Michele and her husband Glenn have made an appearance on this blog before. Michele has played a major role in my life. For the sake of brevity I’ll just direct you to this post where you can read the whole story. Just last month Brian and I bicycled through Vietnam with Michele and Glenn. It was a meaningful trip for us and I think that this post will explain why.
I am sharing Michele’s story because it is an amazing example of how capable we are. I think it demonstrates just how much power we have over our own lives. And I hope that her story might be just the thing that will light a fire inside one of you somewhere out there. (She gave me permission to share her story from the get-go. Don’t worry, I would never share a personal story without permission).
As a disclaimer, Michele’s story is told in the form of a letter that she wrote to me. The letter really paints me in a good light. I am by no means under the delusion that I am as cool as she makes me out to be but it is an honor nonetheless and, hey, it’s Valentine’s Day- the perfect occasion for a love-fest if ever there was one. Plus, I think this story is a good reminder of how we touch the lives around us, sometimes without even knowing.
“They are the ones who bring meaning to our lives, who happen to inspire, who spark a fire that we carry with us for the rest of our days, who are but pillars of hope and sometimes sacrifice, life-changers, life-savers, catalysts.” -Chirag Tulsiani
Kim, you are my catalyst.
I want to express in writing how your journey (selling your stuff, quitting your job and traveling the world) has had a profound impact on my life.
I’ve always been an active and adventurous sort. I played rugby and roller hockey in college. I’ve rafted raging rivers in Australia, hiked the Grand Canyon, got my nose pierced in Fiji and scuba dived on the Great Barrier Reef. I spent several summers fighting wildfires in California and Nevada where I was one of the best on the crew with the chainsaw. I got my pilot’s license before I was 20, and have jumped from a plane more than 50 times with a parachute I packed myself. You name it, I was up for it.
My wildland firefighting days.
My very first skydive (left) and the day I got my pilot’s license (right).
Nearly two years ago you and Brian said goodbye to your Portland friends at a going away party in a beautiful Portland park and set out to begin your grand adventure. As I said my goodbyes I was struck by two things nearly simultaneously: 1) Holy shit, they’re actually doing it!, and 2) Huh, that could have been me!?!?
Would have been me. I was overcome with the realization that the version of myself I described above totally would have done something like quit her job to travel the world. But that wasn’t the version of me that was standing in the park that day. At that moment a big switch in my brain flipped and I realized, quite to my astonishment, that I had somehow become a spectator in my own life.
I guess that is a natural progression really. We all grow up and move on. Falling in love, jobs and mortgage payments become the focus instead of where to spend Spring Break. Don’t get me wrong- my workaday world was great! I had an amazing partner, fabulous job, adorable pets and good friends. I was living in a great city with spectacular coffee, beer and food! What more could a person want? I certainly didn’t think I wanted anything more.
But all the while I never realized that I had lost the spark in the core of my soul. I was no longer that adventure seeker with a zest for life. It turns out she was, quite literally, buried. I have been overweight my entire life- was always the chubby girl in elementary and junior high. Described as “big-boned” by adults in an effort to be kind, and as a great many other things by fellow kids in an effort to be not so kind. By the time I was a teen I was at least 30 pounds overweight, and in my twenties I was probably more than 50 pounds overweight. And so on, and so on, and so on…
I’ve really never been one to allow my weight to define me. The size of my pants didn’t determine my worth, and it certainly wouldn’t dictate what I could or couldn’t do. If I wanted to jump out of planes, then by God I was going to jump out of planes! Even if it meant I’d have to get a custom made jumpsuit because the ones at the jump school were too small.
But somewhere along the way, my weight did start to define what I could and couldn’t do. When you first met me I weighed over 300 pounds. At that weight it was physically too hard to be an adventure seeker- I was literally carrying the weight of another adult around with me everywhere I went.
At my heaviest.
In early 2006 Glenn and I were making plans to take an “active vacation” (hiking, biking, etc.) through REI Adventures tours with Glenn’s brother Chris. Chris, a well-seasoned traveller and adventurer, told us to “pick a trip, any trip… but,” he added, “preferably not one in a jungle with big bugs.” So, Glenn and I started scouring the REI catalog to make our selection of a (bug-free) trip.
Each trip was ranked on a scale from 1 to 5 based on level of difficulty. A level 1 trip was the equivalent of sitting on a nice boat enjoying the scenery go by, and a level 5 trip essentially meant you needed a doctor’s waiver because you could die. We decided to focus on finding a level 2 trip or maybe a level 3 if it didn’t promise to be too difficult.
That was when I first saw the trip of bicycling through Vietnam. I was so captivated by the descriptions and pictures, especially of Halong Bay. I couldn’t imagine a trip I wanted to do more- but I knew my weight and fitness level wouldn’t enable me to bike long distances and over mountain passes. I found myself thinking, “bummer, too bad I’ll never be able to see that,” as I continued flipping through the catalog looking for a less physically demanding trip. In the end we decided to get in better shape, lose some weight and do a hiking trip of the islands of Greece. The trip was absolutely fantastic, but I always lamented not being able to do the biking in Vietnam.
Hiking the islands of Greece.
Which brings me back to that light-bulb moment in the park at your going away party. I looked at you and saw living proof that just because something seems daunting, it’s not impossible. Just because something you want is scary, it’s still worth the risk of taking that first step… and then the next… and the next.
I realized I had a choice to make. I could continue to be a spectator in my own life, all but snuffing out the internal flame that sought activity and adventure. Or, I could seek to uncover my former self and put her back together again. I chose the latter.
Since you left Portland, Glenn and I have been working hard to be healthy and active… each and every day. In many ways our journey towards health has been an adventure all on it’s own. It has opened up so many opportunities to see and do things that we had never imagined. And, most importantly, I finally got to do that bicycling trip through Vietnam!
Biking and Halong Bay in Vietnam!
To be able to share that experience with you and Brian meant the world to me. I was able to physically do a trip I thought impossible, see things I had only dreamed about… and best of all I got to share the experience with the person that was the catalyst for my transformation.
With three of my favorite people in the world!
You continue to inspire me to this day. I often think of you during those moments of self-doubt when I wonder if I have it in me to keep going. Thinking of your courage and perseverance gives me the determination to keep taking that next step. And oh, the steps I’ve taken in the past year…
Zip lining at Whistler.
Running our first 5K.
Getting my motorcycle license.
Glenn and I have a lifetime of adventures awaiting us! Later this year we are going to run a half-marathon, and based on your and Brian’s recommendations I have no doubt the Galapagos Islands are in our not-too-distant future. Oh, and the Camino de Santiago, and the Inca Trail, and the Grand Canyon, and wild polar bears!
You were the catalyst that changed the trajectory of my life. You have helped me reconnect with that adventurous girl that lives inside me. You gave me the courage to dig her out, dust her off and put her back on her feet again. You have given me a precious gift for which I will forever be grateful.
Live your dreams! Find out how with my book, Life On Fire: A Step-By-Step Guide To Living Your Dreams