I was called a terrorist in the center of a crowded park for no other reason than for existing.
After that I avoided crowded parks, and places outside of my city. I refused to make eye contact because I was afraid of what I might read in the eyes of strangers.
Two years ago an anonymous user responded to that poem. The user wrote “perspective.” I was confused. Slowly confusion turned to anger. What does that even mean? I remember screaming into my phone as if anonymous would give me an answer.
One month ago it clicked. I was not the victim balancing on a double edged sword over a world that I did not belong in. I was the bridge. I am the bridge, I am the link between two homes, two worlds, and two people, I am strong, and I am capable of so much more than I ever imagined.
And I have always been that bridge. I just couldn’t see it until…
A Slippery Slope
There has always been a struggle with anxiety for me, but after years of ignoring it and succumbing to it, eventually it got worse. Depression wasn’t something that hit me all at once - it was more of a lingering ache that crept up slowly and consumed everything.
I stood alone with it for so long, and still do actually. I didn’t tell anyone for so long, my parents still don’t know all of it. I’m still learning to trust myself enough to trust others, and to let them help. Even if you know you aren’t alone in it, you still feel like you are. Life is worth the struggle though, and I’m learning to see that - that I’m worth the struggle, and if I let it, it will get better. It’s hard but keep trying. Keep fighting, everyday.
I’m parched. My throat thickens, choking. Suffocation riding out a wave of dark, dark panic. A single breath in tumult, the next breath gone. I yank hard at what doesn’t belong. A force of color hurls onto me, restricting. My eyes struggle to focus as white light escalates an excruciating pain. Fury surrounds me - floating sounds I cannot connect. And then the questions hit. Where am I? What is happening? The objects, the white light, the color - I am a paperweight solid in the center of chaos. I am dying. Pain endows the gift of paralysis as my head throbs, strumming in sync to the beat of the monitor. The white light - eclipsed.
A week later, I wake to reality.
Shortly after reaching the midpoint of a major intersection, my car was slammed by an SUV going nearly fifty miles per hour. The passenger seat measured a mere four inches after the impact. I was in the passenger seat.
I experienced massive head injuries and swelling of the brain. My femur was severed into eight, clean pieces - the perfect surgical blueprint. My lower back was split, collarbone sliced in half, neck sprained, and arm fractured. My body had experienced the accordion factor.
The police declared the accident a fatality at the scene, the doctors didn’t think I’d make it. Within a week I had regained consciousness and with another, I was learning to walk once more. The next few months were spent in and out of the hospital - doctor’s appointments, physical therapy, ER visits for injuries that had not been discovered initially. Endless CT scans, MRI’s, X-rays. A layer of radiation. There was no threshold to pain because I could not comprehend a life free from it.
Nearly ten years later, I’m unlike any other 20-something. My leg is a hardware shop, filled with rods, pins and screws. I cannot run or sit for long periods without agitating my leg and back. Two years ago, I tried. Two miles a day for two months and the result? A guaranteed handicap pass, a medicine cabinet filled with Vicodin and the resurrection of crutches.
But pain is not my prison. The worst is over, because here I stand. Balanced at times, wavery at others - but alive.
Ten years ago I was given another chance. Now, I wake up each morning with the same mentality, feeling my life start anew. I take inventory of each moment. There is a beautiful delicacy housed within chance. I strive to find a tempo of my own that coexists with this chance. I suppose you can say my soul is aged. I like to think my life is sharpened.
I’m 22 and each and every day, I am happy. I have lived in three countries and dreamed in sixteen. I have professionalized my passion for writing. Life is possible.
This is what it is all about. This is why I’m still here. I am living.
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