LIFE LESSONS: Still Learning


Rock a bye

Rock-a-bye baby, in the treetop

When the wind blows, the cradle will rock

When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall

And down will come baby, cradle and all.

I never read these more violent nursery rhymes to my children. I didn’t want them exposed to anything that would scare them.

Unfortunately, life sometimes gives us scary wake up calls. Our life may be going along smoothly and calmly. Suddenly, like a gust of wind, our life takes a rough turn. It may be a death, divorce, loss of job, or medical problem that blindsides us and turns our world into a tailspin. It’s like a tornado passing through our life. Everything is turned upside down, leaving us frightened, depressed, angry or simply confused. Maybe your experiencing a challenge you set upon yourself such as weight loss or a lifestyle change. What do we do?

On May 9th and 10th these five women will be present a panel discussion entitled Challenge, Choice and Courage: An Insight into Working Through Adversity at The Refine Conference.

Caryn Sullivan is a freelance writer, contributing columnist for the St. Paul Pioneer Press and speaker on autism. As Caryn stated in a recent presentation “I’ve experienced so many challenges I can probably relate to all of you.” Caryn faced breast cancer, two years later experienced the anxiety of having a daughter with a rare blood disorder who underwent a bone marrow transplant, nurtured a child with autism, and had her world shaken by her husband’s premature death.

Jennifer Espinosa-Goswami is a former fat girl who is passionate about helping busy working women achieve weight bliss. Following the death of her beloved grandmother, she made the choice to live now. Over 13 years later, she has maintained a total weight loss of 100 pounds. Now a weight loss leader at Weightless, Jennifer shares her inspirational story of lifestyle change by ditching the diet and escaping the gym.

Nikki Abramson is chair of the Resource Committee of Adopted Adults (RCAA), a speaker and instructor. She recently launched her inspirational memoir and self-help book entitled “I Choose Hope: Overcoming Challenges with Faith and Positivity”. Nikki grew up with several severe medical conditions that challenged her, her parents and the medical community. As an adoptee she also faced the challenge of wanting to “fit in” with her schoolmates.

Nadia Giordana is the president of Thinking Skinny LLC and of Cloud 9 Publishing.  She’s an active blogger and conducts interviews for her Internet television show, WomanVision TV . She is the author of two books,Thinking Skinny and “Reinventing New Chapters in Your Life at Any Age.”  Nadia had the courage to reshape her attitudes, overcome the fear of public speaking, and write an exciting new chapter in her life. This sparked her passion for mentoring other women living the second acts of their lives to resurrect their sidelined dreams and do some of the things they always wanted to do.
Kathi Holmes. I am the moderator of this interesting and informative panel as well as a participant in sharing my story of the challenge of paralysis, the choice to be the best I can with what I have and the courage to step beyond expectations.

 We are just one part of the many workshop options at The Refine Conference.  

Join us at The Refine Conference as we keep it personal with ourselves, others and God seeking to refine our lives emotionally, spiritually, financially, professionally, in health and wellness and in relationships. Our goal is that your heart will be fulfilled, your mind inspired and your soul nurtured no matter where you might be on life’s journey to …. take your next steps with purpose.

“Each one of us is on a journey, from the first gasp of breath, and we go on it according to our understanding of grace, according to our own courage.”…”We live this journey and make it and know that it’s not easy. But we try to make the crooked road a little straighter, the hurly-burly streets a little cleaner and just a little bit kinder.”   Maya Angelou


 May 9 & 19

Hilton Airport/Mall of America, Bloomington, Minnesota.

 Tickets available at . For a $25 discount enter code honey.



LIFE LESSONS: Build Your Life On Hope by Charlie Kundinger

Hope“Charlie, you have 30 minutes to gather your belongings and leave this building. In your three months working here you have not sold one lease! Your leasing days with this company are over.” What? What did my boss say to me? I was fired? I took a risk and left a secure building management position, a decision my wife was strongly opposed to, in order to accept this position.   I had big dreams of becoming a real estate professional with a new car and large commissions.

After dinner I approached my wife, who was playing with our two small children.  I said, “Molly, today I was fired, what are we going to do”?” My shocked wife looked up at me and said, “Charlie, not what are we going to do but what are you going to do? I can’t support our growing family with its expenses on my salary alone.”  What? Did she expect me to live with the misery of being unemployed all on my own?

After that I was speaking with my mother and I told her that I was fired.  Her advice was, Charles, “build your life on hope and that will always make your tomorrows’ brighter.”

What I heard from her felt good so I decided to approach the situation with hope.  Only then did I begin to see possibilities of changing my life.

Shortly after I was fired, my wife’s friend Mary Ann asked me to repair shower tiles and other needed repair work in her home.   When I finished she said to me “Charlie, I love your work and I want to refer you to my friends.  Would that be okay?” I was elated.  I would begin earning my way again.  She followed through on her promise and her friends hired me to do small repair projects on their homes.

I began to realize that my being firing was a gift.  I stopped feeling resentful of my boss and the real estate company.  I began to feel grateful toward them for the opportunity to be my own boss.  I began to remodel my life realizing that I had the power to build a life with greater possibilities.  Now, I was able to create with my hands, attend all of my three children’s school and athletic events and partner with my wife to share the duties of raising our three children. Being fired forced me to change my story from one of leasing real estate to one of remodeling homes.   

For the past twenty-eight years home remodeling has been a better suit for my personality. I have experienced much less stress and more control of my life.  After I decided to accept my mother’s advice and “build my life on hope”, my life improved.  

If you are thinking of changing or remodeling your life, apply hope and it too may brighten your tomorrows as it did mine.

Charlie Kundinger has remodeled homes for the past 28 years.  More recently he is speaking to audiences on the topic of hope realizing that with this powerful emotion in their lives significant changes can occur.  Charlie lives with his wife in Forest Lake, MN. You can reach him at Kundinger Remodeling651-283-0017.

LIFE LESSONS: What is Love? by Kathi Holmes

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHis sandy brown hair laid stiff and straight with bangs extending to his eyebrows. He was too busy to worry about his hair. Mike was the class clown. His chubby cheeks puckered when he smiled. And he smiled a lot. He was constantly fidgeting with something – flipping pages in his book, twirling his pencil, or wiggling his body to get comfortable in his chair. Today one might say he had ADHD. Mike was funny and had all the third grade kids’ attention. He was my first love.

By the time I had reached sixth grade my taste had changed. I had a crush on a tall, dark haired, chisel-faced seventh grader. My girlfriend and I stalked him until he hurled a broom at us. That put a damper on our pursuit but not necessarily my interest.

Yes, there were many more infatuations up until high school when I fell in love with the blind date a girlfriend had arranged. Bill had the “boy in the hood” look that Elvis made popular. His ducktail haircut and quiet demeanor made him even more intriguing. I married that boy. Seventeen years and two children later we divorced. There was no blame, we just grew apart.

Having married four months out of high school I never experienced the “dating scene”. It was a jungle out there. There were times I wanted to throw in the towel and just sit by myself with a bowl of popcorn and a good movie. There were some hurtful times but also some funny experiences.

Seven years of riding the dating roller coaster, and I had my first blind date after becoming divorced. Although Charlie and I started out thinking we didn’t have much in common, the more we got to know each other the more I began having concerns. We shared so many characteristics I actually feared his mother had met my dad in the past, and we were actually related! After we married, I found out we weren’t that similar.

February is the month when love is in bloom. Scalloped paper hearts abound. Chocolate packaged in red heart shaped boxes, for the lover who wants to impress. And roses, the flower of love. But when the paper hearts have curled, the box of chocolate is filled with empty wrappers and the roses have shed their bloom, what’s left?

Charlie and I have been married twenty-one years and I think I finally know what love is. And if you’re looking for it you can find it everywhere.

Love is the husband who takes the limp hand of his wife in the end stages of cancer and tells her he loves her as much as he did the day they were married.

Love is the wife who helps her husband from his wheelchair onto the bath chair and wheels him into the shower week after week.

Love is the older sister who retrieved her brother when he wandered onto thin ice.

Love is the father who gives up his Saturdays to coach his daughter’s soccer team, even though it is clear she will never be a soccer star.

Love is the daily visits to the care center to brighten mom’s day.

Love is the mother who glows with delight as she wheels her son into dance class. “He loves to dance,” she says as she helps him out of his wheelchair, and he drags his legs toward his walker. She raised this child with cerebral palsy for fourteen years and is proud of all his accomplishments.

Love is the person who lets go of the past, and the one who offers the apology.

Love is the grandparents who eagerly volunteer to care for their grandchildren even though they know the house will be left in a mess and they will be exhausted when the kids leave.

Love is the wagging tail that greets you at the door.

Love is the man who waited for his love when his long legs forged ahead of her.

Love is the wife who waits for him when his pace has slowed with age.

During this month, celebrate love. Reflect on the love that carried you through your darkest days. Savor the love that brings you joy in the little moments that you take for granted.




LIFE LESSONS: A Wild Notion by Chris Heeter

Lacking expressive ears, tails, or fur on the back of our necks, we humans are left with our big brains, our intuition, our assumptions, and our words in order to understand each other. It would be much clearer if we approached a co-worker, for example, and could see their ears back and the fur ruffed on their neck. We would know it would be a less than ideal time to interrupt, or perhaps we would see it as an opening to reach out.

A powerful element of living wild–having the courage to bring the gift of all of who you are to all of what you do–is vulnerability: being willing to reveal more of who we are; to risk showing the more “messy” parts of ourselves; and to have compassion for others and the shared tendency to want to hide our softer, more vulnerable sides. Watch for opportunities today to be a little less guarded. See what openings may come. . .

2013 12-27 No I haven't found it yet.A layer of snow at our feet
with more, they say, on the way.

This same route we walk
most every day,
me and the dog,
brings illumination
this cloudy morning.

Today I see
some of what it is
that she stops to investigate.

Concrete and hard-packed trails show little.
But today’s snow
reveals the wanderings
of rabbit, deer, a stray cat.
Tracks outline what my nose cannot smell.
And show me what excites my dog so,
as I stand, coax, and sometimes tug her away
from the scents that elude me.

How helpful it would be
if we could see as clearly
what tracks and scents are calling
those with whom we interact.

How much more clarity could there be
if we could see the snow outline
of the trail of each other’s thoughts, hearts, and actions.

It starts close in, of course,
with observation of our own path
of where we wander, the steps we take
and scents we follow.

From that place of our own humility,
we may see one another
with grace and a hint of understanding
when some form of snow falls
and the faintly outlined tracks
of each other’s paths are revealed.

Written with permission by Chris Heeter, leadership speaker, wilderness guide and poet. To subscribe the “Wild Thoughts” and receive the email newsletter to go . The Wild Institute, . Photo of my dog, Honey.

LIFE JOURNEYS: Living BIG by Jade Sholty

While most of us were still recovering from turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and pumpkin and/or pecan pie last year, a dear friend and her husband were caught in a fire that engulfed their home. They, along with their dogs and cat, perished in that fire. Not only did they leave behind three wonderful children, but a multitude of people who were impacted by their love and kindness. This year, on the date of her mother’s birthday, her daughter posted a message that I wanted to share with my readers.iStock_000006323478XSmall


I don’t want to dwell on sad things but I also could not let the anniversary of my parents death go by without writing a little something here because I know many of you knew my mom (and dad) personally and may be feeling a little sad today as well.

It’s funny because no matter how much I think about this horrible day and the fire a year ago, the things that keep reigning bigger in my mind are their lives and their hearts.  That made me think about how important it is that we all live BIG.  Something like a fire could easily be a big enough event to steal our focus and memories.  A fire that size is scary and almost has a life of its own because it is so uncontrolled.  If someone lived a small life, it might be the scary fire that kept invading our thoughts when we remembered them. But neither of my parents lived small lives.  They did many small (and big things) with BIG kindness and BIG love.  They reached out and made people everywhere feel welcome and special.

So yes, I think about the fire sometimes but that fear and sadness gets so quickly pushed away by the bigness of their love and the way they impacted us all while they were here.  What an important thing that we all live with big love and passion because that is what we will leave behind for others to remember no matter how we leave the planet.  That step into the next life is so quick but what we do with our lives while we are here impacts those around us forever.  How many people can we help while we are here? How many people can we love? Are there people we could make smile today with a phone call? Is there someone whose day could be turned around by a little encouragement? That is the BIG stuff of life.  So yes, a little fire may be occasionally thrown into our lives but that is so small compared to how BIG we can live. I want to make sure the things in my life that should be big are BIG!  It is our love and our passion that will live on long after we are gone and that really is a wonderful legacy.  God bless you all.

Thank you Jade Sholty for sharing this message with us at this time of year when we remember how blessed we are and how important it is to “LIVE BIG”. Those who knew Sandy and Brian Humphrey will always remember the love they shared with us.

LIFE JOURNEYS: Impossible? No way! by Betty Liedtke

iStock_000015137613XSmallOne of my most firmly-held convictions is that nothing is impossible, and you should ignore anyone who tells you otherwise. Impossible feats are being accomplished every day by people who don’t know, don’t believe, or don’t accept that something can’t be done.  I have several friends who belong in this category – people who refused to accept that something couldn’t be done, and then achieved what others said was impossible.

One of the most inspiring examples of this is Kathi Holmes, the author and host of this blog, who was paralyzed years ago and told that she would never walk again. If you remind her of that today, you’d better move out of the way quickly in case she decides to chase you down and smack you with her cane.

Another accomplished friend of mine is a man named Dana Lamon. He is a graduate of Yale University and of the University of Southern California Law Center, a retired administrative law judge, a world-renowned motivational speaker, the author of four books, and recipient of numerous prestigious awards. He’s also been blind since the age of four.

Dana spent his whole life listening to people tell him, “You can’t do that. You’re blind!” Or rather, he spent his life not listening to them. If there was something he wanted to acquire or achieve, he didn’t let anything or anyone stop him. Even if something wasn’t on his list of goals, all he had to do was hear someone say that something would be impossible for him to do, and he would set out to accomplish it – if only to prove that person wrong.

“The truth is,” he once told me, “I’ve accomplished much more because I was blind than I ever would have as a sighted man. Hearing that something would be ‘impossible’ gave me all the incentive I needed to pursue it.”

Because of this, Dana considers his blindness a gift, not a disability. And he’s not alone in thinking this way.

One of my speaking programs is entitled, “Where Do Diamonds Come From? A Lump of Coal and a Lot of Pressure.” It focuses on the fact that when something awful happens to us, such as an accident, an injury, or a debilitating disease, it often leads to – or becomes – an amazing source of strength and determination that we never realized we could possess. I have heard many people say, long after they were diagnosed and treated, that “Getting cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me.” They came out of the ordeal with life-changing wisdom, compassion, understanding, and determination.

I was in my early 30s when I developed breast cancer – right after the birth of my daughter, the younger of my two children.  Less than a year later, I sustained severe heart damage from chemotherapy. It was so debilitating that I couldn’t walk up the three steps from my back door to my kitchen without stopping to sit down on the top step and catch my breath.

Yet with each of these medical ordeals, I was given a sign that opened my eyes to the fact that other people were dealing with much more severe issues than I was, and that the situation could have been a lot worse than it was. They helped me develop a positive outlook and a sense of gratitude that I still maintain today, 25 years later.

It may sound cliché to talk about looking on the bright side, or finding the silver lining, or seeing the glass as half-full rather than half-empty.  But doing so does more than improve our outlook or put us in a better mood. It gives us strength, confidence, determination, and a sense of control over our lives and our circumstances. It gives us the ability to change our world. And it helps us see that if there’s something we want badly enough and are willing to work for it and to ignore anyone who tells us otherwise, we can achieve anything we set out to do. No matter how many people say it’s impossible.

Betty Liedtke is a writer, speaker listed on, certified Dream Coach® and Founder/CEO of Find Your buried Treasure. For additional information check out her website




handsWhen my wife and I were married almost a half of century ago, one of the photos in our wedding album was a picture of our crossed hands. I don’t remember it being taken and it must have seemed insignificant at the time. I was probably lost in the excitement of the day. For a few brief minutes the other day, looking for a different photo, I took out that album and I stared at that old black and white picture. Then I went and took her hand in mine and looked at the physical differences all of these years have made to our hands. Those same hands, still wearing the same rings we gave to each other on that day. Those hands that were so vibrant, unwrinkled, and unblemished back then; now showing the ravages of age and time. The bones are so much more apparent today, the skin parchment thin and peppered with age spots.

But then my meandering thoughts went in another direction and I thought of where those hands had been and how much they had accomplished over all of these years, and the stories they could tell if they could talk. I looked at her hands again and I saw them white with flour from the kitchen counter and black with dirt from the garden. Stained with berry juice at canning time and splotched with paint. I saw them dabbing tears from a little girls eyes and holding a wet cloth to a sick child’s forehead. I remember them turning the pages on a Doctor Seuss book while our son sat wide-eyed on her lap. I watched as they raced effortlessly back and forth on a typewriter keyboard and remembered the yards of cloth they had pushed through a sewing machine. I recalled how good they felt when they massaged the tension out of my shoulders after a hard day’s work, and the times they gently held my face while she softly kissed away all my troubles.

Then I looked at my own hands and remembered the day I cut my finger off at work, –the scar still visible. I remember the countless nails I pounded building our home and the nail I shot through my finger– the one that no longer bends. I remember the times I played catch with my kids in the backyard and showed my son how to throw a curve ball in little league. There were the times they were black with soot from my days on the fire department or sticky with someone’s blood. There were the days I stood by my parents’ grave and wiped my own tears away with the back of my hands. The times I baited hooks for my kids in the boat and all the times I offered them in friendship to so many people, and the times I just held them to my face and clasped them in prayer.

But the times I remember the most is when I took her hands in mine and we walked and talked, or just sat and tried to give each other a transfusion of caring and love, as if our empathy and emotions could just flow miraculously from fingertip to fingertip. Her hands fit so well in mine that first time I held them way back then, and today—well they fit even better. It’s as if our hands somehow became the coupler for us, the point of origin that joined us together over all of our years of partnership and remarkably today. Their simple touch can convey our innermost thoughts through some unexplainable process, which defies explanation and needs no words.

Mike Holst lost is wife a little over two years ago. After retiring as a Brooklyn Park firefighter he began a second career as an author. He has published nine compelling books, most of which take place in Minneapolis. His latest book is “An Absence of Conscience”. For more information check out his website or his blog


Fall in a parkEach year Labor Day seems a little more subdued, because as we get older we realize that life is made up of just so many labor days, and we have now opened the coupon book of life and redeemed yet another. Even more than that though, it is to us lake dwellers, the day that ushers out another summer season. It is a subtle reminder that soon the leaves that rustled in the tree tops, on those soft summer breezes, will turn into a collage of dazzling colors and then all too soon they will glide softly to the ground below, leaving the trees and bushes that bore them naked in the icy crushing winds of winter.

The garden will be littered with the spoils of the crop that never made it to the table or the canning jar.  The flower beds will no longer be attractive, instead filled with dried up blossoms from plants that once showed off their beauty in the warm summer sun, and gave up their sweet nectar to honey bees and humming birds. A worn baseball glove now lies on the porch where it was dropped after the last game of catch, and a bicycle leans against the railing, a shiny spider web glistening with the early morning dew drops, now stretches from the pedal to the frame.

The evenings come early now, and you can feel the cold slowly sneaking in, chasing away the summer’s warmth. The grass is wet with dew in the mornings and an eerie fog hangs over the lake, as the cold air hits the warm water. The little yellow baby ducklings now resemble their parents, bobbing upside down in the water, their bills foraging in the shallow lake bottom.  The spotted fawn that had peeked from between its mother’s legs down by the garden this spring, now has a coat that matches hers, and stands and looks over mothers back, her tail flickering nervously as she watches for danger. The eaglets are gone from the big nest by the river; the proud parents sit high in the tree their piercing yellow eyes and snowy white crowns, looking out over their lofty domain.  Their work is done until next year, and yes, they too know its Labor Day.

The dock is empty now and lily pads have filled in one side of the beach just to give it a little class. A swirl in the water appears as a bass reaches up to take a water beetle for lunch, his tail breaks the surface and then there is only ripples that spread out in an ever widening circle, and then like the days of summer, they too fade away.

There are no more children’s voices echoing out over the water as they cannon ball of the dock.  No more screaming and laughing as they frolicked in the shallows like seal pups in a tropical cove. A given up for lost red and white plastic bobber with white fishing line still attached to it, rocks back and forth hopelessly entangled in the lily pads. Overhead on a tree branch hangs a red and white spoon, the victim of an erroneous cast.  A yellow rope that once held a boat to the dock now hangs uselessly in the water, slipping back and forth with the waves; the boat now put away, for it is Labor Day.

On the porch the old man sits and rocks slowly back and forth in the weathered wooden swing.  His sweat stained hat now lies in his lap, the sun is no longer a threat and the warmth feels so good on his tired aching bones. His damp blue eyes look out over the lake for some sign of activity.  Those eyes that have searched these waters so many times before from the dock, the boat, the shore. The same eyes that twinkled with joy when his grandson pulled in yet another sun fish, way last spring.  Eyes that today brim with tears because he knows that now, and in the cycle of his own life, it’s Labor Day.

 After retiring as a Brooklyn Park firefighter he began a second career as an author. He has published nine compelling books, most of which take place in Minneapolis. His latest book is “An Absence of Conscience”. For more information check out his website or his


LIVE JOURNEYS – Who are the Silver Sages? by Marcia Casar Friedman

Silver SagesThe idea of calling my generation the silver sages comes from our graying hair and our enlightened wisdom. No matter what you know or how much you have learned, more insights are gained from living every day to the fullest.

The natural entry into the phase of being a silver sage usually starts around the chronological age of 55+.

Praise and encourage yourself now! It has taken many years of great effort to become more competent in your work and more skillful in your relationships. Also, more knowledgeable about the interactions between your family members and more adept at accepting the surprises life presents to you. About the only thing that comes without effort is natural aging.

Being referred to as a silver sage is much more tolerable than being called elderly or old or young lady or old geezer. Silver sages learn many guiding words of wisdom, and hopefully, will freely share them with others. Treat us with respect – no name calling!

The sixty-somethings all have one stage of life in common. This phase of development is the senior crisis. It takes many years of hard work to get over the commotion of the midlife crises in order to find a more productive path to a happier life. Then, little by little, the things we worked so hard for don’t haunt us anymore. Don’t get too comfortable. It’s time to move on! A silver sage is on a journey full of learning possibilities plus many changes. I do savor being a work in progress!

In my early sixties, I recognized how much the evolution of the career senior crisis was disrupting my life. The old routine of competing with younger job seekers had to end. It was time to give up the horrid chase for a better work life, hoping it would lead to a position in top management, along with the alleged promise of a big bucks salary with bonuses. How exhausting! Every day, age discrimination continues to be alive and well. I want to be the real me, not the pretend me who was always trying to fit the mold, created by others.

Ongoing advances in the field of medicine have made it possible to live longer than ever before. While a longer life provides opportunities for those sixty-five and older to do things that had been put on hold to raise families and work, it can also create a feeling of isolation and loneliness. The new concept of working an encore career has great merit for anyone who retires from the drudgery of a job and finds a new career. It is an opportunity to follow today’s dreams, passions and creativity.

Aging enables us to build on problem solving skills from the past. Keep asking questions! We will never know everything there is to know. Of this, I am sure; every problem has at least one solution and usually three or four answers. Pick the best answer, the one that feels the most comfortable.

It’s never too late to reinvent yourself. Being a silver sage led me to realize how important it is to make positive changes that will affect the rest of my life. Aging is a journey of change.

A key idea is to strive to keep the timeless treasurers from life and let go of the useless details. Create a balance to unclutter the things and people in your life. Silver sages learn it is no longer wise to predict what they will or will not do in given situations. We know the frustrations of prejudging, only to find ourselves wrong. Listen, learn, and then decide each individual situation by using the insights gained from the past. Change is necessary and possible, with an abundance of awareness and a positive approach.

Recognize the truth that you are much more then you imagine yourself to be.

Marcia Casar Friedman has published two books: “Aging Is A Full Time Job” and “Aging Is A Journey of Changes”. She can be reached through her websites and


LIFE JOURNEYS: A Stroke is a Stroke by Steve Boorstein

Stroke - 425 x 282 px @ 72 dpiWhat in the world are we supposed to do with all these strokes? Children of all ages, men and women, young and old, sedentary and active—Stroke does not discriminate!

It can sneak up on the unsuspecting and surprise even the well informed, but Stroke’s biggest targets are the oblivious: the ones that don’t know, that don’t believe, and that can’t even fathom the possibility that they could be a “stroke in waiting.” I was one of them!

So, there I am at fifty-two, a tennis player and skier, cyclist and skater—one of the ignorant and unsuspecting. Yet, I had no preexisting conditions that could have warned me; I wasn’t diabetic, hypertensive, a smoker or a drinker … or even predisposed to heart disease. I had zero plaque and my cholesterol was low. I ate well, slept well and exercised everyday. As it turns out, if you are a stroke in waiting, being active or even athletic will not necessarily prevent the attack, if other conditions place you at risk.

A case in point: the English gentleman, Andrew Marr, 52 years of age, most recently in the news because he is a well-known BBC presenter and journalist. An admitted workaholic, under much stress, Mr. Marr decided to “get in shape” by using an ERG, or as many call it, a rowing machine. Following his workout of short bursts of ultra-intensive exercise called High Intensity Intervals (HIT), Mr. Marr experienced a blinding headache and flashes of light. He joined in a family meal and then dragged himself to bed. He woke unable to move … paralyzed, and forever changed. A month later, he is making a good recovery. He was lucky.

I was hit on the ski slopes in Vail, Colorado, by a snowboarder that did not stop! I suffered a concussion, cracked ribs, a dislocated shoulder … and unbeknownst to me until months later—a dissected right carotid artery, presumably from the force of the hit. After a number of TIA’s, unrecognizable as such because I knew not one of the signs, my wife drove me to the emergency room. During a “routine” stent insertion the next day to “fix” the dissection and clot that had formed, I suffered a major stroke that left me unable to read, add 2+2 or tie my shoe.

It’s been 5 years since that day and I am much improved. I can type, albeit very slowly, and I can tie my shoe and do simple math in my head: But what of my cognition, logic, and waning memory … and my hopes of complete recovery? Should I forget about it? Well I can’t. It’s my life and I am reminded of it everyday, in myself and in others. I am changed, but I am mostly happy.

So, I have taken on a life’s work of helping others, as so many survivors have done. It’s educational, rewarding and uplifting to share what I’ve known and learned. What exactly have I learned?

It can take years to recover … and maybe even a lifetime. We may have to compromise and adjust our expectations more than once, and it can take extraordinary effort    to do the simplest, most basic things. And most of us have come to realize that what was so important before, has little or no relevance now. Life is elastic, just like our     re-forming brain. 

I am very fortunate to still have the gift of gab and to have met so many stroke survivors, families and caregivers. I have spoken to thousands of “us” and to hundreds of doctors, nurses and therapists. What I’ve come to embrace is that while everyone of us suffers, and share similar experiences and conditions, no two survivors are exactly alike. It is our outlook and disposition—be it sunny and bright, or dark and looming—that sets us apart.

I believe that if we are strong and willful before our stroke—and can somehow maintain a sense of humor after the stroke—we will be strong and willful in recovery … it’s all about the attitude. You must put it all out there, even if you can’t fully understand it at the time! I also learned that survivors have needs, many of which have not been identified or addressed by the medical field and its specialists. So what can we do about that? Survivors need family advocates, especially during those first few weeks and months when we are in and out of the hospital.

I also learned that, whether we realize it or not, the extraordinary effort we put forward to recover will pay off in “spades” for many years to come. Let me explain.

Most stroke survivors work everyday to get better—and it’s an uphill battle, as we all know. We may make incredible strides one day, and then falter the next, and then pick ourselves up to do it all again. But here’s the twist and the beauty: The hard work does pay off.

If you can recover from stroke, be it paralysis, cognitive damage, the inability to walk, or to learn to tie your shoe again, you will have accomplished something monumental! And you should be incredibly proud, so pat yourself on the back and take a bow. You have reinvented yourself, again!  

Now, take this monumental effort and apply it to every challenge you face, be it personal or professional: Break down every step and apply the same steely focus and expectation to every undertaking, no matter the size! If you can come back from stroke, then you can do almost anything! And don’t be surprised if you surpass your       pre-stroke accomplishments. I did.

For more information check out Steve’s website