From the age of 11, I always wanted to be a Navy Helicopter Pilot. I saw a demonstration on my dad's ship, the USS De Wert FFG -- 45, on a day cruise and felt I saw my own future. I spent the rest of my time in school, and then in college, ensuring I was setting myself up to be able to accomplish my goals. I was accepted into flight school, and then was sent to my first fleet squadron and soon I was going on deployment.
While on deployment in the Mediterranean, I fell and broke my ankle. That split second changed both the length of my military service and the way I looked at myself.
I felt as though I had let everyone down: my family, my mentors, my fellow sailors and myself. I never wanted the fact that I was a woman to lead anyone to judge me one way or another, or have assumptions as to what I could accomplish. When I fell, I believed it would define me as a failure for the rest of my life. I was sucked into the "Why did this happen to me?!" mindset, and this turned into depression and anxiety.
During my recovery, my physical therapist suggested I try yoga. While on my mat, I found myself only focusing on my breath and body -- and not that I would never fly again, never deploy again or never put on a uniform again. While on my mat, I was able to clear my head, and started to see my body as being able to accomplish something, as opposed to only being able to fail.
This is why I started Yoga 4 Change. Being able to set goals and accomplish them, and being able to clear my head is what I found while on my mat. I wanted to bring these two specific ideas to populations who may never have had the opportunity to experience or learn positive and healthy ways to clear their head or accomplish something they set their mind to. I also learned that one instance should not define how we look at ourselves.
By starting my business, I set out on a bold path. I had to fully believe in what I was doing, because bringing yoga to the populations Yoga 4 Change serves is a unique concept. Yoga 4 Change brings our programs to veterans, incarcerated individuals, vulnerable youth and those suffering from substance abuse.
When I started, I naively thought that because we were a nonprofit, and because we were teaching out of the box techniques to underrepresented populations, it would be easy to obtain clients, easy to bring in donations, easy to reach sustainability. After three years, this is just now occurring. I did not know, or have any comprehension of, just how difficult starting a nonprofit would be. I attribute Yoga 4 Change's success to what I learned while serving in the military.
The 'never surrender' mentality did serve me well as I look back on the three years since Yoga 4 Change's inception. When I have to describe my business to a potential client or donor for example, I rely on my military training and the experience I gained working with the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University in terms of entrepreneurship training as well as my involvement with the VetSmallBiz Growth Challenge. Explaining such a unique business becomes easier when I'm able to pitch my company in 90 seconds with full confidence and demonstrating the positive measurable impact we have on thousands of individuals struggling with trauma.
As a result of my military training and IVMF support, I'm also able to look ahead and plan for the scaling up of Yoga 4 Change which is the really exciting part. So to me, being bold and setting goals is imperative to success in both the military and in the civilian world.
Kathryn Thomas most recently won 1st place in the IVMF Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit (V-WISE) Innovation Cup competition sponsored by Smart & Sexy. The VetSmallBiz Growth Challenge was sponsored by The Marcus Foundation.