by Kelsey Menzel
These inspiring fitness stories come from nine incredible Texas athletes. Are you Ready for a Boost of Motivation?
To most people, a spinal cord injury would be a life-ruining experience. But Mark Zupan turned his injury into a life that he says is different, but more rewarding than the life he had before the 1993 automobile accident that left him wheelchair bound. With his unstoppable drive to live life on the brink, the gold medal Paralympic athlete and celebrity has been destroying the stigmas and stereotypes surrounding spinal cord injuries since the day he was injured.
As a college student studying engineering at Florida Atlantic University, Mark played soccer on scholarship until the night that, after falling asleep in the back of his friend’s pick-up truck, he flew out when his friend drove away and wrecked, not realizing Mark was in the back. After 14 hours holding onto a tree branch, his cries for help were finally heard, and he was rescued from the rushing water below him.
Understanding and adjusting to the limits he faced with his new physical condition presented Mark with a huge challenge, but he soon began to rebuild his life as a quadriplegic (with quadriplegia, all four limbs have some impairment). He points to good friends and good family who helped inspire him to keep going on at first.
“I had some cool friends who gave me a good kick in the a–, and helped me keep a very eye-open approach to things. I knew I wanted to live my life, and they helped me realize that was possible.”
While in rehab months later, a physical therapist introduced Mark to the sport of Quad Rugby. He says that it was the combination of contact and competition that initially drew him to the game.
In Quad Rugby, Mark certainly found the contact he had been missing. Initially titled “Murderball,” (but renamed in an attempt to make the sport more marketable to sponsors) the sport revolves around contact between players who travel up and down an indoor court in specially-made wheelchairs. Described by Mark as one of the “cooler wheelchair sports,” it combines elements of wheelchair basketball, handball, ice hockey and rugby union. Mark compares it to football, which he played in high school. But he says the difference in intensity with Quad Rugby is that “the chair inflicts the contact, not the body.”
After earning his degree in Civil Engineering from Georgia Tech, Mark joined the United States’ Quad Rugby team, where he was quickly met with success. By 2004, he was named the Quad Rugby “Player of the Year.”
In 2005, Mark starred in the documentary “Murderball,” which chronicles Team USA’s journey to the 2004 Paralympics Games in Greece.
When commenting on the film, Mark says it was fun, and that it did a lot for popularizing the sport in the wheelchair world. Now, he says it is used as a teaching tool to help the newly injured learn about Quad Rugby.
After the success of “Murderball,” Mark’s star was on the rise. Today, he boasts a Gold Medal World Championship title, 3 national championships and numerous other gold, silver and bronze medals. He was also featured in Reebok’s “I am what I am” campaign alongside celebrities like Allan Iverson and 50 cent. The list of media appearances goes on, including multiple appearances on MTV’s “Jackass.” He has also already written an autobiography entitled GIMP, which chronicles his experience finding his new life after the injury. Mark has without a doubt become one of the world’s most recognized persons in a wheelchair.
Aside from being an inspiration to the general public, Mark uses his experience as a quadriplegic to help those with recent spinal cord injuries adjust to their new bodies as quickly as possible. He says that because he had to learn how to deal with his new body and “figure things out” pretty much on his own, he would like to help those with similar injuries get past the first stages of discouragement and defeat.
“They think, you’re in a chair, and you do all this… does that mean that I can too?”
And a typical workout for Mark is impressive by anyone’s standards. On the 100 degree summer day that this interview took place, Mark says he woke up to a 13.5 mile push through the hilly streets surrounding his South Austin home, and would probably top the day off with an hour and a half at his gym, Pure Austin Fitness.
When asked what the biggest reward is from all the time he puts into working out, there is not a moment’s hesitation.
“It’s definitely winning. I hate losing — just hate it. The game is fun and the friends are cool, but the best part is standing on that podium. You know, that’s a feeling you just don’t ever get tired of,” he laughingly explains.
Mark has lived in Austin for 11 years, nine of which he worked as a civil engineer. Among all of the reactions that people have when they get to know him, Mark says that the most common one is shock that he was a civil engineer.
“They’re like ‘Whoa, you’re an engineer?’ Yeah, I’m not just some athlete. There’s stuff up here,” he jokes, pointing to his head.
Today, he is a motivational speaker, touring colleges and universities to offer insight into how he created this new life — one that he says is more rewarding than the life he left behind almost 16 years ago.
“This has let me do some crazy things, things I never thought I would do. I never ever would have thought I’d get to write a book, but I have. That’s pretty cool.”
So what’s next for the man who has already accomplished so much? Well, he’s not stopping with a few medals.
“I’m not so sure if I’m going to go to London [for the 2012 Paralympics]. It’s something you have to be really prepared for, and I want to make sure I’m all the way there.”
He says he “probably will” compete in the 2012 Paralympic Quad Rugby games, but that it will be his last year to play the sport competitively. After that, he wants to branch out into other extreme wheelchair sports, like downhill wheelchair skiing.
“I want to try other things. Life’s short,” he shrugs.
Mark’s style, looks and mentality align with the world of Action Sports, and this persona combined with a reputation for being fearless makes it no surprise that he continues to challenge himself to the highest levels possible. His ultimate goal is to finish an Ironman, which he says “is the most challenging thing you can do with your body” and has been done by paraplegics, but not completed by a quadriplegic — yet.
Fans will also have plenty of opportunities to see Mark in the future, on TV and on the big screen. He is currently developing a new traveling reality show for television, and Jim Mangold has purchased the rights for a movie production of Mark’s life.
He is also currently working on creating a foundation called “A Will to Live” that will intervene at the critical transition period from rehab to a Quad’s new life in the real world. He has participated in the “Red Bull, Flugtag” competition and came in second at the Austin venue. With a few modifications, you can’t count him out on getting that thing flying in his next attempt.
With such incredible success and media attention, there is no doubt that Mark is an inspiration for many, injured and not. But when asked if he would call himself an inspiration, he has a different take on his role.
“I don’t go through life trying to be an inspiration. But if it happens in the process, that’s cool.”
Whatever Mark attempts next, he will surely do it with the same fearless attitude that has guided his life so far. In fact, it doesn’t seem like anything can stop this man. When asked what he would be unwilling to try, he laughs and shrugs.
“I’m pretty much open to everything. What’s the worst that can happen, I break my neck again?”
Nick and Sarah Bannon: Texas School for the Deaf
Nick and Sarah Bannon, Physical Education Coordinator and Special Leadership Retreats Coordinator respectively at the Texas School for the Deaf (TSD), lead the way in making fitness a lifestyle for adults and children in the deaf community and beyond. We conducted a joint Q&A session with these two amazing people to learn more about the impact they’ve already had (and continue to make) on so many. Read to learn about their inspiring work at TSD and in the Austin community.
What first inspired you to begin your journey for fitness?
Nick: My journey began during childhood when trying to find an even playing field with my hearing friends. Being deaf, I would (not intentionally) be left out of conversations, unable to follow what was being said entirely. However, I would feel equal among my peers when I played sports, primarily neighborhood biking, baseball, street and ice hockey, and then high school football and rowing.
Sarah: After high school, I decided to find ways to stay in shape. I participated in various aerobic classes, but I found that I wasn’t working out consistently, so I decided to give triathlon a try after years of my husband trying to convince me to do one. We did the Couple’s Triathlon in July 2007. My husband was very supportive of me throughout the race, but I was cranky and saying “Why am I doing this? Triathlons are stupid! Let’s stop now!” But somehow that evening after that race I signed up to do another one. From that point, I started to enjoy it.
What inspires you now, on tough days?
Nick: My mother suffered from multiple sclerosis for more than 20 years. They say that when one finishes running a marathon, going all out, that is what MS feels like constantly. So when it hurts in races, I think of my mother. When I don’t feel like training, I think of my mother having MS day in and day out. She had no choice; therefore, I really don’t have any excuses not to stay with a training schedule.
Sarah: Knowing that at the end of the workout, I feel better and am glad I did it. Sometimes I’ll put on workout clothes which will push me to do it. Other times I’ll look at magazines we have at home and then get out there and exercise. Or I think of people I know who are exercise fanatics. Even just seeing people outside working out can be enough to motivate me.
How do you see yourself as an inspiration, both on the TSD campus and throughout the broader community?
Nick: A parent challenged me to bring students into the community to participate in fitness activities such as 5K’s, 10K’s, walking off-campus to Lady Bird Johnson Lake, etc. But the fact that only a few students would have the privilege to participate in off-campus events (students go home on the weekends and some live as far away as El Paso) presented a challenge. So I decided that I would host the events at TSD and invite the community in.
It is important to inspire through your own actions and by creating opportunities for others so that they, too, can be an inspiration. Giving another person the opportunity to inspire is the most important.
Sarah: I feel that when TSD sees us working out and know that we stay active, they realize they can, too. That it doesn’t have to be formal. They will see the kids and me swimming after school, or see Nick and me riding bikes to work. This will lead TSD parents to try to be active with their kids by bringing them to the monthly 5K/1Mile Ranger Stampede or the TSD Ranger Triathlon.
What would you say is the most rewarding aspect of your journey to physical fitness?
Nick: The most rewarding aspect is not only that have I made myself healthier, happier and more energetic, but that the journey has enabled me to pass the gift of fitness and the pursuit of good health onto others. Just seeing and hearing from others how fitness has changed their lives is truly rewarding.
Sarah: Finding something that I like to do makes it better and easier to want to stay fit and to do it again and again.
How does your passion for fitness translate into your children’s lives? What’s family fitness like for you?
Nick: We all participate in as many fitness activities as we can as a family. We try to mix it up so that it’s fun for all of us. Sarah, our children (Josh, 10, Mia, 7) and I participate in triathlon, cycling, running, kayaking, canoeing and open water swimming. I guess you could say that the family that tri’s together, stays together.
Sarah: My kids are usually with me after school, so they are there for whatever workout I set up for the remainder of the evening. I feel that when the kids see us taking care of ourselves, they will, too.
What do you think is the first step that someone who doesn’t think they’re capable of achieving physical fitness should make?
Nick: I think the most important step for anyone pursuing physical fitness is to know and understand the outcome of being physically fit and its benefits. It takes hard work, yes, but the benefits trump the pain. Having a vision of what fitness will bring you is the most powerful thing in getting started.
Sarah: I think there are a few: find what you like to do and be flexible. If you can’t do yoga today, then fit in something else. There are times I need to remind myself sometimes workouts will suck and that’s okay. It doesn’t mean that I have to stop working out, because there is always next time. This helps me stay motivated and not give up.
What do you see in your future? Do you have any new fitness projects or goals?
Nick: I hope to change the view of health, physical education and fitness in schools. The perception is better now than it has been in years, but it still deserves more attention and focus than it currently receives. High school students in Texas are only required to have one year of physical education, which doesn’t make sense. Fitness needs to be a lifelong habit. When we put fitness on hold for three years in high school, what does that teach our students? Do we value their health in addition to their education?
Sarah: I hope to continue to work out for as long as I can. For now I enjoy doing sprint triathlons and I always hope to be faster. I’d like to participate in more single-sport events such as the MS Ride 150 or Red Licorice Swim Open Water Swim. Maybe, just maybe, down the road I will try for an Olympic distance triathlon. And we’ll see what other events that Nick will try to convince me to do!
Fitness is a process, and Cortney Smith knows perhaps better than anyone what a long process getting fit really is. During the summer of 2009, Cortney was at her heaviest weight ever — 283 pounds. When someone suggested she try training for a triathlon, she says she laughed.
But soon after, she realized that a big challenge might be just what she needed to get her off the couch and feeling good. Cortney looked to the Run Austin Run Half Marathon, began training and immediately had the support of friends and family from all over. She soon found, however, that training for and completing a marathon would be more difficult than she’d anticipated.“I had no clue what I was doing, but I read a lot online about running. I freaked out the night before my first three mile training ‘long run.’”
But when three miles became four and four slowly grew to 10, training was over and it was race day. Cortney describes feeling sick all over the morning of the race, but she had trained so hard. With so many people supporting her, she knew she had to do what she had signed up for.
Cortney was quickly passed by runners until she eventually realized she was completely on her own. She pushed through the pain, cold rain and symptoms from what she would later find out was mono and pneumonia to cross the finish line just as it was being torn down. The vendors had already packed up and left.
Even after such a grueling experience (and the six months recovery time it required), Cortney was not ready to give up on her new lifestyle.
“The progress I had made and the support I had from friends and family really pushed me to keep going after that first marathon. I had trained for it for four months, and I knew I didn’t want to give up everything I had already done.”
Cortney then signed up for Camp Gladiator, and more pounds and inches started to slowly come off. Then she started working out at Pure Austin Fitness, where she made friends with similar goals. In fact, perhaps the most inspiring aspect of Cortney’s story is the influence her lifestyle changes have had on her friends and family, both of whom Cortney says inspire her to reach her fitness goals.
“My friends are my support system. I think that’s why I love boot camps so much — because I get to share the experience with them.”
Cortney even has a list of friends on her phone that she texts every morning at 4:45 a.m. reminding them to get up and work out with her.
“I’ll say ‘I will text you at 4:45, don’t think I won’t.’ They like it though. We all know that we have to support each other to keep getting where we’re going.”
So far she has completed the Austin Distance Challenge, the San Antonio Marathon and two triathlons. In two years, she has taken 11 minutes off her 5K and 1 hour and 10 minutes off her Half Marathon time. Today, she weighs in at 236 pounds.
“I still have a long road ahead of me, but my times and my energy level tell the real story. I have lost inches and have gone from a size 24 to a 16. I have been blessed by amazing Camp Gladiator trainers who have cared enough to help me change my life, wonderful and supportive friends and family who cheer me on every day and a capable body to accomplish all these things.”
When Michael Hehl decided to transform his health, he knew that commitment was the most important step in achieving success. Michael supposed that if he could commit to a few small steps at a time, big change would come in the end. He was correct.
Growing up with an Italian mother, Michael says that he struggled with his weight all his life. Then, as a young father, he struggled with even the simplest tasks of fatherhood. He admits that he was so overweight that playing outside with his children was almost a chore, and chasing them up the stairs was nearly out of the question.
It seems that it is the drive to be a good father that causes Michael to point to his mother as the inspiration behind his decision to lose weight. She has survived one heart attack, but still struggles with diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease.
“Every time I talk to her, I wonder if it will be the last. In an odd way, the state of my mom’s health inspired me to make a change. This is ironic, because it had always been her strength that inspired me.”
By the time Michael decided to get serious about his health, he says he “had already tried all the fad diets.” He knew he had to get with something that would stick.
So what lifestyle change can a busy father of two commit to? He decided that his first step would be to transform the way he and his family treated food. He bought a popular cookbook and made a vow to only eat food from recipes found in the cookbook.
“For 30 days, I would not eat anything that was not prepared from this book. I would not eat any more than the recommended servings. At the end of my first 30 days I had lost 15 pounds. I was very excited, but it was the positive feedback that I was getting from everyone else that motivated me to commit for another 30 days.”
As Michael began to transform the food he put on the table and in the pantry, the effects reached to other members of the family. Gone were the Cheetos and Twinkies, replaced by apples and other whole foods. He says that as a result, each member of the family lost weight. His wife alone lost 70 pounds.
The next logical commitment for Michael was exercise. In May 2010, he started the 100 mile, 30 day challenge with a group of other committed individuals. He says that he lost the most amount of weight during this part of his journey. But what was it like getting in 25 miles a week while balancing a job and a family?
“It was tough, to say the least. Sometimes you just couldn’t do as much as you should have one day, so you’d have to increase the next. But I knew what I was working for.”
He completed the 30 day challenge, and when he saw how much weight he had lost, he tried out another popular workout plan and has since made incredible strides in improving his fitness level.
When asked what his favorite part of being fit is, he’s not shy about telling the truth.
“The attention. Really, when it comes down to it, it’s great to feel healthy, but it’s knowing you look fit when you walk into the gym.”
After he began to notice the success he has made so far, he decided to commit to this lifestyle forever.
“January of 2011, I decided to commit. I committed for the last time. I committed for the rest of my life. I can do pull-ups. I can run miles. I can play basketball with my son and ride bikes with my daughter. I CAN! WE CAN!”
Sometimes, the friends you make at the gym or on the trail help you turn your life around. Emily Howell knows that other times, the friends you make through fitness are exactly what you need to keep you moving forward.
An avid cyclist and high school athlete, Emily had been active all her life. But after her daughter, Adaline, was born with cerebral palsy, Emily spiraled into a deep depression. Two years later, she emerged looking for something new. She joined the Rogue Moms marathon group for 2005-2006. With the other moms, she began to heal mentally while training for the 2006 Austin Marathon, which would be her first.
“This group [led by Steve Sisson and coached by Carolyn Mangold]taught me that I could live again, be happy, and enjoy friends and personal goals.”
After her success with the mom’s group, she followed a friend to Gilbert’s Gazelles. In her time at Rogue and beginning at Gazelle’s, she said she had been struggling with fear of having another child. She desperately wanted to try again, but couldn’t find the courage after Adaline.
“This group provided me with the ability to Boston qualify, and more importantly, the courage to attempt to have a second child– which my husband and I were able to do, 13 months after running the Boston. I will always credit this Gazelles group for my ability to conceive of my second child.”
Emily continued running after the birth of her healthy baby boy, Ace. But a running injury forced her to slow down, so she turned to trail running with the Tejas Trails. Here, she achieved tremendous success, completing her first “ultra” marathon, achieving four top 10 female finishes and even one first place female finish.
But Emily’s journey would not end with these successes. After noticing she had been having a tough time recovering after races, she found a lump in her breast. One week later, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Emily refused to give up her passion for running and the friends she had made along the way. She filtered back into Team Rogue, who she says gave her support and courage through perhaps the most painful part of her journey. As she was undergoing chemotherapy, they let her come one time per week out of their scheduled three—free of charge.
She says that the thing she appreciates most was how Team Rogue’s coach, John Schrup, treated her during those tough days.
“He treated me like I was one of the fast people when I could barely run. It was like he didn’t care. It didn’t faze him. I found out later that his mom had cancer and had passed away during the time that I was going.”
Out of the 24 sessions of Rogue’s Tuesday morning runs, (at which she ran 6 miles) Emily only missed one—and that was because she had the flu.
“It kept me going. I didn’t want to miss it—the group gave me something to look forward to.”
Aside from the irreplaceable relationships she fostered through Rogue and Gazelles, Emily says that her husband has been an incredible inspiration to her throughout this process.
“Through the cancer treatment, and really through everything, my husband has been an incredible inspiration. He wants me to live.”
Emily is currently undergoing radiation. As she pushes on through this stage of her life, she keeps words from Tejas Trail coach Steve Sisson in her mind. He had applied it to trail running, but she says she uses it more as a life motto.
“Relentless forward progress. That’s what Steve said about trail running—you just have to keep moving forward. But I think it’s the perfect way to describe life. It’s what I’m pushing for now. Relentless forward progress.”
When Fallon Turner completed her first weightlifting workout as a freshman in high school, she knew that she had just done something big. Now, the 23-year-old sits on several medals, and she is making a name for herself in the world of wheelchair bodybuilding. As one of the few female wheelchair body builders, this young woman’s story makes it clear that physical strength is nothing without serious inner strength.
Fallon was born with hydrocephalus and cerebral palsy, and is also considered legally blind. She walks with crutches most of the time, but has a wheelchair on hand for when she isn’t feeling her perkiest.
Before they knew just how strong Fallon was physically, her parents say they were concerned about how Fallon would perform in her PE class. But when she, at just 100 pounds, lifted more than almost anyone in the class, they could not deny that she had a special talent.
Fallon says that the gym does something special to her—that the big equipment and loud music “gets into my veins, and I can’t stop the excited feeling.”
Perhaps another reason the gym was a perfect fit for the budding wheelchair bodybuilder was that here, she met with other wheelchair athletes for the first time. Her mother, Suzy, found wheelchair bodybuilder Chad McCrary at Icon Gym and Training in Texarkana and soon took Fallon to work under him. Since joining that gym, Suzy says that her daughter’s “confidence has soared. She is a completely different person.”
After she graduated, she wanted to continue with her dream of becoming a power lifter. Because of logistical reasons (most power lifting competitions are held out of country, the expense and hassle of which the Turners knew was not feasible) Fallon decided to pursue wheelchair bodybuilding at the encouragement of Chad McCrary.
Fallon took to the new sport almost immediately. After training for a year and a half, she won first place at her first competition, the NPC Lone Star Classic in Plano, Texas. Since that first competition, she has competed in seven different shows in cities all across the United States.
Fallon says that it is through the inspiration of her trainers that she is able to accomplish all she does within the sport. McCrary, her first trainer, and John Clack, her current trainer, have “been there to encourage and inspire” her throughout it all. They nicknamed her “Lil’ Swole,“ a persona she immediately adopted in the gym.
Today, Fallon’s workout regimen includes cardio training at the gym, functional rope at their house or riding her three wheeled bike. At 100 pounds (or lighter), Fallon maxes out at an incredible 185 pounds on the Smith machine.
On top of the success she has met in the wheelchair bodybuilding world, Fallon holds down a job at Starbucks. She has also volunteered for several hospitals in the Texarkana area, and as secretary at her church.
When asked what the most rewarding aspect of her active life is, Fallon points to the travel and the people she has met along the way.
“We never really got to travel as a family until I started bodybuilding, and now it feels like we’ve been all over. I have also met some of my best friends through this, some people that are really like my siblings. We’re a very tight-knit group.”
As for Fallon’s future, her mother, Suzy, says they would like to see the sport of wheelchair body building grow, for men and women.
“Of course, we’d also love to see Fallon get her “pro” card, but we are really just patiently waiting for the sport to grow as a whole,” Suzy explains.
The incredible feats of physical strength that Fallon displays would of course be impossible without unshakeable inner strength, and it is clear that the 23-year-old possesses both. With the motivation and inspiration from her family and the friends she has made through her sport, it will be a treat to see where wheelchair bodybuilding will take Fallon Turner next.
Brian Leib wasn’t overweight all his life. In fact, he was on Ohio State’s bike racing team. But his fate was the same as most twenty-somethings who expect to continue with the “college” lifestyle after graduation. He stopped racing, and then began to pack on weight in his mid-twenties.
Then, in September of 2007, Brian flew off a motocross bike which left him with a fractured tailbone, three compression fractures in his lumbar and a separated sacrum. While recovering from the injury, he lost a great job and began to notice that his marriage was unraveling.
“Needless to say, between stress, being broken physically and mentally and making some not-so-healthy choices, I hit a high of 227 pounds.”
In the two years following his accident, Brian says that he was “not addressing reality.” But in 2009, he flew to Austin to meet a woman for a date. When she suggested they go on a bike ride, Brian remembers being surprised as he looked at himself in the mirror.
“I put on all of my old racing gear, looked in the mirror and thought ‘Wow. That looks different.’”
Even though things didn’t work out with Geri Flore, the woman who encouraged him to get back on the bike, Brian didn’t stop exercising. He says that when they saw each other again, she was surprised at the amount of weight he had lost.
“I told her that I hadn’t given up just because things didn’t work out between the two of us.”
A close friendship began between the two, and Brian soon moved to Austin, where the real change began. Austin’s fit culture seeped into Brian’s lifestyle and the pounds began to fall away.
“It wasn’t ever a decision to get fit. It just started with one of us being like, ‘Let’s go for a ride.’ And I didn’t have a car, so I was already biking anywhere I needed to go. Then eventually, it was ‘Let’s go running.’”
By May of 2010, he was down to 153 pounds and had completed his first half-Ironman.
Brian credits Geri for forcing him back to reality.
“She is my best friend, training partner and the person that pushes me constantly to be the best I can, in sport and in life. I owe her more than I can ever put into words.”
Brian also credits his coach, Brandon Marsh, for continuing to provide the support and motivation that he needs.
“[Brandon] has given Geri and me the tools and resources to succeed. I believe in what he says, and he has been a great coach and friend.”
Today, Brian weighs in at a strong 149 pounds. His favorite workout is to ride the hills down in Luckenbach.
“I do miss running sometimes. A Sunday morning run around Town Lake is great, seeing all the people. But still, I think the best workout is with my bike at Luckenbach. Nothing beats that.”
Brian admits that staying fit isn’t always such an easy commitment. He jokes that at 5 a.m., as he crawls into the kitchen to make coffee, he wonders why he voluntarily submits himself to the torture.
“I’ll yell, ‘I was fat and happy!’”
But Geri is sure to laugh and remind him, “No, you were fat and drunk.”
It seems like it is this lighthearted attitude that has made Brian so successful in his quest to regain his fit body. He approaches athletic endeavors with a carefree, can-do attitude. In fact, not even an Ironman was enough to make him overly anxious.
“I never looked at it as something scary. The Ironman is really just about sustained energy. If you can keep up a certain level of effort, you can do an Ironman.”
Instead of shying away from the pain that intense rides and races inflict, Brian embraces it.
“I enjoy the hurt.”
Brian’s story of complete mental and physical renewal after his motocross accident can inspire us all—no matter how far from the bandwagon we feel we’ve fallen.
Sometimes dramatic life changes happen from motivation found within, and sometimes they require major intervention from an outside source. For this young girl, it was a combination of inner strength and an extended hand from an Austin filmmaker that enabled her to turn her life around.
Ashley describes herself as “a lost soul” growing up in San Antonio. She says that as a senior in high school, she was “lonely, overweight, depressed and shy.”
At 261 pounds on a February day in 2010, Ashley was introduced to Austin filmmaker Jen Ohlson and the Physical Education Administrator at her school, Roger Rodriguez, who were starting a new PE class at her school with the goal of helping students improve in mind, body and spirit. Jen was also looking for someone to be the subject of her new documentary, “Health Needs a Hero.” It was the opportunity she had been searching for.
“The night that Jen came to my school and asked for one volunteer to share their story, I was at a point in my life I knew I had to change and better myself. I saw it as my chance to tell a story I’d been waiting 19 years to tell.”
After filming was complete and Ashley graduated from high school, Jen asked Ashley to come live with her in Austin to continue getting healthy. Since that move, Ashley says that her life has changed completely.
“To date, I’ve lost 105 pounds, run a marathon, gotten my first job and have spoken to legislatures in Austin and DC about the importance of PE and health education.”
Austin seems to be the right fit for Ashley, who says that seeing people constantly working out and living well encourages her to do the same.
“The beautiful trail inspires me to walk four hours out of the day. Austin is my home. Austin is the town that saved me.”
Ashley knows that her journey never would have started had she not taken that first step and agreed to appear in the documentary. With the inspiration and help from Jen, her PE teacher and with the drive and motivation from within, Ashley has put herself on track for a life unlike any she’d ever imagined.
“None of it could have happened without me saying “yes” that February day. I’ve learned through it all that change only happens one step at a time. Just think if everyone took that one step, what a story that would be.”