Back in June, on a sunny, blue sky Colorado afternoon, I decided to go to a yoga festival in Boulder, by myself. The idea of movement, chanting and positive energy called me to play, even though I didn’t have anyone to play with!. Given my love for strangers, I had a gut feeling I’d meet good people. I mean, how could a Yoga Festival be anything but welcoming!
Upon arrival I glanced around the green field, circled with colorful booths selling everything from recycled material clothing to handmade lavender soaps. But what really grabbed my attention, a jewelry booth draped with every size imaginable heart shaped necklaces! I also noticed “You Are Beautiful” stickers adorning the mirror you use to decide if you’ll treat yourself (or a friend) to a fashionable new find!
A smile crept across my face and I immediately asked, ‘Any chance a gal named Hailey visited your booth? She’s one of my best friends! 7 years after surviving a stroke, she surprises women on a daily basis, handing these stickers to women, as a reminder of their beauty within!” Lisa squealed, “Yes, I loved her! We talked about hosting a Women’s Gathering & Pop Up Store at her home on Tuesday!”
Wait, it was Saturday. That’s a fast turn around! Would people come? Ah… this is why Hailey serendipitously brought us together. My eyes lit up with love when I told her, “I want to support you and invite my community, Strangers To Friends to join in the connection, too.” And, just like that we, Lisa & I began our friendship and collaborated on an experience! Below is me, Lisa and Hailey, all brought together via hearts.
With the HOLIDAY LOVE upon us, I’m excited to partner with Collective Hearts as a LOVE AMBASSADOR! Every purchase from my unique link, Strangers To Friends receives 10%. This money will go towards updating the website and growing the community!
As a gift that keeps on giving, Lisa offered a 15% Discount for Strangers To Friends! Use the code: Friends at checkout
For the month of November, a portion of all proceeds will benefit the California Community Foundation’s Wildfire Relief Fund. This fund supports immediate and long-term assistance, helping residents recover and rebuild. In addition, every Collective Hearts purchase contributes to the Jacmel Children’s Center in Haiti. The center is a two-story permanent school and home in Jacmel, Haiti, where 27 children live, learn and thrive. To learn more about the center or make a contribution, visit www.jacmelchildren.org.
This holiday season, gift yourself self love. Show a best friend, your Mom, a colleague, how loved they are! I get compliments EVERY TIME I wear mine. Remember, we vote with our dollars. Wee have a choice who we support. Please consider helping a heart-felt small business. Lisa & I invite you yo be a pert of the ripple effect! (PS: post a photo wearing your necklace on Instragram and tag @strangerstofriends & @collectivehearts to be shared with our followers and friends.
This Thanksgiving, I’m THANKFUL for you! Thank you for being a part of my Strangers To Friends Journey, with me. Everyone of you is a unique contribution to collective love shared around the world, connecting us all together.
In the meantime, watch this 5 minute, LIVE VIDEO of a Strangers To Friends Moment!
Learn HOW I initiated our conversation and where it lead us.
I often reference Strangers To Friends as, STF. Then one day I started thinking of what else “STF” could stand for. That’s when it hit me: STEP THROUGH FEAR. Why? Because… to experience anything in life, from introducing yourself to the stranger at the coffee shop to running your first half marathon to moving to a new city by yourself… it requires us to: step through fear. I thought to share a story where I practiced what I preach and how it created connection!
The Story: With a Coffee Date on the calendar I couldn’t wait to catch up with my Stranger To Friend, Ron, to learn what was brewing in his world. As a multi talented comedian and performer, he began by telling me about his upcoming One Man Show at a theater close to my house. Little did he know, I loved the idea of being on stage entertaining with a story, too! From studying theater at performing arts school in high school, to taking Improv Comedy classes to my Television Broadcasting degree… I love, speaking and story telling. I know for most, public speaking is like death. SO SCARY! But to me, there’s something about the freedom to express myself with an audience; hearing their reactions, contributing to their experience: I FEEL ALIVE!
Seconds after I finished soaking up his story, without thinking, the words, “I’ve want my own stand up show, too” jokingly flew out of my mouth. Famous last words, right? Ron picked up on my truth and followed my up with an tempting offer, “want the first 10 minutes of my act as a Story Teller?” The smile crept across my face and again without thinking… I squealed, “oh my goodness, yes! Let’s do this!”
–Record Scratch– as quickly as I said yes, reality set in. Was he being serious? What story would I share? Did I just… commit? Oh boy, the rear rose in my chest. Recognizing my resistance, he reminded me I’ve told stories on Facebook Live… only this time I’d be face to face! He offered me a chance to check an item of my “don’t just dream it, do it list”! All I had to do was say, YES!
Our expressions in the selfie below say it all…
What is Fear?
The voice in our head is a trickster. I know first hand that Fear, our Ego often serves to keep us small. It pretends to keep up safe but instead acts as avoidance or procrastination, convincing us we’re being productive. The ego likes wants you to stay inside the lines, safe from judgement. The ego does NOT want you to get on stage to tell a story to a room full of strangers!
But, I was scared of doing something new for the first time. I was scared of criticism. I was scared of not being good. enough.
That is, until I did it. And the fear shifted into… fun.
I picked one of my favorite stories: “How I got on the airplane to Australia knowing I’d lost my Wallet” — yes, TRUE STORY. I knowingly flew penniless to the other side of the world, in 2005, before Social Media or Travel Cell Phones. My delivery isn’t perfect… but what does perfect even mean? I DID IT! I even got a few laughs! I’m proud of myself… and that is all that really matters.
Listen below… then let me know… what would YOU do if you found yourself in the same scenario?
After the show, a few folks were so excited to tell me their crazy travel stories too! Once again, I was reminded, when I share my mine, I give permission for others to share theirs, too. A positive ripple effect!
TRUTH: The adrenaline coursing through your body when you’re scared is the same adrenaline that courses through your body when you’re excited. Fear and excitement feel the same physiologically! Elevated heart rate, maybe some butterflies in your stomach, increased awareness and inability to sleep, and a feeling of pent-up energy are very common signs of both fear and excitement. They feel the same physically, but emotionally and mentally they are polar opposites. Fear can be debilitating at worst, and needlessly (and negatively) stressful at best. Excitement is fun, enjoyable, and addictive.
At a recent Strangers To Friends experience, a man let me know he’d been receiving invitations via Meetup for over a year but resisted coming out of fear. With a huge smile he exclaimed, “I can’t believe I waited so long! “. I smiled back. You see, many people have expressed the same feeling! The only way to discover the other side of the fear is to take action and do it! EVERYONE is a first-timer, their first time they do anything. You’re not being set up to fail. You’re being challenged to.. .Step Through Fear.
When was the last time you stepped through fear — and experienced joy?
What action can you take this week to step through fear and invite a new experience?
Having lived life “turning strangers into friends” for the last decade, you can imagine the countless times I’ve called my Mom, slightly hysterical with a, “Holy Moly, you’re never going to believe this strangers to friends story!”. But after 10 years of me spewing tales of synchronicity, she’s never really surprised. Because…it’s me. And this is the story of my life. BUT, this story in particular, how I unknowingly created connection on November 20, 2018, took my “Holy Moly, Mom!”… to the next level.
I wasn’t even there!
This is the Story of 2 Women, Bali, Indonesia, Intuition and Crazy Synchronicity. Oh yea…and Me.
First, meet Marcy Morrison:
In 2009, after working for 4 years as a Travel RN Recruiter in San Diego, I put all my energy and intention into manifesting my job layoff.. and it worked. This inspired two things: the “invention” of my first Strangers To Friends card… and… the questioning of “My Purpose”. Turned out, a RN Recruiting Co Worker had a son who was best friends with a boy who had a Mom, who was the Founder of Careers With Wings, so she connected us. Cue in Marcy. In 2010, Marcy became the first ‘Coach” I ever worked with, before everyone had a coach, but divinely on time. You see, this was the point in my life I began to recognize I had a gift of connection which opened myself to explore more passion in “what do I want to do”. Though I’d go onto accept another RN recruiting job a year later. I also, like the previous one, realized it no longer served and believe it or not, once again, manifested my layoff. With another “window of opportunity” to pursue my “purpose” of turning strangers into friends, I decided to leave San Diego and take on a 6 week, 15 city, cross country road trip and move to Wilmington, NC. This photo of Me & Marcy was snapped at my “Going Away” Party days before I hit the road! Fast forward 8 years: though we don’t regularly keep in touch, we’ve literally been each others “cheerleaders” from afar. If nothing else, never missing a “Happy Birthday”. That’s how I knew, via Facebook, Marcy chose to celebrate her 50th this year in Bali, Indonesia!
Next, meet Sarah Leger:
January 2018, promoting an upcoming STF Experience, I sent a newsletter to the Strangers To Friends Meetup, announcing giveaways at the event from one of my favorite Colorado Local Businesses (another Strangers To Friends Story), Be Hippy. (PS: Enter code “Friends” to receive 10% off) The next day, I got a Meetup Message from a gal in Fort Collins asking to be connected with the owner of the company to inquire about sponsorship for her retreat! So, I connected them… and you guessed it, they agreed to partner! But it wasn’t this success that sparked my excitement. As Sarah and I moved from Meetup to Facebook, I asked questions! Turns out she’d recently relocated to Colorado via Boston (where I was born) and I was already friends with the gal speaking at her retreat! Small World! Clearly, we were meant to meet. This photo of Sarah was taken on Jan 16, 2018, the we sat for hours story swapping and salvaging over our synchronicity– and this slice of lemon cake ! (Side Note: the man behind us overheard our conversation… and us eyeing his piece of cake… and surprised us with a huge slice to share!) But, the real story: this coffee date was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. For the last year, she and I have coached each other, collaborated with each other and even helped each other move. Moments she “needs” someone, I’m her go to. The moment I need a “pick me up”, she seems to know. That’s why I was so excited she was off to Bali, Indonesia for the month of November for the trip of a lifetime. The next photo was taken Jan 20, 2019 unaware it was our 1 Year Friendaversary!
Now…the REAL STORY BEGINS:
An 18 hour time difference text message pops up from Sarah, “You’re not going to believe this, but I channeled my “inner Carlyn” and met a friend of yours in Bali!”
Wait, what is she talking about??? Who do I know in Bali?
Here’s the CRAZY “small world” story:
After traveling for 2 weeks in Asia with her job as the Alumni Events Director for Semester At Sea, Sarah was on the last leg of trip, now waiting in the Bali Airport to get picked up to head to her Uncle’s Home in Ubud. Feeling all the feels from a day of travel, she craved connection with someone friendly, perhaps an American Woman, someone with whom she could relate. Have you ever thought to “randomly” talk so someone across the room? Though I know Sarah as a leader, I also know, she isn’t the gal who typically jumps up to head across the room and strike up “stranger” conversations. That is, until the “What Would Carlyn Do?” thoughts popped into her mind!
As she shared with me, she glanced around the airport and spotted a blonde woman by herself, who she did a double take on because the thought looked just like me! She sat thinking, “I bet Carlyn would walk up to her and stranger to friend her!”And with that thought, she inspired herself to walk up to her and initiate a conversation. Per her story, they immediately fell into a comfortable flow and realizing they shared a lot of small world stories! Both are in the “coaching” world. Both have a passion for travel. Both are spiritual. But it wasn’t so much what the had in common but, per Sarah, how she felt: at ease. An instant connection. AND the connection boosted her confidence and self trust, knowing her intuition was spot on! Knowing Sarah’s family would be there shortly to pick her up, they began to wrap up their conversation. Thats when the story went from good to… you’ve got to be kidding me! Without thinking anything of it, Sarah casually said, “I’m so happy I came and said hi! You really do remind me of my friend, Carlyn”. Cue Marcy looking at her a little funny. Without skipping a beat, she replied, “Wait, Carlyn Shaw?”. Marcy knew Sarah lived in Colorado, I lived in Colorado and how many Carlyn’s in Colorado could there be?
Think about this: Sarah thought “what would Carlyn Do?”, spots a woman who she think LOOKS LIKE ME (on the OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD), in a small airport, builds up the courage to practice what “Carlyn Preaches”, and as a reward…. the universe hands her MY FRIEND! Imagine if she’d allowed the little bit of fear or resistance to talk her out of saying hello. What a heartbreaking thought!!! It always comes down to the moment we decide to say YES TO CONNECT that the magic happens! Second guessing due to threat is one thing but doubting due to fear of a story you make up in your mind is another. I still shake my head in disbelief: I wasn’t physically there yet my spirit kick started a stranger to friend story, in Bali. I’m beaming with pride.
So, since both of them know the power of “the follow up” they exchanged contact info to connect again in Bali! Now, I don’t know what I love more about this story: how my words of wisdom helped inspired action– or the fact she thought we looked so much alike and THAT’S what ultimately made her go say “Hi”. You see, everything’s connected. People. Places. Timing. Thoughts. All of it. here’s proof:
The Post Epic Story Follow UP
Best part about their connection is it reconnected me & Marcy, too! Having not spoken face to face in several years, she couldn’t wait to tell me her side of the story. So, she asked if I’d like to hop on a Zoom Chat and be interviewed for her new show, The Passion Purpose Academy. Just think, 10 years after I hired her as my “Purpose” Coach and she’s interviewing me to learn about Strangers To Friends. Talk about a Big, Small, World. Check us out below!
While scrolling my FB feed I stumbled upon an article with the headline: 15 Things Every Woman Should Do by the age of 40. Hooray! I quickly clicked to learn… what the heck I should be doing. OR…Wait a minute, who am I kidding? I opened the article to compare myself to her list.
You can imagine my shock to realize I’d completed most of them. I was ecstatic, like I’d won the lottery! But wait a second. I thought if I did all these things I would be where I am supposed to be in life? But, clearly, I’m still figuring life out.
Oh no. Now what?!?
First of all, who decides we should “do” things by a certain age? Age really is a number. A collection of days in a row. Some we are riding strong and others we are picking ourselves up from falling… hard. Some years we are “on track”, others waaaaaaaaaayyy of course. But, EVERY age,20, 30, 40- happen as a part of our purpose, specifically designed only for us to experience. Think about your friends: has anyone gone through their life exactly like yours?
I wonder, why is 40 the magic number? I’ve witnessed many people make awesome breakthroughs and changes in their lives after 50. What if someone reading this list hasn’t ticked them off by age 39? Will they feel bad that aren’t as far along in the game of life? I sure hope not. Comparing ourselves to others is the thief of joy.
Ding, Ding, Ding! I think the article should read:15 Things Every Person Should Consider Doing In Their Lives to Open Themselves up to Incredible Experiences and Opportunities. It’s not as catchy and eye grabbing, but it feels more playful and less pressuring. Life is anything but a race! Life is about the journey and the left and right turns that bring you to your awesome destination, day dream or goal.
I decided to take a trip down memory lane and reflect on my list. You know what I realized? A LOT had to happen for them… to happen. I was stretched and molded. I shed sweat and tears. I gained and I lost. But most important: I had a lot of trust, a lot of faith, and a lot of fun. The reward is not the passport stamp. Or the medal for crossing the finish line. It’s the thought process from idea to implementation! It’s the training group and friends made while running mile after mile to get ready for the big day. It’s feeling empowered and listening to your gut. It’s being brave! Saying YES to YOU! There is no one else inside your head besides you. We can’t expect anyone else to be responsible for our actions and thought process. We call the shots! We are the result of our choices. Unless you know something I don’t, there are no safety nets in life. Risk really does equal reward.
Career Change At Least Once = Oh boy, I nailed this one! I worked for DragonBallZ (a Japanese Cartoon), was a Hotel PR Manager & a Travel RN Recruiter with 3 companies for almost 7 years…just to name a few. AND the best part: I never quit any of these jobs. So how did I change careers? I knew I was ready for a shift. And somehow…I manifested being terminated. Trust me, I know it sounds like hogwash, but it really did happen. And each time the window (of opportunity) opened, I jumped through it. Yes, I was let go. But I was ready. Why should I stay with one job? There is so much to learn hands on and I wanted more. One awesome way to do that: start a new career. Your brain will thank you! I’m not saying it’s easy but it has been rewarding. And it starts with believing in yourself that you can do it.
Do Something “Crazy” = 6 week, 15 city road trip, solo, moving from San Diego, CA to Wilmington, NC –a city I’d never visited nor knew anyone upon arrival. How did this happen? I’d ‘planned’ to move with a friend who was relocating for work. I’d take my remote job with me. SUPER long story short, I was “let go” from my job with severance — the same week my friend’s company was sold (out of the blue) and she could no longer move with her job. I’d already announced my move. My heart & my brain had committed. But if I was to do it, now it would be a solo, unemployed adventure without my bestie. So… scared as shit, I did it. With everyone telling me I was “crazy”. And of course…it worked out WAY better than I could’ve imagined!! So many serendipitous stories to come out of this self adventure. How did it start? A map of the USA tacked to my wall. The 1st stop confirmed was Boise, ID. Every wild story starts with a wild idea, you simply have to go for it.
Live Within Our Means = I’ve been debt free and I know what it’s like to have debt up to my eye balls. Why? Money is energy. It comes and it goes. I do my best to stay in my means. But sometimes we need a loan on life, to make up for our “mistakes” or invest in ourselves. It’s a matter of spending wisely.
Learn to Be Comfortable in Your Own Skin = I know (and love) who I am because my parents made me. I see exercise as a lifestyle. Food and I were not friends for most of my 20s but I fixed that in my 30s, even through food and I get into a serious fight every now and then. At one point I did not have 2 front teeth, no choice of my own but I smiled anyways. I’ve watched my body grow and change as needed. I’m grateful to be able to walk, run and explore. How about you?
Be Glamorous = YES! Feeling sexy is part of the fun of being a female. Lately, most of my glamour gear is collecting dust in my closet (hum… I need to fix this STAT) How? Make it a priority. Want to join me for a night on the town?
Chase A Dream = I love to run. I love the city of Boston. And I love supporting Multiple Sclerosis. But I am not fast. So, what did I do? I applied to run 26.2 miles, got accepted & ran the 119th Boston Marathon while raising money for MS. Dream = Done!!! How did I do it? A lot of back to back decisions that took me from start to finish. Really. That’s all it is. One decision after another. What decision can YOU make?
Visit Another Country = I’m on passport #3 since age 16. Favorites include Israel, Ireland, Australia, Indonesia, Thailand & Peru. Plus, I love to eat, especially my way though other countries! How did I make all these trips happen? Simple: I’M CURIOUS! Where do YOU want to go?
Step out of our Comfort Zone = I don’t step… I leap!! I leaped out out of a perfectly working airplane, into conversations with strangers, into new apartments, to try a new hobby, a new city… the list goes on and on. With each leap I am stronger and more confident in myself. Where will YOU leap?
Find A Cause = Why? PASSION! It’s following my heart! Of course, my cause is Multiple Sclerosis due to my diagnosis at age 19. But, it was my choice to get involved. I love helping the planet and supporting what speaks to me. WE make this world go ’round. What do YOU support?
Make and live by a soul mate wish list = still working on this, but my list has evolved over the years. Which means I am growing. And growth is good.
Learn not to settle = I learned this very quickly. Something beautiful and new can happen every day if we allow it. When I feel like I’m settling, I feel called to change. It’s literally a feeling I can not ignore. Are you settling?
Start over completely = I’m pretty much a pro at this. I’ve started over in cities, in jobs and in relationships. You know what I learned? I am super resourceful. I love solving puzzles and making the pieces fit together. I love looking for the silver lining. And I love the challenge of something brand new. I moved solo to Dallas, San Diego, Wilmington & Denver — and all of them I created a wonderful life for myself, one day and one person and one experience at a time. Where will you start over?
Love with complete abandon = It’s scary to open ourselves to another. But that’s part of the risk. I wear my heart on my sleeve. Yes, I’ve experienced heart break. Do I have regrets? NO! I truly believe it is better to love— and to know we can love– than to not love at all.
Tell someone exactly how you feel = We deserve to speak our truth. It took a while for me to completely open up — especially with men— but I’m proud to say I not only honor my own voice but out of respect for others, I want to share it, too. Grateful for my teachers along the way. Are you speaking your truth?
Write your story. Just write = WOW. Finding this as the last item on the list really put me in my place. Yes, I have written some of my story. I have shared the bits and pieces that are safe or felt most worthy… but there is so much more I must write! When I think of all that I HAVEN’T shared! I turned 40 2 weeks ago. Time to get on it.
So, now what? Am I done? HECK NO! In fact, I think it is time to go back to the start of this list and start over!!! We should never stop evolving our career, doing “crazy” things, living within our means, being comfortable in our skin, being glamorous, chasing dreams, visiting countries, stepping out of our comfort zone, finding causes, starting over, loving with abandon, telling someone how we feel and writing our story… if for no one else, but ourselves. No matter your age, the lesson is to keep challenging yourself to expand your magic. You can choose to survive or you can choose to thrive! Life is a hands on learning experience– don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves and get a little dirty… no matter your age.
What are your dreams to chase? Which cause will you support? I challenge you to look at this list and think not about what you have done, but what you can continue to do 🙂
A month ago I ran the 119th Boston Marathon with Marathon Strides Against MS Boston Marathon Team. Not only was I honored to make my dream come true along side 53 team members who raised money for the same cause, but I was asked to be the only team member to speak at our pre race pasta dinner. Living in Denver, CO, my only connection with everyone until this point was our Team Facebook Group. Being able to introduce myself while sharing my passion and purpose for the pursuit of these particular 26.2…. with everyone all at once, was the icing on the cake.
SO…I thought to share my speech with all of you, too. Here goes:
“I can’t believe this weekend is finally here. If you’re anything like me, you booked your flight in December and told the Customer Service lady that it was taking you to run the Boston Marathon. I’ve pretty much told anyone that would listen to me since the day I found I was on the team. You see, I have Boston Roots. I was born in Framingham 37 years ago. My Dad raised me to be a die-hard Pats & Red Sox Fan. My Mom raised me to be a die-hard Lobster & Clam Chowda fan. My Grandma didn’t call me Carlyn, she called me CAH-LYN. Boston is in my Blood and I love being in this city! This is one of the reasons I stalked David for weeks before he officially told me I was accepted to run with all of you. Being here, and especially being asked to speak tonight, truly is a dream come true. I’m honored to share my story of WHY this particular marathon, for this particular cause was a must on my To Do list in life.
Can anyone remember when running 6 miles scared the hell out of you? I can. It was my training run for my first half marathon, 5 years ago. Standing before you now, I can honestly say that I don’t just like to run, I love it. However, running the Boston Marathon never crossed my mind until the tragic events of April 15, 2013. A voice from within spoke to me and I knew I had to run–for Boston. I also knew there was no way on earth I could qualify. It just so happens that I met Phil Yastrow, a former runner with this team, who told me he got in by running for MS. What? You mean I can fundraise for my cause AND run the Boston Marathon? This had my name written all over it.
The decisions I’ve made over the years led me to this moment. I believe every day we have the choice to look at life from a positive or negative perspective. We have the power to allow tragedy to create purpose and take action rather than waiting for life to happen. I know I am here with all of you because I have chosen to walk (or in our case, run) a life paved by optimism and opportunity.
To start, it was October 1997. I couldn’t feel the water hitting my arm in the shower. Then my entire left side fell asleep. Within a day my torso was numb, followed by the loss of vision in my right eye. I was an invincible 19-year old sophomore at Indiana University until I was given my diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis. MS, what the heck was MS? Thankfully, I was told to look up the National MS Society. I read that MS was different for everyone, that the symptoms varied and there were treatment options. Yes, I was scared. But I was comforted by the love and support from all my friends and family. However, any scared thoughts soon vanished when 2 of my best friends died 10 months apart in separate car accidents. The first was one month after my diagnosis. I share this as part of my story because accepting their deaths was much harder than accepting my MS. Rather than feel that life was unfair, I felt fortunate to be alive. I wanted to experience all that I could for myself and their spirits, too. Shortly after their passing I had my first of many AH HA moments and declared a Mantra I still say today: I will plant my feet all over this planet as long as I can.
Me with my Mom & her Boyfriend after I gave my speech.
After graduation, I moved to Dallas, TX. I was 23 when I happened upon a Lunch & Learn presented to my company by the Director of the local MS 150, now called Bike MS. I walked up to the Director and said, I have MS. It was the first time I’d shared it with anyone that understood what that meant. Though I didn’t own a bike and I was anything but a runner, I decided to step out of my comfort zone and join a local friends & family team. The Society asked if I would appear on the local news to promote the bike ride. My Dad flew out to crew, my friends made signs to cheer me on and I met other people like me. Most people I met with it were much older than me yet often I had an earlier diagnosis! So I made up the joke that I’d had MS longer than I’d been legally able to drink. I’d never been an adult without it. But jokes aside, I liked this new sharing role. I liked fundraising and I liked making a difference. I loved this experience so much I did it again the following year.
Fast Forward to 2004. I followed my dream of living on the beach and moved myself to San Diego, CA. Soon after, I called the Society to get involved. Upon hearing my name, they immediately asked if I was related to the Chapter President, Allan Shaw. I laughed confused because I was not related to THAT Alan Shaw, but I was related to an Alan Shaw, my Dad! Coincidence? I think not. I had an instant family! This family turned out to be incredibly helpful when at age 26, I had my next exacerbation. I woke up and couldn’t get out of bed. My left leg was paralyzed. This would last for a week. I couldn’t drive because I couldn’t feel my clutch, but I was able to take my wiggle of a walk to the gym and use the recumbent bike, lifting my left leg onto the pedal, making sure to stay active with my right. And after a couple weeks my body was back to normal but I was forever changed. This is where I would adopt my next Mantra: Move it or Lose it.
In 2006 I signed, by myself, and walked in my 1st 3 Day, 50 Mile MS Challenge Walk in San Diego. At this point, my Dad had previously walked in 5 Carolina Challenge Walks so he was the inspiration for me. It was my turn to show that someone with MS could walk for others with MS. The following year I convinced another girlfriend my age with MS to join me. My 3rd year she & I formed Team OptiMiStic, with the M and the S capitalized, and recruited 5 others. I gave my first MS speech at that candlelight dinner. The drug company, Acorda, also selected me and my team for a documentary about the challenge walk. Each year I looked forward to seeing my extended MS family while creating awareness and assisting others living with MS. It felt like my purpose. MS was literally paving a path of amazing people and experiences in my life. Upon feeling this silver lining with all of my being, I declared my next Mantra: Set Backs are Stepping Stones in Disguise.
By the time I walked my 4th Challenge walk, I’d become a bit of a runner. Then, one afternoon in late 2009, at the beach, some friends challenged me to join them for a half marathon the beginning of 2010. After a several beers my arm was twisted. Little did I know that would be one of the best, life-changing decisions I’d ever make. By the end of 2010, I’d run 3 half marathons. Yup, I’d been bitten by the Run Bug, hard. And each race I planted my feet somewhere new. Each time a little faster. I had MS but MS did not have me.
Fast Forward to 2011. After being let go from my job in San Diego, I created a 6-week cross country road trip filled with 15 cities, lots of friends and now lots of runs and landed myself on the beach of Wilmington, NC! I also started my blog Strangers To Friends. I couldn’t help but reflect on all the serendipity in the form of friendships, especially with people I met because of my MS. Without fear, I followed my intuition, allowing one closed door to be the opening of another. Within the next year I appeared on The Anderson Cooper Show to speak about my MS, and ran 3 more half marathons, including the NYC Half. The day I ran my 6th, I got the tattoo Love (a heart) Life (it’s actually my Mom’s handwriting) on the back of my neck, base of my brainstem, top of my spinal cord, where I knew my lesion to be. I thanked my body for each step it had allowed me to take and every experience MS had motivated me to accomplish. I still get excited when a runner behind me notices it and asks me about it. I like to think it’s my bumper sticker 😉
This brings me to 2012. I heard one more whisper, to bid farewell to the beach and take on the mountains, which brought me to where I am now, living in Denver, CO. Within 3 months I ran half marathon #8 and signed up for The Portland Marathon. My friends followed along on FB, watched how Iâ€™d not allowed the label or disease to hold me back and called me an inspiration. Ha, but after that marathon I swore on everything in me that I would never, ever run another one again. Famous last words, right?
The following year, 2013, was really tough. I broke my 5th metatarsal on my right foot. 4 months later I was in a horrible bike accident that launched me face first into the street, shattered my 2 front teeth and caused my back and neck muscles to tighten up so badly that it took another 5 months before I could run. Being forced to be still from freak accidents that had nothing to do with MS was almost more challenging than when it happened because of MS! While healing my foot without surgery, I was forced me to rely on my left leg, the one paralyzed years before, which to me was a silver lining. So, 9 months post foot break, I drove to Moab, UT for my first time and PR’d my 9th Half Marathon. To date, this is one of my proudest moments because I had to mentally and physically over come a lot to make it happen.
And here I am today, in the best shape of my life, ready to make my dream come true and take on 26.2 miles with all of you. My journey with MS seems to run parallel with my journey of running. Think back to the moment you decided to commit to the 2015 Boston Marathon to run with our team. You knew you were giving up sleeping in on Saturdays for long runs, but could any of us have predicted ALL THE SNOW? I salute your commitment because you made my Colorado Winter look like a walk in the park! But just like our commitment to accepting MS and doing something about it, we put one food in front of the other. We can’t predict the storms ahead, but we can choose to power through life, like we power through 18 miles on a 15 degree day. By saying yes to this marathon, I said yes to so much more. I made the choice to take on training for the past 4 months and to raise money for my cause. None of us can control what happens in life, but we can control how we respond to it. And I couldn’t ask for a more epic way to use my MS to motivate me that to run a marathon with all of you. So on behalf of everyone with MS, thank you for your choice to be here, so that we can run as a team and do all we do to help those with MS.
A few weeks ago the letters ALS were not spoken of in casual conversation, which is exactly what Pete Frates intended to change. By now the “Ice Bucket Challenge” has it’s own Wikapedia page and you’ve either dumped a bucket of ice on your own head or have laughed while watching the friend you challenged take the plunge themselves.Â While Pete’s mission has spread like wild fire, there are many cure crusaders whose efforts are unknown, but who fight the same battle. According to the ALS Society, there are approximately 5,600 people in the U.S. diagnosed with ALS each year, all with their own story. I never imagined that my dear friend, Gary Daitch, would become one of them.
Gary & I took a selfie after our lunch date in Atlanta, Dec. 2013.
A little background: I met Gary via my Mom in 2005.Â Gary’s love for laughing was a quality he projected into the world long before his ALS Diagnosis. As our friendship grew, so did our support for each other. Gary stayed up-to-date on MS research and always got excited to deliver promising news to me when he’d check in to see how I was feeling. And, like all his loved ones, I anxiously awaited my birthday phone call from him, or rather, from Captain ZOOM! In his Captain ZOOM voice, Gary called friends and family to sing his own rendition of Happy Birthday, always making us laugh. Not only was Gary goofy, but he was an amazing dancer! To say that Gary loved to dance is an understatement. From his Disco ways in the 1970’s to Shagging his way into his final days, Gary’s heart was on the dance floor. He was an active member of various Shag Clubs around the Southeast and competed in multiple competitions, including winning 1st Place in an Amateur Shag Contest in Charleston, SC. (Click Here to Watch His Winning Moves)
What started off as a twitch in his finger that went to his right arm, then left, was initially diagnosed as a pinched nerve. But in August 2011, the scheduled surgery to repair the nerve was quickly cancelled due to unimaginable ALS Diagnosis, at the age of 61. Within the year, Gary’s arms hung by his side. When we went for a walk, I put them in his pocket so people didn’t stare when they dangled without his control. Imagine what that means, you are completely healthy and sharp in the mind, but all of a sudden you need assistance doing the most basic activities such as eating, dressing and bathing. But even with his daily struggles, Gary wore a smile on his face. With strings tied to handles and rubber tubes attached to switches, he’d use his teeth to open drawers and turn on the lights.Â Family rallied to his side as needed and he was blessed with the love and patience of amazing caretakers. In addition, The ALS Society extended his life line by providing him a voice activated lap top and mobile phone, only fitting for someone who was known for his gift of gab.
Mom & I feeding Gary breakfast!
Fast forward to May 21, 2014. Gary felt it was part of his purpose to share his story, and was honored to be invited to speak at an ALS Luncheon in his current home city of Atlanta, GA. He was grateful for any opportunity to address ALS supporters and ALS PALS (People with ALS). By this point, his arms were 100% paralyzed, his neck noticeably weaker and he needed a power chair to save energy in his legs for the times he needed them most…to dance. Gary can be quoted from this speech as saying, “I ain’t complaining. As long as I have my legs to dance I am happy. Anyone can feed me, dress me, etc, but no one can dance for me”. Gary truly considered himself lucky. With confidence, Gary referred to himself as the “CEO of his life”. If anyone showed sympathy for his diagnosis, he’d quickly remind them he was “too busy living to worry about dying”. He went out of his way to connect with others living with ALS, offering his prayers, his faith in finding a cure, but also extending a life long friendship.
To all my PALS (People with ALS) I say, ‘We Are Living’Â Â Â – Gary Daitch
No one in attendance of the luncheon could have guessed that would be Gary’s final speech. The term “blessing in disguise” comes to my mind when I talk about Gary’s passing. You see, his biggest fear was being completely dependent on his family and/or a machine, to live. In a rare twist of fate, Gary’s family would no longer bare witness to him slowly losing his life to ALS. After a memorable night watching a dance competition with close friends, Gary tripped and fell on concrete. To most, this is non life threatening. However, without his arms to protect him, Gary died from injuries to his head he sustained from the fall,Â 5 days after his speech, on May 26, 2014. Memorial Day.
Edna Buchanan is quoted as saying, “Friends are the family we choose for ourselves.” Gary was family to me. He loved me like a Daughter and I loved him like a Dad. Over the years I also became close with Gary’s daughters, Elizabeth an Lauren. As if this blog post is ‘right on time’ I found out last week that Elizabeth and Lauren formed Team Captain Zoom in Gary’s honor and are walking in the Atlanta ‘Walk to Defeat ALS’ on Sept. 13, 2014.Â All money raised will go to the local chapter that provided Gary with his care services and to the Doctors at Emory University that did the best they could to give Gary guidance throughout his journey.
If you’ve already donated to the Ice Bucket Challenge, thank you. If you want to give more, THANK YOU! If you feel drawn to Gary’s story and want to donate in his honor, thank you from the bottom of my heart.Â My gift to him is this blog post.And I hope after reading my story you feel more connected to this cause. Please CLICK HERE to read Elizabeth’s Story and consider donating in Gary’s Name for her walk on Sept. 13th. On behalf of Gary and his loved ones, we appreciate your compassion and kindness.
According to the ALS Society, every 90 minutes a person in this country is diagnosed with ALS and every 90 minutes another person will lose their battle against this disease. ALS occurs throughout the world with no racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic boundaries. Presently there is no known cause of the disease though support is bringing researchers closer to an answer. In the mean time it costs an average of $200,000 a year to provide the care ALS patients need. Help make a difference and donate or join a walk today.