I am not a normal woman – I have had an atypical path in life. I've endured love, death, mental illness, cancer and the privilege of defending our country. Through it all, I've worked as hard as possible. I do not want pity and I do not want fame. Because of the path I've chosen, I remind myself each day to be grateful to stand on U.S. soil and smile without a second thought.
To represent my pride and gratitude for the opportunities I have been given as an American, I will ring the NASDAQ bell on Veteran's Day in 2015. I will ring the bell to symbolize the fight against adversity and the war on terror. I will ring the bell as a proud woman entrepreneur, leader, athlete, military wife, and caregiver. I will ring the bell to represent the freedoms I have and my ability to make a difference and inspire others. Most importantly, I will ring the bell as someone who is proud of striving to make a difference each day.
Veterans fight for the freedoms of American citizens, and on Veteran's Day we should celebrate what those brave men and women have sacrificed. Veterans protect the U.S. so that each of its citizens has the ability to recognize the beauty in a sunrise and sunset without fear. Protecting our country allows us to maximize the experience every moment brings, and smile simply because we can. Politics and judgment aside, the military protects our country so that we not only survive, but laugh without restriction or fear.
Enter the World View
I have been driven to change the world since I was a child. I have no fear –empathy is my only restraint. I was fortunate enough to run marathons around the globe in second grade while enjoying the beauty of all things great and small. Nearly every weekend, I saw poverty and pain and beauty in new countries through my running shoes. From interviewing Slovenians about their liberation from communism to running through where “Life is Beautiful” was filmed on my 16th birthday, I was aware early on that I am an ‘old soul.'
Enter the Military
I joined the Air Force Academy after high school to serve my nation and lead others. I knew the military would allow me to serve at the tip of the spear in gaining leadership experience. I overcame the adversity of being in a male-dominated school, and prepared myself to fly, fight, and win regardless of the mission and always with a smile. I used every hardship and experience to mold myself into a person that turned passion into order. As a cadet, I volunteered to deploy with an aeromedical evacuation unit because I wanted to make sacrifices for an important purpose.
Enter Mental Illness
While at the academy, my brilliant, former microbiologist mother had a schizophrenic break and my family was left in shambles. My father lost his wife of 27 years and life as he knew it, and I lost my best friend to an overpowering and chaotic personality who wreaked havoc on my confidence. The delusions in my best friend's made me the target of her biggest lash-outs. I would never again be the child in our relationship.
I ultimately became the mother to my younger brother. He was caught in the aftermath of our mother's illness, and I watched him self-destruct for years before he rebounded. I rarely had a moment without a Rubik's cube of thoughts on how to fix every issue I encountered. I cried every morning, but used my sorrow as motivation. I vowed to make each day better than the next and prevent others from feeling any of the pain I endured.
My strength as a woman, military member, and athlete grew stronger with each level of responsibility that I took on. I became a logistics officer, married a pilot, deployed overseas, and continually asked how to better take care of my people. I grew stronger with each somber and eye-opening experience I had in the military and my personal life. I could not relate to those who were trite, and I could not bite my tongue when others were treated others poorly. I ran further, biked faster, and swam through my thoughts to meditate on how I could make a difference. Delivering clothes to my wandering, homeless mother during cold months was never in my plan.
I grew increasingly independent and resilient, and I embraced athletics as a way to not only keep my body healthy, but stay disciplined and encourage others. I learned early on that stagnation is detrimental in every way. I never took direct enemy fire, but my experiences overseas changed my life forever. I was a chaotic ball of sobering reality, deep empathy, desensitization, and anger. I couldn't stand anyone who embraced triviality. You cannot see my wounds, but they run deep.
Enter the Challenge of the Corporate World
At the end of my military commitment, I answered the corporate call and lessened the chance of continued separation in my home life. For five years I thrived in the civilian work environment by using my military skills to fine-tune processes and augment solutions. I was told it was easier to manage 10 B-string employees than supervising just one Liz – I took that as a compliment.
I was well aware I didn't know how to slow down. I enjoyed driving process and creating a streamlined corporate environment that valued the military.
Enter Cancer and the World of a Caregiver
I strive each day to use my military discipline as a reminder to how fragile life truly is. That became even clearer when my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and I became his caregiver. He had cancer in his lungs, spinal cord, hips, shoulders, and brain.
I moved closer to my father to fight on his behalf with every breath in my body. I waited through every clinical trial as his advocate. My father had become truly broken from the experience with my mother, and became my child in every sense of the word.
He asked me daily to make sure I did not let him die – a side effect of the tumors that were taking over his brain. They ultimately regressed his age while increasing his vulnerability. There were a few moments where I felt like I had truly died. I am still fighting this battle, but I've not once halted my work or physical fitness. From taking conference calls in the handicap shower to putting my clients on hold to take a 911 dispatch call, I made it my mission to keep the trajectory of my life in full throttle. My father's smile and eye contact during brain surgery alone will be ingrained in my mind for the rest of my life as a reminder that your attitude is what shapes you.
Enter Fitness to Repair Others
I used the gift of life to start training wounded warriors in triathlons and continue to encourage others to take care of the bodies that they have been given. The average American all too often wastes their health and forgets to protect their minds and souls. I made this part of my mission to race for myself, and race to inspire and encourage others to see what's possible. There is little that makes me happier in this world. I started my journey writing a book about using fitness to combat PTSD because I know of nothing else that scientifically or spiritually cures the soul more effectively.
Enter the Entrepreneur
As I juggled the inertia of my work and became increasingly appreciative for each day I was alive, I left the corporate world to make a bigger impact on the world. I wanted to help veterans and prove to myself that my entrepreneurial mindset would be fruitful. I had never had someone stop me from doing something that I set my mind to, and with that in mind I launched my company to drive change and see what I could accomplish. The obstacles that had been in my path in the past, and my realization that life was too short to waste, drove me on an aggressive yet realistic journey that brings me to today.
I stand at the bell to announce my revolt against social norms and take my career that much farther.
I ring the bell because I am thankful for my time in the military, to recognize other veterans, to be thankful for those still serving and to remind others that anything is truly possible with the freedoms we have been given. I ring the bell to emphasize that life is too short to not take care of your friends, sign up for the triathlon, or laugh at the word platypus and stop to see the sunrise.
I ring the bell as a reminder to take care of one another. I ring the bell because I am grateful, and because working hard, not taking no for an answer, and being kind will solve a number of issues at the end of the day.
I am proud to be a veteran, but I am truly proud to be alive and an American. Because of our heroes, we can thrive in the face of hardship.
I am appreciative Verizon also understands this. Look for me on TV!