The catalyst. We all have the power to change.

by Kim on February 14, 2014 · 50 comments

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.

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“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.

fire

My wildland firefighting days.

jump and flight

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.

Image 1

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.

Greece hiking

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 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.

Biking Vietnam

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

Zip lining at Whistler.

First 5K

Running our first 5K.

Getting my motorcycle license.

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.

Love,

Michele

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{ 50 comments… read them below or add one }

Gillian February 14, 2014 at 12:35 pm

Wow. What an amazing story. I know you (and I) do the things we do because we have to but it’s true, you never know who, or how, your inspiring. Congratulations to Michele for remembering herself.
Gillian recently posted..The Un-Planning Guide to Cycle Touring Europe

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Kim February 18, 2014 at 6:35 am

Yes, it is one of life’s little blessings that you might just be going about your day and inspiring someone without even knowing it. This happened a lot to me when I’d ride the bus home from work in Portland. I’d be so exhausted and not wanting to run and then someone would run by and I’d think, “well, if she is doing it I can do it.” And then I’d go for a run and be happier because of it.

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Rhonda February 14, 2014 at 12:59 pm

This is one of the loveliest things you’ve shared on your site. I know you’ve inspired myself and others, and it’s so wonderful that Michele was able to articulate how you have inspired her as well. I’m so glad she re-ignited the spark from the past, to burn bright once again. I had loved the yellow envelope idea, which was so inspiring to YOU and it’s lovely to see that you, in turn, inspired her to be her best.
Rhonda recently posted..Snowy Days to Relish

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Kim February 18, 2014 at 6:36 am

Yeah, it is a little love-fest all around isn’t it? Michele has been such a huge mentor and inspiration to me so it means the world that I’ve also impacted her (I honestly had no idea).

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Krystin C. February 14, 2014 at 1:45 pm

Love this!!! Great post/letter Kim & Michele you guys are both inspiring others all around!

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Kim February 18, 2014 at 6:36 am

Thanks Krystin :) I hope you are doing well!

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Collette February 14, 2014 at 3:37 pm

Kim, you inspire all of us! Great story, thanks so much for sharing.
Collette recently posted..Escaping to Costa Rica: 6 Ways to Have an Absolute Blast

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Kim February 18, 2014 at 6:37 am

Thank you Collette :)

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Michelle February 14, 2014 at 3:47 pm

Wow. What an amazing story! Kim, you have inspired many, and Michele, I have no doubt you have become an inspiration all your own in your journey. I don’t know either of you, but I’m proud of you both!
Michelle recently posted..Chasing Joy

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Kim February 18, 2014 at 6:38 am

Thanks Michelle. I’m proud of Michelle too (and her husband, who also has dropped over 80 pounds and is now like a mega-healthy athlete type). We have so much control over our own circumstances.

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Stephanie February 14, 2014 at 3:51 pm

What a wonderful tribute to you, Kim, and what a inspiring story, Michele. I love how you two inspire each other. We should all have relationships that help us be better. Thanks for sharing your stories with the world and inspiring us all to achieve our dreams. :-)

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Kim February 18, 2014 at 6:39 am

I agree. It is wonderful to have people in your life that make your life better and you also get the honor of making their life better. Actually, that is probably the definitely of a healthy relationship!

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Marlowe February 14, 2014 at 4:04 pm

Michelle, what an inspiring and powerful story. Thank you for sharing your fears and disappointments, I know how hard it is to expose your vulnerabilities to anyone, let alone the whole internet!!

And Kim, thanks for inspiring us both with your writing and adventures.

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Kim February 18, 2014 at 6:40 am

Yep, that was a pretty brave letter she shared, wasn’t it? Hopefully it will also spark others.

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Sarah Somewhere February 14, 2014 at 10:24 pm

Wow. Michele was already up there on my list of amazing people from the ‘Yellow envelope’ days when you first introduced these generous spirits, Michele and Glen, to us. I was bowled over to receive an extremely generous donation to the ‘Help Jorge Fund’ from them, then delighted to hear you guys were doing the bicycle trip together.
But now, I am even more enamored with her courage, strength and adventurous spirit. To make such a huge change in your life is a bigger journey than jumping on a plane to another country. Anyone can go somewhere, but not everyone can become the person they know they truly are inside. Well, they can, but few have the courage. I sincerely give you a huge standing ovation Michele (and Glen, and Kim). Your humility, generosity and purity of heart is something which inspires me and I know will in turn be a catalyst for change in those around you. Bravo!!!!!!!!!
Sarah Somewhere recently posted..His moment: Tyrhone’s first flight

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Kim February 18, 2014 at 6:40 am

Yeah, you know first hand just how amazing she is!!!

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Emily February 15, 2014 at 11:10 am

I love stories like this – inspiring and encouraging. We put up so many barriers and to overcome these hurdles is such an accomplishment.
Emily recently posted..Bogota, Colombia: A Leisurely Exploration

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Kim February 18, 2014 at 6:40 am

It’s amazing what we can do when we decide to just get started doing it.

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Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) February 16, 2014 at 1:28 am

What an amazing story from an amazing woman. I know you consider Michele to be something of a mentor, so it was really lovely to hear how much you have guided her on her own journey. It was so nice getting to meet Michele and Glenn while you were all in town, and even though I didn’t get to spend that much time with her, it was pretty clear she was an incredible person who had lived (and still is!) a really interesting life.

Jumping out of planes! Flying said planes! Just incredible.

I had no idea she had struggled with her weight and just how much she had overcome in her pursuit to live her best life; I’ve seen with my own eyes just how healthy, happy and alive Michele is. What a great friendship the two of you have—you’re both lucky to have found one another!
Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..Making Peace with The Traveler’s Dilemma

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Kim February 18, 2014 at 6:41 am

I love that you got to meet Michele when we were all in Saigon :)

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Carmel February 16, 2014 at 4:21 am

I love love love this story! And yes, you’re as cool as she describes.

Michelle has such a positive and energetic spirit that I just loved from the second I met her in person. I’m so glad the Universe brought you together – just look at what happens when two dynamic spirits collide! Watch out world. I am totally going to keep this in mind when I feel like saying, “I can’t.” Fantastic.
Carmel recently posted..LESSONS IN LOVE

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Kim February 18, 2014 at 6:42 am

It was a super lucky accident (or maybe it wasn’t an accident at all…) that we met across the country and entered each others lives. I LOVE IT.

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Jade February 17, 2014 at 12:47 am

This is so inspirational. Thank you so much for sharing it Kim and Michele! You guys rock.

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Kim February 18, 2014 at 6:44 am

Thanks Jade!!!

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Catherine February 17, 2014 at 5:17 am

That’s a beautiful story, I’m so happy that Michele managed to find the adventurer in herself again :)
Catherine recently posted..Southeast Asia Bucket List

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Kim February 18, 2014 at 6:45 am

Yes, me too :)

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talat February 17, 2014 at 6:19 am

Dear Kim, thanks for sharing that priceless e-mail of Michele. Every single person who read it can make some assumptions about his/her own life.

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Kim February 18, 2014 at 6:45 am

It definitely rings true to most of us, doesn’t it?

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Ali February 17, 2014 at 7:01 am

So beautiful! Thank you for sharing her letter with us. As usual, I got all teared up. It’s so wonderful that you have been an inspiration and motivator to your friend, and I’m so happy for her that she finally got to take that cycling trip in Vietnam. Love this post, Kim!
Ali recently posted..How Much We Spent Living in Berlin

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Kim February 18, 2014 at 6:46 am

Meee tooo!!! It was such an amazing thing to be there for that knowing what it meant to her. She’s got some pretty awesome things planned in the future too :)

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Renee February 17, 2014 at 12:20 pm

Thank you for sharing Michele’s email and story here, and thank you to Michele for giving her blessing to do so. Michele, you and Glen are an inspiration in your own rights! So thrilled that you have done what you needed to do to free you up to pursue the adventurous life you have wanted to return to. I am just sitting here beaming in happiness for you both!

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Kim February 18, 2014 at 6:48 am

Michele and Glenn are pretty amazing people in general and this was just a glimpse into one side of that. I swear someone should write a book about them! They are generous and kindhearted and the world needs more people like that.

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Ashlie February 17, 2014 at 1:14 pm

I have an overwhelming urge to shout ‘whoohooooo, you can do it!!’ off my balcony :-) Inspiring, both of you!!
Ashlie recently posted..We Have An Etsy Shop!

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Kim February 18, 2014 at 6:49 am

Hehe, I love it. Me too!

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Dustin@WeGoRTW February 17, 2014 at 3:34 pm

Another great inspiring read, do all your friends just know how to write or what? :)
Dustin@WeGoRTW recently posted..Happy Valentines Day from Black Fly Central

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Kim February 18, 2014 at 6:49 am

Lucky me :) I have a lot of talented friends!

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Montecristo Travels (Sonja) February 18, 2014 at 8:24 am

one word: AWESOME!

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Kim February 19, 2014 at 7:06 am

Michele is definitely awesome!

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Kristi in LV February 18, 2014 at 9:27 am

Inspiring.

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Kim February 19, 2014 at 7:07 am

And Michele is definitely inspiring too!

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TammyOnTheMove February 19, 2014 at 1:31 pm

Wow, what a beautiful tribute to you Kim. That story really moved me. It is amazing what people can actually achieve if they push themselves.
TammyOnTheMove recently posted..Making merry at the world’s highest micro-brewery

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Kim February 20, 2014 at 6:18 am

I agree. Michele is an inspiration. We all really have more control over our lives than we let on.

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Karl Steinmeyer February 20, 2014 at 3:10 am

Amazing story! That was my first bike to btw, poor thing got burned up in a garage fire. Your gonna love it,

Cheers,
Karl
Karl Steinmeyer recently posted..The Ultimate Guide to Buying the Right Ring Size

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Sarah Blinco February 25, 2014 at 6:32 pm

This is just so inspiring – the whole lot of it, including your influence on your friend – thank you for sharing (I’ll also be sharing it) :-)
Sarah Blinco recently posted..Does doubt mean don’t?

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Kim February 27, 2014 at 6:05 am

Thanks for sharing it Sarah! Michele is an amazing person with an amazing story. I know it will help and inspire others.

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Jessica | Independent Travel Cats February 26, 2014 at 2:21 pm

Wow, a very inspiring story! Glad that you could serve as an inspiration for your friends.

The pics of Vietnam also are making me more excited about our upcoming trip to Vietnam!
Jessica | Independent Travel Cats recently posted..PortaPocket: Versatile Travel Accessories for Storage & Safety

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Kim February 27, 2014 at 6:08 am

Thanks Jessica, I’m glad about that too.

You will love Vietnam! Do you know where you are going yet?

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Maddie February 27, 2014 at 12:41 pm

What an incredible story! Michele you look absolutely fantastic and it’s wonderful to hear that you’ve found the adventure in your life again.
Maddie recently posted..New York City the second time around

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Selina April 15, 2014 at 3:04 pm

Inspiringly awesome. Touched a nerve. May your words help me with my dreams too <3

Following you on Twitter so I can be inspired daily!!

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Kim April 19, 2014 at 8:22 am

Selina, best of luck to you as you work towards your dreams.

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