Category Archives: Stories That Inspire

Anissa’s Story: Boxing My Way from Self-Destruction to World Champion

Roots… 
I was born in San Angelo, Texas. My family moved to Austin when I was 6, so when people ask where I’m from, I always say Austin. I’ve pretty much been here my whole life!

My parents split up when I was 8 years old, and I have two older brothers and an older sister from my dad’s previous marriage. My brothers and I are very close and hang out often.

I have never married or had any children. To be honest, I was never one of those little girls who dreamed about the perfect wedding or my knight in shining armor riding off into the sunset.  I did play with barbies and had a barbie dream house –just in my mind Barbie had bought the house and went on a lot of dates with Ken.
My favorite quote…
It would have to be “The will to win means nothing without the will to prepare” by Juma Ikangaa.   I saw this quote in my early years of boxing on my coach’s wall on a yellow 3M sticky note buried in the collage chaos of boxing posters and photos. I saw it and it stuck.  I didn’t always follow it, but I understood it and I try to apply it to other goals I have and want to achieve.

The best advice I’ve ever received…
The best advice was something somebody told me when I was young. I had a crush on a cute boy who did not like me the same way. I was really upset that he only wanted to be friends, and my mentor at the time told me that just because you can’t have someone the way you want them doesn’t mean you can’t have them at all.  I think people have a tendency to get mad and try to forget about people just because they don’t feel the same way that they do.  Really, you could be throwing away a good friendship, but you’ll never know if you kick them to the curb.

My dog Rocco

My dog Rocco

For fun…
When I’m not at work, you can find me hanging out with my dog Rocco, fencing at the fencing club or hanging out with friends.  I began fencing at the Texas Fencing Academy because my body wasn’t able to keep up with boxing on a regular basis because of my injuries.

My guilty pleasures…
Pizza, burgers, wine and chocolate.

I’m looking forward to…
I’m looking forward to someday competing in fencing.  But that will be a while 🙂

Current Work Life…
I am currently a Receptionist at Sports Performance International with Dr. Ted Spears. We specialize in orthopedics and sports medicine.

MY STORY: Boxing My Way from Self-Destruction to World Champion

When I was very young, I was really shy.  When my family moved to Austin things were great until my parents starting fighting a lot and eventually split up.  From that moment on, I started acting out. I was getting into trouble in school and having angry outbursts, throwing chairs — the whole bit.  I also became very self-destructive and started cutting myself at around age eleven.  My behavior got so out of control that I was expelled from school and was sent to a mental hospital.

I was in and out of short-term facilities until I was fifteen, and then was sent to a long-term treatment hospital in Dallas.  I spent about 2 & 1/2 years there being pretty self-destructive and very suicidal. I spent a lot of time in restraints… actually, most of my stay was spent in restraints.

At the time I didn’t think anybody would understand what I was going through because I had never heard of anybody doing the kinds of things that I was doing to myself. I was so ashamed that I couldn’t ask for help. I knew it was wrong and messed up, but I couldn’t stop.

When I look back on that time, I don’t even know that person. I just don’t identify with that person anymore.  It was me…I was there…it’s just very hard to believe.

I eventually got out when I was seventeen, but my troubles didn’t stop there. My mom kicked me out, and I moved in with my father back in San Angelo. It was then and there that I made up my mind to do something with my life. I didn’t want to be angry anymore. It was killing me… literally, killing me.  That’s not to say that I still didn’t have setbacks, but I did continue to move forward.

Saved by Boxing

image2It wasn’t until I stepped into the boxing gym that I really started to heal and figure things out. I was diagnosed with ADHD as a child and had a lot of energy.  And even though I would be training to fight, at the same time I was also learning how to control myself and to channel all of my energy and hostility into a direction that was positive and constructive for me.

I walked into the boxing gym in January of 1993, after a hard night of partying and bringing in the New Year. I had decided that is was time to get back in shape and maybe not party so much. I could lose a few pounds as well. The previous year I had torn my ACL in my left knee in Tae kwon Do, and had pretty much partied my way through my recovery, had not made the best decisions and I wasn’t really turning into the person I wanted to be.

image5I had no idea if there would be any women in the boxing gym when I first walked in, but I was completely surprised to see Lori Lord and Amy Simmons (the owner of Austin’s famous Amy’s Ice Cream) finishing their workout. I felt comfortable right off the bat there. I walked into my future coach Richard Lord’s office, signed up and told him I wanted to compete.

In the beginning as an amateur, I couldn’t get any fights. There weren’t a lot of women fighters, especially in my weight class of junior flyweight or flyweight. Women’s fighting wasn’t really accepted and promoters didn’t want anything to do with women fighters. I can remember a lot of the fire behind my training came from wanting them to show that women could do it and we could do it well.  It was pretty frustrating back then — training so hard all the time and not being able to compete. In 1995 I actually walked into Richard Lord’s office and told him that if I didn’t get a fight soon that I was going to quit.

Well, be careful for what you ask for, because within a week Richard got a phone call from a promoter in New York who wanted to put on the very first sanctioned women’s boxing match in the state of New York.  So, off I went to New York to make my Pro debut and to be a part of the first women’s boxing match in the state of New York. I won that fight and kicked off my professional boxing career with a bang. My boxing was up and down — wins and losses, but  I eventually earned the WIBF Junior flyweight world title and retired with the WIBA flyweight world title.

image7My boxing career taught me a lot about myself and what makes me tick.  I not only learned how to use physical fitness to deal with some of my self-confidence and self-esteem issues, but also how to work through things as they come up in life.  I learned that when I’m struggling with something in my personal life, sometimes it takes completely wearing myself out in a workout and after I work out I’ll either have a solution or it just doesn’t seem like the end of the world anymore. That’s not to say that sometimes I didn’t just have to go to bed and wake up the next day and hope it would be a better day, but I guess I learned how to live life.  Things are going to happen — they’re gonna happen everyday and you’re gonna have to deal with it, because that’s life. That’s everybody’s life.

Always Moving Forward

What I have learned the most on my journey is how important fitness is.  Whether it’s just going for walks or boxing or whatever —  it’s important to keep moving.

Fencing with coach Mike at Texas Fencing Academy

Fencing with coach Mike at Texas Fencing Academy

Now, I am retired from the fighting world. I suffered a few injuries from boxing that don’t allow me to box all the time, so I have picked up fencing. It’s tough and difficult and has its similarities to boxing, but at the same time is very different.

My fencing coach Mike and I

My fencing coach Mike and I

My outlook on life is pretty positive at this point.  I’m still learning and figuring things out. I started a new sport. I’m enjoying meeting new people and really being comfortable in my own skin and feeling good about myself.  I don’t compare myself to other people — don’t do that,  it will drive you crazy!

I appreciate my life now. Even the not-so-good stuff. It’s made me who I am… and I’m good with that.

Becoming an Author

My book Boxing Shadows came out In 2009.  I wanted to help people — I didn’t want anybody to ever feel alone like I did when I was going through my self-destructive phase.

I also wanted to give people hope — hope that you can always change and that things can get better. That it just takes a lot of hard work and you having the want to get better. I went into great detail in my book about some pretty horrific things that I had done to myself, and some people have asked if I really needed to go into that much detail.  I felt that it was necessary so that whoever was reading the book could picture how bad things were, and then see that I was able to work through it. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, but you have to want it like you have never wanted anything in your life…and you have to do the work.

 

Using My Past Struggles to Help Others:

image6I started speaking to groups about three or four years ago.  Professor Anne Martinez’s Mexican American History class at the University of Texas studied my book, and afterwards I would come in and speak to the class.

I was nervous at first and had no idea what to expect, but there is a need for it.  Some of the students reached out to me after my talk to let me know that they could relate to my story or that they had a family member that could.

I was always worried about what people would think of me after I had told my story, but each time I hear that I have helped someone by sharing it with them, it makes it all worth it.  I would hate for someone to feel alone and think that they’re the only one in their situation, because it’s just not true. People go through many different things, whether it’s cutting, depression or suicidal thoughts — they just don’t talk about it. I’m trying to change that.

– – –

iGnite’s Real Women, Real Stories is a series highlighting the inspiring lives and experiences of women in our community. We hope their stories motivate and inspire you to live your life to the fullest.

Know someone who would be a great candidate for a Real Women, Real Stories feature? Email nominations to hello@igniteyourlifenow.com

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Real Women, Real Stories | Ginger Simons: Changing Lives through the Jeremiah Program

Real Women Real Stories Ginger Simons Jeremiah Program

photo by Catherine Sanderson

Roots:  I grew up in Long Beach, California, and graduated from high school and college in Las Cruces, New Mexico. I raised my 4 girls in Las Cruces, New Mexico and El Paso, Texas, and I moved to Austin 6 years ago!

Ginger and her grandchildren Savannah and Elijah

Ginger and grandchildren Savannah and Elijah

Family Life:  I am married to John Simons, who helped raise my 4 grown daughters.  Jenny, my oldest, has a career she loves as a high school librarian at a health sciences magnet school in El Paso. Although we all harass her to try to get her to move to Austin, I guess I can’t begrudge her the happiness she has found there. My daughter Liz and her husband Danny were my network for establishing myself in Austin. Thanks to daughter Melanie and Bear for the gift of sweet granddaughter Savannah. Most recent arrivals to Austin are youngest daughter Sheila, her husband Eric and my precious 10 month-old grandson Elijah.

Having fun with Kyael, a Jeremiah Program resident

Having fun with Kyael, a Jeremiah Program resident

Work Life:  I have been working as Family Services Manager for the Jeremiah Program.  In this role, I serve as Empowerment Facilitator, Life Skills Coach and work with staff and volunteers to help complete the overall mission of the program: to transform families from poverty to prosperity two generations at a time. Through support for a career-track college education, safe and affordable housing, quality early childhood education, and empowerment and life skills training, Jeremiah Program prepares determined single mothers to succeed in the workforce, readies their children to succeed in school, and reduces generational dependence on public assistance.

My favorite part of my role is having a front row seat, getting to watch the moms’ and their children’s lives in transformation.  Prior to working at the Jeremiah Program, I spent 22 years in education as an Elementary classroom teacher and Instructional Coach. In my spare time, I spent two summers working as a park ranger. In an effort to help my daughter with pain from Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, I also trained to become a licensed massage therapist.

Favorite Quote:  “Keep your face to the sunshine, and you cannot see a shadow.” -Helen Keller

I’m most inspired by…  Creativity inspires me, mostly that found in nature, but myriad artists as well.

Something people may not know about me… My 8 years as a single parent has helped prepare me for my role in the Jeremiah Program. During that time, I earned my BS in Education while running an in-home daycare. Makes me tired thinking about it now!  🙂

What I’m  looking forward to right now Our new campus for all things Austin Jeremiah!

“I wish I were a gardener. I love it, but stink at it.”

When I’m not working, you can find me… Pretending not to be working by playing with grandkids, cleaning house and gardening.

My perfect day would be… A nice morning hike with a friend, an entertaining afternoon movie, play time with the grandkids, and dinner at a relaxing outdoor diner with great ambiance — which must include indie folk or blues music.

My guilty pleasure:  Hay Day  (ssshhhh, it’s embarrassing!)

Jeremiah Program

Jeremiah Program is a nationally recognized nonprofit organization whose proven, holistic approach transforms families from poverty to prosperity two generations at a time. The program provides single mothers and their children with support for a career-track college education, quality early childhood education, a safe, affordable place to live, and empowerment and life skills training.

I began working with Jeremiah Program in 2012 as a volunteer. Dazzie McKelvey (consultant and now national board member for Jeremiah) invited me to help her facilitate a class similar to our current Life Skills class. We led the group of 5 single moms, who have all since graduated from college!

When housing for our first 4 residents was almost ready, I was hired part-time by Executive Director Shannon Moody to be the Family Services Manager.

Ginger Gives a Peek into One of the Many Lives She’s Seen Changed

fun with the Jeremiah Program kiddos

fun with the Jeremiah Program kiddos

Lena (name changed for privacy) slid into the chair, squirming and nervous.  Her body language spoke of that of a hurt child. When the meeting room door opened or someone nearby made a noise, she startled. She came to our 12-week Empowerment classes sharing as little as she could while still being considered engaged. She kept her head down and doodled whenever it was not necessary to look up. Upon completing the process of Empowerment, she shared that she had come to realize that the passive way that she had been accepting unhealthy relationships in her life, needed to change.

She now continues with Jeremiah Program, practicing the life skills she is learning. She does the necessary work to make important changes. I observe her with an anticipation similar to watching a chick emerge from its shell. There is no swan or dove emerging, more like an eagle or a hawk. She is taking flight with an amazing inner wisdom and determination. Yet, I chuckle every time she comes forth with her thoughtful, sometimes hilarious ideas as she parodies life. There is no doubt in my mind that her impact in this world has been amplified by being in the Jeremiah Program. I cherish her response when she was asked what she feels about Jeremiah Program so far, “I feel so loved.”

Serving Others Changed Me, Too

I am blown away by how much my own life has changed by being a part of Jeremiah Program. I abhor being perceived a hypocrite, so what I learn, I must also apply.  I tell you, empowerment changes lives!  It’s been a very internal thing, a dumping of emotional baggage, lightening the load and making way for better energy. Because I have the opportunity to facilitate empowerment classes, it keeps it fresh in my mind, prompting me to keep practicing and helping our participants to practice using empowerment tools.  By doing this, I get front row seats to watch their lives become increasingly empowered. What an honor!

Coming in the Fall: the New Austin Jeremiah Program Campus

Jeremiah Program Moody Campus Austin

Rendering of the soon-to-be-built Austin Jeremiah Program Moody Campus in east Austin

There are currently 3 women in our Austin program, and approximately 8 women will begin Empowerment training next month. We will select our 4th participant from that group. We expect groundbreaking to occur for our new Austin Moody Campus in the fall. Soon after, great strides will need to be made to recruit a large pool of applicants to find those who will be the best fit for our program. Once the campus is built, the facility will house 35 single women and their children, along with 4 duplexes housing another 4 families, giving us a total of 39 women in the program.  There will also be an onsite Child Development Center as well as community rooms, playground and staff offices.

Real Women Real Stories Ginger Simons Jeremiah Program Austin Site

Ginger in front of the future site of the Austin Jeremiah Program Moody Campus in east Austin, adjacent to Austin Community College Eastview Campus

Get Involved

In addition to volunteering and donation funds to our fundraising campaign, a great way to get involved in helping Jeremiah Program is through our upcoming awesome, fun event Epic Battle:

2014 Epic Battle photo collage2015 Epic Battle Facts Sheet

Join us on the iGnite Epic Battle Team today!
Email neissa@igniteyourlifenow.com to join

Our current fundraising goal is $600,000, and our biggest need is general operating dollars. General Operating dollars are important because we can use these funds where we need them, when we need them. Epic Battle is not only an important fundraiser, but a key component in getting our mission message out to the public.

Our focus of course has been on development and getting our permanent home built. The money for the campus structure has been raised, but there are still apartments, classrooms and meeting rooms to furnish.

Volunteering

We cannot complete our mission without volunteers. They are a vital part of what we do. Currently, we have volunteers who help with Cooks for Kids, providing meals and child care while our moms attend Life Skills classes. Volunteers serve on committees, facilitate Life Skills and raise funds.

When we have our main campus, our volunteer pool will multiply with each new group of women who enter our program. We will then have volunteers in the Child Development Center as well as ambassadors for meetings and greeters for the front desk.

Also if you’d like to stay updated on developments and progress through our newsletter, our director of development, Lauren Portley would be happy to sign anyone up! She may be contacted at LPortley@jeremiahprogram.org.


iGnite’s Real Women, Real Stories is a series highlighting the inspiring lives and experiences of women in our community. We hope their stories motivate and inspire you to live your life to the fullest.

Know someone who would be a great candidate for a Real Women, Real Stories feature? Email nominations to hello@igniteyourlifenow.com


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Real Women, Real Stories | Missy Zinnecker: Navigating Life as a Military Wife

Real Women Real Stories | iGnite Your Life

Missy's Story: Navigating Life as a Military Wife

photo: Catherine Sanderson

Roots:  I was born and raised in Austin. Most recently, my husband’s military career took us to The Netherlands for five years. We loved our time there and all of the amazing travel opportunities we had. We are now in the process of moving to Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas where Chad will attend Command and General Staff College for a year. We will then begin a new path in the Army, where my husband will receive various levels of training and education to become a Foreign Area Officer. He will specialize in South East Asia, where we will eventually live and work at a U.S. embassy or consulate. We are really excited about this new adventure!

Missy and Chad

Missy and Chad

Family Life:  I have been married to my husband, Chad, for nine years. We are pregnant with our first child and I am due on December 1st. Chad and I have technically known each other since birth. We were both born premature at Seton Hospital around the same time and were in the NICU together, so our mothers got to know one another. We didn’t begin dating, however, until my final semester at Texas A&M University.

Work Life:  Out of college, I worked for the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) in Austin for 5 & 1/2 years in their Customer Service Policies and Procedures group. Then, my husband’s military career took us abroad where, instead of working, I completed my master’s degree in international relations. I hope to work in the embassy when we move to SE Asia.

Who Inspires Me Most:  Many of the senior Army spouses I have met throughout our time in the military. These women have raised children both with and without their husbands, navigated numerous moves across the country and abroad, and done it all with a great attitude toward life.

If I Weren’t In My Current Career I’d Be…  An interior designer. I love home design shows and Pinterest!

~ My Story ~

Becoming a military wife wasn’t ever how I envisioned my life. I thought I would graduate from college, begin my career, meet someone along the way and settle down somewhere. All of that changed when Chad and I began dating just before I graduated and I became aware of his commitment to the U.S. Army.

Chad and I married on July 1, 2006. We knew we wanted to get married before his first deployment and this gave us a few months together as a married couple before he went to Iraq for  the first time. We have been through three deployments over the last nine years, and I have learned that staying busy is the best way for me to handle the stresses and the many months of separation associated with deployments. Through the first two deployments, I was fortunate enough to have a full-time job in Austin to keep myself occupied. Living with either my sister or parents also made the challenges much easier.

travelcollage-01

Fun with travels and friends while living in The Netherlands

One of our most difficult times as a couple occurred when we made the international move to The Netherlands. After the initial excitement of living in Europe wore off, we hit a few bumps in the road. Being immersed in a new culture had it’s challenges, and we had to learn that we needed to work a little harder to get things taken care of — everything from figuring out where to buy a vacuum cleaner to how to navigate the narrow roads took a little more effort and patience. The cloudy/rainy weather also affected our mood. These changes, along with the fact that I was no longer working full-time, made my outlook less than positive and affected how I was treating my husband. After some much needed reflection, I realized that I needed to get busy pursuing a few of my passions and focus on my personal goals. Soon, I joined the board of the Military Spouses Club, where I met some wonderful friends, and I also began taking classes in pursuit of a master’s degree. Soon I grew to truly love every aspect of our life in The Netherlands, the sense of home we felt there and the people we befriended. Saying goodbye to that life a few weeks ago was one of the hardest things I have done.

PromotionCeremony-01

At Chad’s most recent promotion ceremony: being promoted to  Major

In overcoming the challenges of moving abroad, I learned the power of the quote, “Bloom where you are planted.”  Moving every few years was never something I desired, but I now look forward to the new opportunities that arise every time we are stationed somewhere different. A new home comes with new chances to experience life differently and opened my eyes to differing perspectives and new opportunities to learn and grow as a person. Working through that challenging time also reminds me to keep my personal goals at the forefront of my life, despite my ever-changing location. 


iGnite’s Real Women, Real Stories is a series highlighting the inspiring lives and experiences of women in our community. We hope their stories motivate and inspire you to live your life to the fullest.

Know someone who would be a great candidate for a Real Women, Real Stories feature? Email nominations to hello@igniteyourlifenow.com


You Might Also Like:

Eulalia “Lala” Cortes’ Story: The Depth of a Mother’s Love

compiled by Catherine Sanderson

compiled by Catherine Sanderson

With mother’s day approaching, we’re excited to share the story of the amazing Lala Cortes, a mother and grandmother in her own right, but also a “second mother” to almost 20 other children in the Austin area. Her story displays the incredible power of a mother’s love to ignite a journey from a place of war and turmoil to one that is safe and full of love. Her motherly instincts led her to bravely start anew and create an independent and safe life for herself and her children after years of hardship.

We know you will be inspired 🙂

— — —

Roots & Family Life:  I was born in León, Nicaragua and lived there until I was 22 years old when I moved to Austin, and have now lived here for 27 years. In Nicaragua, my dad Jose worked in agriculture and farming, and my mom Mercedes had her own business selling our produce at a market stall.

My parents in Nicaragua

My parents in Nicaragua

I had 4 brothers and 2 sisters — 7 of us total, although one of my brothers was killed in the civil war. I have 3 children: Silvia (now 32), Orlando (27) and Brenda (26) and I now have 2 grandchildren: Genesis (9), Eli (6) and one on the way!

I am happily married to my current husband Eliseo, and we have been married for 12 years.

Left: with my children and daddy at mine and Eliseo's wedding

Left: with my children and daddy at mine and Eliseo’s wedding; Right: my grandchildren Genesis and Eli

Current Occupation: I’m a nanny and I clean houses for a number of families. Over the past 27 years, I’ve helped raise 18 children other than my own, and have worked for more than 15 families — from less than a year for some, to 27 years for others.

With Malaine and Durant (Neissa Springmann's children), 2 of the children I look after now

With Malaine and Durant (Neissa Springmann’s children), 2 of the children I help look after now

I always treated the girls that worked for me in Nicaragua the way that I wanted to be treated, so when that doesn’t happen with me, I don’t work there for long!

Who inspires me most: God. He inspires us all as human beings to move forward, and without Him in front of us we couldn’t be as strong as we are.

The best advice I’ve been given: There are many, but the best was from my parents: In life, although there’s suffering and it’s hard, it teaches you how to live and live with other people. Also, they taught me that the way you treat others is the way you’re going to be treated.

Something people don’t know about me: As a kid, my favorite pastime was jumping rope. Once, I fell and hurt my knee (which I still have the scar from) and never told my mom because I knew she’d get made at me for not being careful and hurting myself (there was no money for going to the doctor). I had to tell her when my knee became really swollen and I got gangrene and she wanted to take me to the doctor. I still have knee problems because of it…all because of jumping rope and not telling my mom! Which is why I now get so scared when the kids I take care of love jumping off things!

If I wasn’t in my current career, I’d…  I’d retire! 🙂 Well, when I was in a kid in school I wanted to be a teacher or a nurse, but I can’t see myself being a nurse anymore because I have a weak stomach when it comes to blood. With the little English I know, I can see myself looking for another type of job where I can use the language more and communicate more.

What I’m looking forward to right now:  I’m excited for my newest grandbaby to get here, and when it does I’m going to charge $30 an hour to watch it! {kidding 🙂 }

LalaCortez_w-1When I’m not working, you can find me…  Shopping, exercising, volunteering with my church, teaching bible studies, gardening, and getting my nails done.

My perfect day would be: On my perfect day (a day off), I would be teaching people about the bible and giving bible studies — it’s my therapy.  I volunteer through my church to go to people’s homes who have shown interest in learning about the bible and give them bible studies. I love sitting down with people in their homes.

~ My Story ~

The hardest and most life-changing experience I’ve been through was traveling alone with my children to the U.S. and then raising them alone in a new country.

After my brother was killed in the civil war in Nicaragua, my parents wanted to protect the rest of us, and so they traveled with the rest of the family to the U.S. to live in Austin. I stayed behind in Nicaragua because I had married my first husband at 16 and had my first child Silvia at 17. My husband owned a jewelry store there and we were very well off — I had 3 ladies working in my house helping with the children, cleaning the house and running errands. I would go get my nails done and go shopping!

After a number of years with my parents in the U.S. and the civil war going on in Nicaragua, I had 2 small children, was pregnant with my third, my husband wasn’t being a good husband, and I was seeing civilians who didn’t support the government get killed. I knew my family was in the U.S. and I could be safe with them there, so at 22 years old I decided to travel to the U.S. alone with the children to be with my parents.

Clockwise from top left: with newborn Silvia in Nicaragua, with all 3 children in Austin, the children growing up in Austin

Clockwise from top left: with newborn Silvia in Nicaragua, with all 3 children in Austin, the children growing up in Austin

So, with 4-year-old Silvia, 10-month-old Orlando, and me 8 months pregnant with Brenda, I crossed from Nicaragua to Mexico (a 1 month journey) then crossed from Tapachula, Mexico into Texas (a 3 day journey). During those 3 days in Mexico, the coyotes (the people you pay to take you across the U.S. border) left me and my children alone in a shack in the bushes in the mountains somewhere outside Matamoros because Orlando was a very fussy baby and they said he was too loud — they said they’d come back for me. They left me with water and a tortilla and cheese, and I didn’t eat anything over those 3 days. I was scared that they wouldn’t come back for us, but luckily one of the coyotes was my cousin and they eventually did. I crossed the border in labor, and then Brenda was born in New Braunfels immediately. I remember going to the hospital right after I crossed over and telling my mom, “If you had told me how hard that journey would have been, I wouldn’t have come!”

When I crossed over, life was even harder here. I had to leave my kids to work — when before in Nicaragua I never had to work while I had kids. I didn’t know English, didn’t know anyone other than my family, and didn’t have any work experience.

After 3 months of being here, my sister Marcia took me with her to help clean houses and I gave my babies to a friend to take care of while I was out.  Three months later, I started working for Sha Klatt (iGnite’s swimming leader who I’ve now worked for for 27 years). Marcia had been working for Sha’s neighbor Patty, and when I was helping her out Sha saw me at Patty’s and asked if I could help her with her house when her daughter Sydney was 3 and her son Sam was 6 months old. So, my daddy took me to the bus stop downtown and left me there because my sister Marcia said, “Here you go, this is the bus that will take you to Sha’s house.”  I would take Brenda (6 months old at the time) on a bus into central Austin while a friend watched Silvia and Orlando.

So I began working for Sha, and she began teaching me English. She had a Spanish-English dictionary, and for a year & a half we used that dictionary to communicate with each other.

After 10 months here, the children and I got our residency and social security cards — we were officially “legal.”  My mom paid for my husband to travel to the U.S. to help take care of his family about a year after I arrived, but 3 months later, he started “being bad” again… in ways I won’t go into. The kids remember him as being very in-and-out, never having a connection with him, and remember him sometimes being gone for weeks or months at a time. We were together for a total of 18 years before getting a divorce.

I had to wait 7 years for my U.S. citizenship, and the children got theirs then too.

Receiving my U.S. citizenship; Far right: with Sha and Carolyn (another woman whose family I have worked for for many years)

I took busses around Austin for 8 years, and then Sha told me, “Lala, let’s go driving. You have to get your driver’s license.”  I told her I was scared, but she wouldn’t have it. I had never driven before — I just took taxis everywhere in Nicaragua!  Sha taught me in her neighborhood driving her husband Mike’s grandpa’s car. Sha cleaned the car up and paid for me to take the test, and then with my license I was able do more — to help take the children to ballet, school, the swimming pool, restaurants, etc. She gave me a Visa card to fill up the gas, and I was free to take the kids around all day.

Sha and I

Lala and Sha

Sha had a giant impact on my life, she’s like a sister to me. When I would get sick, Sha — knowing I lived by myself with the children — would come to my house and take my kids to school, bring me food and clothes, and take me to the doctor. She is my family. I remember when all of our kids were little, she was my big motivator and cheerleader. She gave me that boost and encouragement to get up. She would say, “Lala, bring your children to my house.”   When I’d get there and start cleaning, she’d get all of the kids in the pool and teach them to swim.

I can now say that all of this hardship saved my life and my children’s lives, and it has allowed me to start a new life here with a new husband that loves me and loves my children.

Brenda, Lala and Silvia

Brenda, Lala and Silvia

— — —

Lala’s story is one that fully embodies the risks a dedicated and loving mother will take and the lengths she’ll go to to protect her children.  As a result of her incredibly difficult journey motivated by wanting to give her children a better and safer life, they now have just that. And not only that, but Lala also now owns her own home, is in a loving marriage and is surrounded by children, grandchildren and friends that love her.

Happy Mother’s Day!

— — —

iGnite’s Real Women, Real Stories is a series highlighting the inspiring lives and experiences of women in our community. We hope their stories motivate and inspire you to live your life to the fullest.

Know someone who would be a great candidate for a Real Women, Real Stories feature? Email nominations to hello@igniteyourlifenow.com

— — —

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A Night to Remember

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Point to Ponder:
Do you have a difficult time accepting the unknowns of your life?
by Neissa Brown Springmann

by Neissa Brown Springmann

While I am certainly not trying to compare my dancing abilities to Betty Cunningham (our iGnite dance leader extraordinaire), I love a dance party!…especially with girlfriends, which is exactly what took place this weekend during Run to the Sun – the overnight relay race from Enchanted Rock to Camp Mabry benefiting Beyond Batten Disease FoundationExhilarating, very hard, hysterical, boundless joy, exhaustingand absolute fun are some of the words that describe Team iGnite’s experience.  It’s actually very difficult to articulate the unforgettable event so I’m not sure I’ll do it much justice in writing. Maybe saying that staying awake for twenty-nine hours, still having a smile on my face and in my heart, and wishing I could do it again next weekend says enough?

In addition to witnessing the awe-inspiring power of community as well as countless displays of extraordinary courage and strength, there were two specific moments that made a sizeable impact and still have me thinking.

The first was during my relay leg, around 1:30 a.m on Hamilton Pool Road.  It was of course dark so I wore reflective gear, blinky lights and a head light.  Even though I knew my run was difficult and hilly,  my head light only allowed me to see about fifteen steps in front and therefore I couldn’t anticipate what was coming up until it was upon me. Also, because I desperately wanted to mentally prepare for what lie ahead and feel like I had some control, I often times tried manipulating my head light to see if I could get greater range, but it was always a waste of effort. Therefore, I had to alter my mindset, accept the unknown while not giving up, and accept taking it one step at a time.  It was blind faith until every 1.5 miles when I heard the sounds of Team iGnite–sirens, cheering and the non-stop dance party.  Hearing and seeing my friends was not only comforting and energizing, but their support enabled me to keep going and feel confident that I could do this!

In hindsight, this was analogous to life.  There are so many times during our life journey when we are not exactly sure what lie on the road ahead, and it’s during these times that we don’t need to focus on the end or even know the exact route.  Rather, the opportunity is to accept and trust our challenge or unsure path, don’t worry about crossing a bridge until we need to and take it one step at a time – one minute, one day and one week at time – knowing that when we don’t have the answers, strength or confidence to take that next step, the answers will come and our community of friends and family will lift us up and pull us through. It’s pretty awesome!

The next significant impact came after we finished the relay at Camp Mabry.  BBDF held a kids 2K around the beautiful and new track.  Durant, my four-year-old son, wanted to run and despite being physically juiced, I could not turn down my little’s guy’s desire.  He was the youngest and we were at the back of the pack of kids and having fun running when I looked to my left and saw Christiane Benson running WAY ahead of us.   (Christiane is the precious 12 year old who was diagnosed with Batten Disease when she was five years old and is the inspiration of the Beyond Batten Disease Foundation.)  What you may or may not know is that Christiane is blind.  She can see blurry objects and will one day be completely blind.  You would think this would slow her down, but not even close.  Christiane wasn’t just running- she was sprinting!  Had I not known who she was, I would have NEVER thought she was blind or had a terminal illness.  She did have a friend nearby, but this full of life and fearless child was beyond inspirational and once again proved to me that not only is anything possible, but also no disability or illness can define or determine our limits.  In fact, there are no limits to what each of us are capable of doing. Not just physically, but in life in general.  Nothing can or should get in our way of living a full and fearless life!  If Christiane Benson can do it, so can we!

Finally, below are beautiful quotes and personal testimonials from Team iGnite and our Run to the Sun experience. We cannot thank you enough for your donations, support, thoughts and prayers.  Our team goal was to raise $6,500 and so far we’ve raised $7,335 and hope to continue to raise more throughout the remainder of the week.  This is incredible!  We felt lifted up by your support and prayers, and for those we are so grateful!

Team iGnite/Run to the Sun Testimonials

Babe Keahey: I loved the encouragement and joy everyone had when cheering on the runners throughout the night!  Whenever it started getting difficult- there was always a light at the end knowing that your teammates were welcoming you to finish.

Catherine SandersonWhat struck me most was the impact that having a team of friends wholeheartedly supporting me and reminding me they believed in me and that I could do it in moments where I was struggling to believe I could go on had on my ability to push through a hard run.  Such a perfect illustration of being able to go further and be stronger when we allow others to fully support and sometimes carry us through hard times.  A close second favorite memory is our glow stick rave dance parties in the middle of country roads in the pitch black! 🙂

Courtney Seal: Run to the Sun was an incredible challenge and event where each leg of the race was full of both unforeseen challenges and rewards both physically and emotionally. Amazing experience and amazing to share it together.

Jenni Thurow: The Run to the Sun made me realize that the words and support of others are SO powerful. The words of others can help us accomplish things either we never would try or we never thought would be possible.  Every time I wanted to give up I would see the iGnite team in a distance and I would be fully recharged.  Anytime I was ready to give up or got scared being by myself in the middle of the night I would see the blinking lights of the Tahoe in the distance and know I was not alone.  What an amazing run!

Jessie D’Andrea: Run to the Sun was an amazing experience that I will never forget.  From running in the darkness of the night, but knowing I wasn’t alone, to lifting these children who are battling Batten Disease up in support and prayer, I treasure the memories.  Also, the kind of team support Team iGnite showed not only to our own team but to the other teams’ runners will forever be in my heart.  

Kathleen ParkerA truly unforgettable experience.  Words can’t describe the outpouring of love and support I felt.  Truly life changing for all of us.

Laura Gentner: The spirit and friendship of the group was uplifting and genuine.  It was amazing how committed this team was to rallying around each woman during the race – cheering and pumping them up the entire time.  I’m so glad for the experience and to know the iGnite women even better.

Maggie McCauley: Unbelievably rewarding. The love, encouragement, spirit, and fun shared by our team and beyond taught me so much in so little time.  I now truly understand what teamwork and camaraderie mean.  Knowing that you are going to see someone who cares and believes in you throughout a tough run makes the difference.  Run to the Sun has inspired me to accept every challenge knowing that I have a team who will always support me.

Molly DanielsI loved every minute of the experience because it was non-stop support — yelling, cheering, dancing, laughing, singing — for every person running, whether or not they were on Team iGnite.  What an inspiring event that I will always remember!

Paige Clark: I loved the magic of running through the peaceful dark stillness of the Texas Hill Country at night, which was made even more special by the constant enthusiasm, joy and loving support of Team iGnite. What FUN we had!!

Action Item:

Whenever in doubt of your capabilities, grab a friend and let them lift you up!

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Real Women, Real Stories | Deborah Turner-Mack: Overcoming My Son’s Fight Against Food

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Deborah Turner-Mack's Story

Roots: I grew up with my mom and two sisters in Amarillo, Texas and spent my summers with my Dad in Addison, Texas. I am named after my mother, Deborah, but all of my family calls me by my middle name, Rae. After graduating from Amarillo Community College and spending a year in Utah, I moved to Denton to finish my journalism degree at the University of North Texas. I moved into a 200 square foot duplex and fell in love with Charlie, the boy next door. We moved to Austin in 2006 and married in 2007. I call Austin my home and Colorado a close second.

Family Life: Charlie and I have an amazing son, Turner. He has my surname. I wanted to use a family name and Furd, Garfield and Murdock just weren’t making the cut. Turner was the best fit and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

"Our family picture. Charlie, Turner and I camping with our VW Bus named Fillmore. We spend much of our free time camping, hiking and being outdoors. Our goal is to take Turner to all of the State Parks across Texas. We've taken him to 25. One day, we'd like to get Fillmore running in tip top shape, so we can drive up to Colorado for one of Turner's doctors appointments. It's the journey, not the destination that we look forward to." 

“Charlie, Turner and I camping with our VW Bus named Fillmore. We spend much of our free time camping, hiking and being outdoors. Our goal is to take Turner to all of the State Parks across Texas. We’ve taken him to 25. One day, we’d like to get Fillmore running in tip top shape, so we can drive up to Colorado for one of Turner’s doctors appointments. It’s the journey, not the destination that we look forward to.”

Favorite Quotes:
But out of limitations comes creativity.” Debbie Allen
Change is not something we should fear. Rather, it is something that we should welcome. For without change, nothing in this world would ever grow or blossom, and no one in this world would ever move forward to become the person they’re meant to be.”

The Best Advice I’ve ever been Given:
Keep on pushing! Don’t take no s—t. And never, never, ever let me hear any s—t from you that you can’t back up.”
Behold the turtle, she only makes progress when she sticks her neck out.”
Both quotes from my Dad, Rick Turner.

Something that most people don’t know about me:  I’m currently writing a memoir about my summers living with my Dad.

My Story:

Turner harvesting carrots in the family's backyard garden

Turner harvesting carrots in the family’s backyard garden

If I were to draw a picture of my three-year-old little boy, it would start with his towhead, his deep blue eyes and an exhilarating smile. He’d have a Ninja Turtle, a combine harvester and a monster truck all crammed into his small hand because he cannot leave the house without all three. Aside from wearing a cape, Turner would be barefoot, shirtless, pantless and sporting his favorite superhero skivvies turned around backwards because he says, “Mom, I can’t see their faces, if they are on my booty.”  Right in the middle of his chest, I’d draw a heart bigger than Texas itself. He’d have my dimples, my father’s chin and my husband’s triangle toe. He’s perfect in every way.

Now imagine that I told Turner to help Mommy color his inside parts. He’d choose red, his favorite color, and scribble erratically from side to side just as any child his age would do. It’s fridge worthy. Again, perfect in everyway. On the outside, he looks completely normal, but if you look at his insides, you’d see that the scribble marks show that something is completely wrong. He has an invisible and incurable disease called Eosinophilic Esophagitis (say: EE-oh-sin-oh-FILL-ick  Ee-SOFF-a-JIE-tiss) or EoE for short.

What is Eosinophilic Esophagitis?
EoE is a rare and chronic disease that occurs when there is an increased number of eosinophils  causing inflammation in the esophagus (the tube connecting the mouth to the stomach). An eosinophil (say: ee-oh-SIN-o-fill) is a type of white blood cell that fight off parasitic infections. They are not normally found in the esophagus. Eosinophils are the superheroes of our bodies. However, in patients with EoE, those superheroes or eosinophils get some bad information about who the bad guys are and instead of attacking parasites, they start attacking the esophagus. The eosinophils cause injury to the tissue in the esophagus which causes food impactions, vomiting, severe reflux that does not respond to medication, failure to thrive, abdominal pain and feeding refusal.

RWRSDeborahTurnerMack

“I teach (Turner) about managing his disease by showing him where food comes from and by him cooking all of our meals with us.”

What causes Eosinophilic Esophagitis?
Food. The one thing that is designed to go down an esophagus, nourish a body and provide complete satisfaction for the three-year-old hangries is the thing that causes my son so much pain and discomfort. As of today, Turner cannot tolerate any products that contain dairy, eggs, soy, wheat, gluten, sesame seeds, tree nuts, buckwheat, peas, corn, peanuts, coconut, beef, watermelon and oats. As of two weeks ago, we had to add sunflower seeds to the no list. If you are counting, that’s 16 foods.

Road to Diagnosis:
Turner was diagnosed with EoE at 15 months old and I’m grateful that we figured it out so early. Others are not so lucky. I cannot imagine having to take away foods from a child who already knows the joy of tasting a fresh baked croissant or the pleasure that comes from eating a dipped cone from Dairy Queen on a hot summer day.

I breastfed him for one year and throughout that time, he had bouts of severe eczema across his body. Our pediatrician assured us that things were fine and figured he had some food intolerances. As we started introducing foods to him around 7 months, we noticed things started changing. He spat out foods, had bloody stools, his eczema worsened and had an anaphylactic reaction. A few minutes after consuming eggs, his head swelled up so large that it looked as though we had pumped helium into his mouth as to inflate a balloon. We did blood work to test for more allergens and everything we tested for came back positive for a food allergen. Even after eliminating those top 8 foods and trying a regiment of reflux medications the more food we introduced, the worse it got. After his first birthday his health rapidly declined. He’d lost almost 2 pounds, he was vomiting 4-5 times a day, had just as many bowel movements and would stare off into space in a lethargic state. I knew something was wrong.

Deborah holds Turner's hand while waiting for him to come out of anesthesia after getting his second endoscopy on his second birthday

Deborah holds Turner’s hand while waiting for him to come out of anesthesia after getting his second endoscopy on his second birthday

Finally after meeting with an allergist, he suggested that we see a pediatric gastrointestinal (GI) doctor because he suspected he had EoE, a rare disease he knew nothing about, but had heard about at some point in his career. Upon arrival at the GI, we discovered that the only way to diagnose and check for EoE is through an endoscopy and biopsies of the esophagus. My husband and I held our son’s tiny hand as he slipped off into a state of unconsciousness as the doctors checked for some disease we could not pronounce. It only took 15 minutes for the doctors to confirm it with the visuals of the endoscopy. He had deep furrowing, scar tissue already building up, and strictures up and down his esophagus.

Days later the biopsies confirmed the diagnosis. The doctor gave me a couple of websites www.apfed.org and www.gikids.org, samples of some amino acid formula, suggested we try some more food elimination, and highly encouraged us to hire a nutritionist to help us find alternative foods to those already on our “no” list. Over the course of the next year, our world was flipped upside down.

In those websites, I found resources to help guide us through the road ahead. I discovered recipes for severely restricted diets, advice for communicating our needs to caregivers/family members and an amazing team of doctors at the Gastrointestinal Eosinophilic Disease Program at Children’s hospital of Colorado. Most importantly, we’ve found a supportive online community of now 4000+ people across this world who manage this disease. I am so thankful for my online EoE community and Austin Families with Food Allergies, a local support group. I love our supportive family and friends too. We live knowing that there is no cure, but together we are stronger. I am grateful for the foods Turner can eat because I know that there are always others praying for what we have.

25 Texas State Parks down!

25 Texas State Parks down!

Living with EoE:

  • In 2013, we were at the doctor’s office, therapist, specialist or pharmacy 173 times. That’s one trip every 2.1 days.
  • We have never been able to take Turner to a restaurant without him having a reaction to the food that they have served him. We stopped eating out as a family over 1.5 years ago. We cook ALL of our meals at home and we LOVE experimenting as a family.
  • We stay awake at night wondering how Turner will ever get to experience college like we did. It’s hard to imagine our own experience without pizza, keg parties, dorm room food, late night trips to IHOP and a last minute snack from a vending machine just before class.
  • Dum Dums are the ONLY candy that Turner can enjoy safely because they do not contain any food proteins. For some kiddos with EoE, who are not in remission, Dum Dums are their only safe food.
  • Food trials, followed by a biopsy and endoscopy are the only way to determine if a food is safe for someone with EoE. Food allergy testing does not accurately indicate whether a food is safe or not for EoE.
  • After eliminating 15 foods and following a strict regimen of medications, Turner is in remission as of his last hospital visit. We are hopeful that the next visit will be the same.
  • I know more now about ingredients and cooking than I ever imagined. My husband and I truly enjoy finding creative ways to feed our family.

Follow our journey at www.sneezyt.wordpress.com or follow our facebook page https://www.facebook.com/groups/sneezyt/ to get more information on EoE, find recipes  or learn what it’s like to be the Mom of one amazing superhero. We’d love to connect with other families in the area who have EoE, because together we are stronger.

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Photos by Catherine Sanderson

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iGnite’s Real Women, Real Stories is a series highlighting the inspiring lives and experiences of women in our community. We hope their stories motivate and inspire you to live your life to the fullest.

Know someone who would be a great candidate for a Real Women, Real Stories feature? Email nominations to hello@igniteyourlifenow.com

It’s Never Too Late

The Wisdom Share Continued
Living in Community, Part III

Embrace change

Point to Ponder:
Do you ever find yourself thinking it’s ‘too late’ to make something happen in your life?

by Neissa Brown Springmann

by Neissa Brown Springmann

While in the middle of our wisdom sharing, a dear friend of mine from out of town sent me an inspiring story about a 91 year-old women by the name of Barbara Beskind who is working her dream job in Silicon Valley. Yep, you read it correctly. She is working her dream job at 91 years old. Pretty amazing, right?!

Upon reading Barbara’s story, I had just spoken to a small group of business students and told them that as an entrepreneur I have yet to arrive, which is very frustrating because I really want to arrive! I realize that this is just life and me always wanting to be better and “get it right,” but Barbara’s words were timely and reminded me to never lose hopedream big, always persevere and that there is continual purpose and meaning behind everything that happens in our lives.  Barbara said this: “I arrived! As a ten year-old I wanted to be an inventor, but it took me 80 years.”

Scott Stump’s article about Barbara is bursting with her spry and sharp wisdom resulting from having grown up during the depression. Here, a few of Barbara’s pieces of advice I enjoyed most:

  1. Get Rid of Your Devices: “I’m one of the wealthiest people in the world. I’m as wealthy as Warren Buffett because I measure my wealth by having uninterrupted time. I have no cell phone except one to use for emergency. I have no laptop. I have no smartphone, no iPod, because I can’t see them. I have uninterrupted time to think.”
  2. Expect the unexpected: “I think the beauty of being 91 is that you can look back and see how the little pieces fit into the big pieces of life, and life is a complete puzzle. Only when you get to be this age can you see it, and that’s the joy and the excitement of it.”
  3. Don’t let age get in your way: “Age is not a barrier to performance. Live life as an adventure, and expect change and endorse it, embrace it. Because as you age, every day you will be making changes. You will be adapting to changes in the way you have to do things whether they’re physical or they’re visual.
  4. Don’t let “old” become your identity: “Everybody has untapped resources. You just have to find them. They may be in music, they may be in childcare, they may be in volunteering at the hospital or at the library. I think with the aging, you so often lose your identity, and I think this is what IDEO gives to me, the opportunity to explore what my identity is.”

Here’s to an awesome Spring Break, living in community, sharing your life experiences & wisdom and enjoying this rich video about Barbara!

VideoOnToday

Action Item:
Embrace your life as an adventure, open to the idea that things you thought you’ll never get to do or become, are still a possibility.

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