FULL CIRCLE by Terri Lyne Carrington

Teri Lyne Carrington

When I look back on my life there are a lot of instances where people, especially women, have told me how much I inspire them, seeing me as fearless and daring. This was not always comfortable because I always felt like I was just being me. Factually speaking, I am a drummer, playing an instrument predominantly played by men in a male-dominated music industry, so I have had to be fearless and daring or I would not have gotten very far in my field. What I find interesting is how I’ve had to present myself in order to be accepted in this community. This was not a fully conscious effort on my part.

I was always pretty good at reading personalities and figuring out what needed to be done or said in order for a situation to produce or fulfill its maximum potential. My personality is strong, not uncommon for women in my field, and often people find that intimidating, so I naturally developed a way to present a more softened version of myself – a “me” that I actually grew to be quite fond of as well. Still, what repeatedly rings in my ears is my mother’s voice scolding me as a child for being too concerned with what other people think. And later in life, I recall my dad’s voice remarking on how it was the veteran musicians – one or two generations before mine – that hired and supported me the most, indicating that I was never fully accepted by the majority of my peers. And to be noted, I was nearly peerless on my instrument.

I believe that we are continuously coming into our own as human beings. This evolution can be a wonderful process. During the period that I worked with mostly musicians of a previous generation, I learned more than I could have ever imagined if they had not mentored me. Jack DeJohnnette, Clark Terry, Wayne Shorter, Lester Bowie, Herbie Hancock, Bernice Johnson Reagon, as well as my big sister-friends that were hovering around 10 years my senior; Dianne Reeves, Patrice Rushen, Cassandra Wilson. All of these people helped to create a nurturing community that I called home, literally and figuratively. I was able to be open, honest and a work in progress, while still trying to figure out how I fit into the dynamic of the male centered jazz culture.

As I matured, I discovered that a big part of the “me” had developed for the comfort of others. I toed the line of what would be considered acceptable social behavior for women in the ’80’s and ’90’s, and the far less acceptable behavior of a woman that wanted the same societal freedoms of her male counterparts, comfortably going toe to toe with them as well, a balancing act that can be tiresome. Well, now in my 50s, as cliché as it may sound, I am finally daring to be my fabulous self, however that turns out, without regard for other people’s expectations.

I am finally realizing how much time I spent and wasted on trying to fit into various boxes–from worrying about who likes me, or who doesn’t, to worrying about my pant size or my hairstyle. Dianne Reeves once told me that I spent too much time trying to find “what is hip?” and that I did not realize that I am “what is hip!” I thought about that one day and the truth in her statement brought me to tears. Though I am confident, intelligent, strong-willed, and relatively outspoken, I have felt very much misunderstood over the course of my life and I finally get that I have some responsibility for that. I see that it takes a lot of courage to discover and to be your authentic self in an environment that is constantly telling you how to be.

Most of us are complex people that find it difficult to be free enough to outwardly show the beauty and neurosis of our many complexities, whether in our personal relationships, career, or society in general. I know now that the freedom I’ve been looking for has always lived within, and that I have been my own road block to fully accessing it. This kind of freedom is a real possession. Though I still struggle to bring it to the exterior, I know that I have to in order to live my life genuinely, because it is not something that someone else will grant me.

I have had many examples that have brought these principles to light for me. When I tried to make a CD after the success of my Grammy-nominated debut CD in 1989, I could not get arrested. I went over 10 years without label interest, but when I invested in myself, produced and paid for it on my own, my career trajectory changed to being a solo artist that has since won three Grammy awards, creating the art autonomously.

With all the praise, awards and critical acclaim I have received over the years, outward reinforcement of my being “fabulous” never really stuck with me because career accomplishments alone did not make me feel complete. It is my personal growth and discovery of self that makes me feel more fabulous every year, and contributes heavily to my faith, confidence and perseverance. Without these things, I could not successfully pass down my knowledge and experience to others.

The one event that has made me feel especially fabulous is my decision to raise a child, which has now been an 11-year journey. Having a child, something that is simple for (or even expected of) many women, has presented its challenges, but I would not trade the experience for anything in the world. It takes work, sacrifice and commitment to adapt – regularly. I had romanticized parenthood, but now I see how fabulous mothers truly are. It is the hardest thing I have ever done! Although co-parenting is not always easy, we are both grateful and proud to be parents to an amazing little boy. I had faith that the right “child spirit” would choose us, and I still believe that to be true. Though my family is being formed alternatively, there is a natural joy and sense of purpose that comes with this, and I am so glad I did not allow the business of my career to rob me of this experience.

I moved back to my hometown a little over 10 years ago, and I am now far away from everything I knew and loved in Southern California, but this chapter is still being written and I trust the universe to unfold the future as it should. I am now the Zildjian Chair in Performance at Berklee Global Jazz Institute, so my life has come full circle, teaching at the same college I attended over 30 years ago.

This is who I am – an artist, a mother, a hope-to-be grandmother, as well as a daughter and a teacher, and I dare to be fabulous!

Terri Lyne Carrington Grammy

Terri Lyne Carrington was given her first set of drums at the age of seven, and by the age of 11, she received a full scholarship to the prestigious Berklee College of Music. She has toured with Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Stan Getz, Al Jarreau and others, and is a three-time GRAMMY award-winning artist and producer. She is also the Zildjian Chair in Performance at Berklee Global Jazz Institute.  


A SHY TV ANCHOR by Wendy Tokuda

Wendy Tokuda

I am a shy person at my core, but no one believes this because for almost 40 years, I made my living as a TV news anchor and reporter.

It’s true. When I was little, I was so shy that I wouldn’t go trick-or-treating. My brothers and sisters would come back with huge bags of candy, dumping them on the floor and running out again for more. I can still see them, breathless with sugar-charged excitement, trying to get me to come along, but the idea of knocking on the doors of strangers or even neighbors was just too terrifying.

Having to sell Girl Scout cookies door to door was torture. At one home, the lady made my sister and I come inside to kvell over our little uniforms. I wore one of those little Brownie beanies. I still remember the kvelling– INSIDE A STRANGER’S HOUSE. It was mortifying. 

Wendy Tokuda girl scoutWhat I enjoyed most was playing by myself in our small backyard. My dad made me a bird feeder and in the spring the birds would nest in the Hawthorne trees next to my bedroom window. My favorite childhood memory is watching the whole nesting process, from the egg laying all the way to that amazing day when the chicks fledged on unsteady wing, with their nervous parents shrieking hysterically.

I was a living stereotype of the nice little Japanese girl: quiet, polite, and obedient. My mom worried that I would spend my life being stepped on like a doormat. She told me that she spent much of her own life as a doormat, and the idea of me repeating that experience saddened her. My poor mom raised five kids, pretty much on her own. One of my brothers is disabled and one sister had emotional problems and my dad could never really handle it. If one of us did something wrong (and you know how kids are), he would go nuts, yelling, and often hitting my brothers.

This had a huge affect on all of us. I learned not to do anything wrong. I learned how to avoid conflict.

Staying under the radar was actually something the whole Japanese American community did. The WWII Internment Camps had only closed down in 1946 and our parents were busy trying to reestablish their homes and businesses. We lived with this unspoken truth: you could lose everything in a moment because of your race. There was less chance of that if we avoided conflict and studied hard. We set out to prove that we were good Americans.

All of this made me even less willing to take gambles and just reinforced my need to seek approval. Add being shy to that mix and you get the picture.

At some point though, I began to see that being shy, quiet and obedient meant you usually didn’t get what you wanted. Sometimes you didn’t even KNOW what you wanted because you were so used to being obedient.

My disabled brother and sister NEVER got what they wanted. Neither did my mom.

All of these quiet realizations led to THE MOMENT. I don’t personally remember this moment, but my mother did, and she has recounted THE MOMENT in vivid terms:

I was about 10 years old, and quietly (as usual) sitting at the kitchen table with Mom and her friend. My mom was talking about how worried she was about my siblings, when suddenly, as she tells it, I hit my fist on the table and announced, “I’m not going to be like that!!”

She was stunned. Such a dramatic pronouncement was totally out of character.

But in fact, after THE MOMENT, I began to change.

I don’t remember thinking any of this through at the time, nor was I consciously aware of how badly I wanted something different for myself. What I do remember is slowly starting my own little assertiveness training program, forcing myself to be more out there. Looking back, this took some serious willpower. I ramped up those efforts when we moved to a new neighborhood and I had to meet new kids.

It was really hard at first, foisting myself on strangers. I had to force myself to say “hi” and to start a conversation. It felt almost out-of-body strange- like acting- very inorganic.

One day, I found an old copy of How to Make Friends and Influence People, among my dad’s old books. That book taught me a lot. It taught me to break the ice by asking questions. I learned to listen well, and I came to realize that I was actually pretty good at making other people feel comfortable. I think this process helped me recognize that even though I was shy, I had natural communication skills.

High school for me became all about making friends and influencing people. Our school had a large percentage of Asian students- in fact our entire top 10 were Asian. But the Asian children of tiger moms were not getting what they wanted- they were keeping their heads down and worrying about grades. I really did not want to be stuck in that box. I became loud, opinionated, and outgoing. I was a cheerleader.

During college, Asian Americans were joining the larger civil rights movement. Being Japanese American became something I felt proud of, not something I felt I had to overcome. Women were pushing for equal rights- no more doormats. I was getting outside reinforcement to break stereotypes and to reach for something larger. I changed my major from Elementary Education to Political Science.

By the time I finished college and started thinking about a career, I was a more complex person- still shy inside, but with a learned ability to push past that, and meet, greet and pursue.

A Japanese American woman had just started reporting on local TV in Seattle. When she came on, my father would yell, “BARBARA’S ON TV!” and we’d all come running into the living room to watch.

Maybe I could do that, I thought…

Someone knew her and arranged for me to shadow her in the newsroom one morning. At some point during that visit, I recognized deep in my gut, this was where I belonged. This was what I really wanted.

Shyness can end your career in a newsroom. But the best thing I had going for me, shy or not, was persistence. That was crucial in landing that first on-air job, and later, in getting information. If someone said no, I had to find a way around it.

When I got that first job as a reporter, we had to have our scripts checked by the Managing Editor. I would stand politely in line while other reporters simply jumped in front of me. “Sorry Tokuda, I’m on deadline,” or “I’m late, I have to get in here!” I would think to myself in my small, shy voice, “I’m on a deadline too…”

I had to learn to push my way in and stand my ground. I forced myself way out of my comfort zone to approach strangers and get “man-on-the-street” interviews. Again, it felt awkward and inorganic at first, but I pushed through that feeling and just did it.

Having a microphone and a photographer at my side gave me a power I’d never had. “Excuse me, Channel 5 here,” I learned to say, walking taller. The waters would part, and we’d move through the crowd.

Another thing I liked about reporting- we weren’t IN the conflict; we were COVERING it. We were trained to be fair. Not to take sides, but to find the truth. The truth would speak for itself.

Reporting involved skills that regularly pushed me out of my cocoon- asking a lot of questions was the only way to get a story, and speaking out was the only way to be heard. I found that I had a competitive, ambitious side too, which seemed to grow with success.

One day my mother asked me, which are you: the shy little girl, or the pushy broad? I thought about it, and answered, “I guess I’m both.”

The truth was, sometimes that pushy bravado still felt a little forced. It would take many years for me to find the boundaries of what I was really made of and to feel truly integrated, whole and authentic. It took successes and failures and life to develop true confidence.

I was in my 50s by then . . .

I’m retired now. As I’ve gotten older, I care less about what others think, but the shy thing never totally goes away.

I still feel shy when we go to parties with a lot of strangers or if I have to meet an important person. During the election this fall, I had to gather all my courage to hand out leaflets at the farmer’s market for a friend who was running for office. For the most part, I now accept shyness as one of the many characteristics that make me who I am.

By the way, I have several bird feeders now. I am back out in the garden and spend hours in the forest doing environmental restoration work. It’s very healing after all those years of pushing. I am enjoying a quiet peace.

Wendy TokudaWendy Tokuda was a San Francisco Bay Area television staple for more than 30 years, as both TV news anchor and feature reporter. She retired from broadcast journalism in 2016.


MEET A MUSLIM by Moina Shaiq

Moina Shaiq

I have been involved in interfaith work for over a decade. The same open minded and receptive people attend those events, so it often feels like we’re preaching to the choir. Research indicates that 80% Americans have never met a Muslim. I want to make a difference by crossing that divide.

After the Paris and the San Bernardino shootings, I decided to put an ad in the local paper titled “Meet a Muslim.” What I had in mind was that I would spend an hour at a local coffeeshop. Whoever came, I would talk to. If no one came, I would just work on my laptop. That way, no time would be wasted.

I expected that a few people might come, but over 100 people attended that event. It was standing room only and it was pretty overwhelming. I invited people to ask me any questions they might have. No question would be off limits. They had all sorts of questions, but the questions were mainly related to current events. They were not interested in knowing about Islam or about me and my way of life. They didn’t ask me anything personal.

Moina Shaiq faces audience

I wanted to let them know that I am an ordinary American, just like they are. I am a mother, a wife, a daughter and a community member for the past 34 years. I have four beautiful children. One was born in North Carolina, a second one in Texas and my last two were born right here in Fremont. All went through Fremont schools. At one time, I was a little league mom, football mom and soccer mom. I also have a darling granddaughter. Both my husband and I have purchased our burial plots here and intend to die here.

I have been a community activist for over 16 years. I served as a Human Relations Commissioner for the city of Fremont and joined the boards of several non profits, because I was passionate about their work. In the process, of course, they learned about me too.

9/11 changed my life. I stayed home for 10 days after that happened. My family was very scared of a backlash and since I wear the hijab (head scarf) they didn’t let me go out. I knew that many people were uninformed about Islam and Muslims and that their lack of knowledge or personal exposure was prompting much of that fear. I decided that I wanted my fellow Americans to know about me and my faith, so I started getting more involved in the community, attending as many city events as possible.

One day after the Fort Hood shooting, when a Marine opened fire and killed several of his colleagues, I went to drop my daughter off at her soccer practice. Usually, after I dropped her off I would walk around the park, but that day I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I was feeling guilty, like I had done something wrong, but beyond that, I was truly scared. After sitting in my car for a while, I thought, I can’t just sit here. I drummed up the courage and got out of my car. I walked, but I couldn’t make eye contact with anyone. When I  posted a mention of this on Facebook, a Christian friend was so moved that she wore a hijab the next day, not only to commute to work, but the whole day, in solidarity.

Moina Shaiq answers questionsWhen I publicized my first “Meet a Muslim” event in the local newspaper, a non-Muslim friend noticed the ad and called me to relay his concern about my safety. He said that by putting myself out there, I could become a very easy target. He encouraged me to contact the police and inform them of my plans. So I did. I informed the police chief and he immediately offered to send an officer to the event. I’ve hosted 10 of these events so far and thank God, most people have been very respectful.

One beautiful aspect of these events is the way my friends from different faiths have participated.  My technology guru is a very close Jewish friend who does social media for a living, but she is helping me behind the scenes because she is very supportive of my cause and wants to bring the community together. Another friend is a Deacon at a local church and has come to all my events. If he thinks that an answer to a particular question might be better understood if people also hear his perspective, he’ll offer that input. For example, when I’ve been asked about Sharia Law, he will give an analogy of the Canon law in Christianity and Halaqa law in Judiasm to help further explain.

I want to reach out to as many people as I can, not only in Fremont, but throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond. So far, I have spoken at places of worship, service group meetings, schools, coffee shops, a senior living facility, a mobile home park and a pizza place. I also ask people who attend these events to initiate a conversation of their own with family members, friends, co-workers or neighbors. I’d love to see these conversations happening in every community in the United States.

My “Meet a Muslim” conversations received a lot of media coverage. The San Francisco Chronicle ran a cover page story and KRON4  ran a nearly 10-minute segment on their evening television news. I also created a dedicated “Meet a Muslim” Facebook page for people to get more information.

I want to reach one heart at a time.

And yes, I do speak Urdu.

Moina ShaiqMoina Shaiq has been living in the United States for 38 years. She is a mother of four children and a grandmother of one. She is also a community activist who is devoted to building bridges of understanding.


Rebecca Chamaa

I am a simple woman. Most mornings, I get up, make coffee, write my blog, make a spinach, banana, yogurt and berry smoothie, take my medication, and then check in with all my social media accounts. My husband says I am easy to please. Some mornings he gets the coffee ready before I wake up, and I feel as if I have been given a birthday present. There is joy in my heart about routine, and all the little things.

I have paranoid schizophrenia and I know how bad a day can be. I can be overcome by social anxiety, or anxiety in general, or I can have paranoid thoughts that leave me fearful. On the worst days of my life I have been psychotic, a condition of the mind I wish no one had to experience.

Most of my adult life I have lived in a bubble along with my husband. We have protected and kept our life very private, even from close friends, in order to avoid judgment, ridicule, jokes, and special treatment.

When I say special treatment, I mean people behaving toward us in certain ways not based on our personalities, accomplishments, or behavior, but on assumptions surrounding my diagnosis. Recently, we decided to pop that bubble in a very big and public way.

My husband and I both posted an article on Facebook that was written by a mentor of mine about my courage. The courage she was referring to was my honesty in my writing groups about an illness I have battled since my 20s, the illness of schizophrenia. My writing groups were the only place where everyone was aware of my diagnosis. I simply couldn’t write poetry and memoir without revealing details of my mental illness, because much of my writing has to do with situations around having and struggling with schizophrenia.

Before my husband and I went public with the secret we had kept for over 17 years, we had many discussions about how people might react and how we’d respond. We had some near sleepless nights. We were very anxious because we felt our whole world was about to change.

We have received e-mails, calls, texts, Facebook messages, and letters in the mail. Most people have been very supportive, at least on the surface. I say that not to diminish their support, but to be honest. There is so much misinformation about schizophrenia (like that it’s multiple personality disorder, or that people with schizophrenia wear tinfoil hats, or do other bizarre things) that people respond from ignorance rather than understanding.

It is true that you can see some people with schizophrenia living on the street talking to voices only they can hear. It is also true that some people with schizophrenia are being treated in jails instead of hospitals. But these scenarios simply point to a system that is broken and not to everyone who has schizophrenia. The people I know with schizophrenia are trying to live as normally as possible while struggling with a brain disease.

Unfortunately, mental illness is more common than most people know or admit. The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) reports that one in four Americans will develop a mental illness in their lifetime. Those numbers definitely suggest that everyone reading this knows at least one person (probably more) who has battled with, or is currently battling with, a mental illness.

We have come a long way in accepting depression. And because of some very high profile people, we have come a long way in accepting bipolar disorder, but we have not moved forward much in regards to the stigma surrounding schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is still wildly misunderstood, and the people who suffer from it (openly) are often left out, or pushed out, of normal social situations.

On a daily basis I am subjected to people making jokes about hearing voices, people making jokes about paranoid delusions that people with a mental illness might actually experience. Of course the words psycho, nuts, crazy, schizo, wacked, mental, loony, etc. are all part of our common vocabulary.

I stayed in that bubble for almost 20 years because I was afraid that the world would judge me. I was afraid that everything I said and did would be considered a symptom of my illness rather than part of my personality or part of my character. And to be honest, in the case of many people, some of my worst fears have come true.

But even with that, I’m not sorry that we popped the bubble. I am now free to be me, both in public and in private, and I have the chance to use my life and my experience to help fight the stigma that left me in hiding all those years.

Maybe my honesty will make it easier for the next person to share. Hopefully, I can and will be a voice that helps pave a new path for those who want to live out in the open.

Zoo_booth3I don’t wish for a bigger house, a fancier car, designer clothes, or the latest in plastic surgery. I am happy with what I have. I am thankful for a day without voices keeping me from communicating with my husband, or friends. I am thankful for a day without the terror that I have died and gone to hell and there is no way out. I am thankful for a day that I don’t believe I am being poisoned or tape recorded or followed. I am thankful for a day I don’t believe God is directing my every move.

The medication I take is good at keeping me from experiencing psychosis, but there are still symptoms of my illness every day. You wouldn’t know it to look at me, but I have a great deal of paranoia around issues of food and eating. I spend ninety percent of my time alone, because I become easily overwhelmed in social settings. I have a group of really good friends, and I love spending time with them, but I lack social motivation. In fact, all kinds of motivation are a struggle.

It’s okay though. I have a good life. I have a roof over my head, running water, a comfortable bed, access to laundry facilities, transportation and good medical care. I am never really hungry or thirsty. I have someone who loves and cares about me. I am not living among a war or famine. The condition of my life is so much better than billions of people on the planet. I won’t complain.

Sure, living with paranoid schizophrenia is difficult, but so are millions of other things. Cancer is difficult. Diabetes is difficult. Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s are difficult. Who is to say which challenge is harder? Who is to say who has the more difficult path to walk? We walk the path we are given, and in my case, I look for the good along the way.

There is so much good, like a pink sunset, the laughter of a child, an unexpected call from a friend, French fries with lemon juice and feta cheese.

Mine is a beautiful life, even if some people wouldn’t agree. Too much negativity is a disability too, but it is not one I suffer from.

Rebecca ChamaaRebecca Chamaa’s poetry and essays have been published on Yahoo Health, The Mighty, Role Reboot, Serving House Journal, Structo, City Works, Voicewalks, San Diego Reader, and others. Her book, Pills, Poetry & Prose: Life with Schizophrenia is available online and she blogs at A Journey with You

AN INDEPENDENT WOMAN by Sohini Chakraborty

Sohini Chakraborty (Micky Wiswedel photographer Photo Courtsey Vital Voices)

I decided at a young age that I wanted to live my life as an independent woman. I know a lot of women are independent in spirit, but in my case, I also wanted to live on my own, outside of my family’s home. In the cultural context of life in India, this was very bold, as family is a big thing. The traditional way of life in India is that children continue to live with their parents or their families until they are young adults, usually until they marry. I was single, and I wanted to stay single, but I also wanted complete independence. I wanted to not only live in my own space, I also wanted to have financial independence. That was my choice, my decision alone. I was considered a rebel.

My mother died young, so I grew up living with my father. I was a dancer, but I had a degree in Sociology, so I think he wanted me to get a good government job. My decision to live independently was not a decision against him; it was a decision for myself. This was very different from the traditional or “normal” life of a woman in India and it was very, very challenging.

When I was 21 or 22 years old, I had a big idea that dance could change lives. I began to fully pursue that idea when a lot of people were saying that it wouldn’t work. It was a bold decision, but I’ve chosen to live life on my own terms. I think that my independent spirit has helped me to be successful.

Prior to starting Kolkata Sanved in 2004, I had spent about nine years pursuing my dream of changing women’s lives through dance. Most of that time was a constant struggle, but I decided that all those challenges provided me the opportunity to move ahead in life. That’s how I got to where I am today.

I had a daring dream that dance could change lives and I transformed it into an organization: Kolkata Sanved. It was only my dream, one person’s dream, but now it’s the collective dream of many women, and it is truly transforming lives.

For all women who speak Bengali, I share this video message (I have also inserted English subtitles:)


Sohini ChakrabortySohini Chakraborty is a sociologist, Ashoka Fellow, dance activist, and Founder/Director of Kolkata Sanved, which has expanded the notions of dance and traditional rehabilitation programs. Through Kolkata Sanved’s groundbreaking dance/movement therapy program, survivors of violence and trafficking release trauma, develop confidence, identify their own potential as human beings, and become independent and empowered individuals rather than victims.

A BODY OF WORK by Kelly Dobbins

Kelly Dobbins photo by Juan Carlos Lopez

I was raised in a small farm town in Oregon in a very athletic family. My brother was a professional fighter and a Gold Medal Champion, traveling around the world to places like Romania and Russia. He started boxing when he was six years old, and he would quite literally train all day long, so I pretty much grew up around a gym. Despite this exposure, I didn’t feel personally drawn to it.

I went to college and majored in business, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do in terms of a career. After graduation, I got a job at a construction company doing their accounting. I also started working out at a local gym. One day, the gym owner approached me and said, “You should get into bodybuilding.” I didn’t know anything about it, so he explained what it entailed. He added that he would be willing to train me for free, reasoning that it would be good publicity for his gym. He also told me that there was a show coming up in Portland, which was 60 miles from my hometown. I was naive at that time, not knowing what I was really getting into, so I said, “Cool, let’s do it!”

In the middle of my training, and before the Portland show, I found myself having to make a sudden move to California, which was a bummer. I was getting into bodybuilding and I didn’t want to stop. As soon as I got there, I immediately joined the local Gold’s Gym and became consumed with training — the bug had bitten me. I loved it so much that I even took a job there working at the front desk. I was 21 years old and I knew what I wanted to do.

Bodybuilding in California was big stuff compared to where I came from in Oregon. There were lots of competitors and bodybuilders around me. The support was strong and my body got even stronger. When I finally did my first amateur show, I won! And from there it went. I just kept going and learning more about the sport. I just loved it. My major goal was to “do the Sacramento,” because it was a big National qualifying show. To qualify for the Nationals, you have to place in the top three, so it’s not easy. I trained and competed and guess what? I won. I qualified for the Nationals!

After “the Sacramento,” I took a couple of years off from competing to train, because I was really small and the girls competing in the Nationals were relatively big. I just couldn’t compete with them at my size. I started training really hard and was always at the gym. That’s when I met my husband, Rick. He was also at Gold’s Gym, working out. You might say he was dedicated; he totally set his sights on winning me over. I was dating the manager at that time, who obviously didn’t much care for it, but Rick would sit on the steps and wait for me and wouldn’t leave. What can I say? It worked. He stole me away.

Rick became my personal trainer and that’s when I really took off. He’s been my trainer, my nutritionist, and my choreographer, which can make our relationship rough during pre-contest time. I’ve gotta say, it’s not that fun. Sometimes, I’m just exhausted and I want him to focus on being my husband, not my trainer.

To train for a contest, we start 16 weeks prior to the event. The diet is a huge part of it. At 16 weeks prior, I cut out dairy and fruit. The fructose in fruit is the main source of carbohydrates from sugar, and it goes straight to your liver, so if your liver is already full with glycogen, the sugar turns into fat. I also start limiting alcohol. Believe me, I like my daily glass of wine, but I start cutting it down to maybe four days a week, or three. At the 12-week mark, it gets tough; I start weighing and measuring everything down to the ounce. There are limited amounts of things I can eat: small amounts of protein, broccoli, yams, and brown rice. At 10 and 8 weeks out, I carb-deplete a lot. so I can go into ketosis. Fortunately, Rick monitors me on a daily basis.

A typical day during pre-contest means that I get up at 4:00AM. and do an hour of cardio. Then, I do some weight training. Then I head to work and train my own clients. At mid-day, I do another hour of cardio and more training. And finally, I do one more hour in the evening. The last week before the contest, I don’t train at all. That’s because the cuts won’t be there. You want your muscles to relax so your cuts will be visible when you pose.

Every contest is a challenge. I get four to six weeks out and I think to myself, “Why the hell am I doing this?” When you can’t eat and you’re carb-depleted, you’re really weak minded. Everyone around you is eating. You have to stay strong. It’s different when you’re one week out — you’re almost there.

My goal to compete at the National level happened last year. At the 2007 USA Championship in Las Vegas I took third, which is huge, because there are so many women competing at that level. Most women do those shows to turn pro, which is not a goal of mine. Honestly, if I turn pro, I’m toast. They’re huge women.

I have to work harder than most of the women in the amateur contests, because there’s no test for performance-enhancing substances, and many of the bodybuilders take advantage of that. I see what using them will do and I have no interest in doing that to my body. I have a life ahead of me, you know? Fortunately, they want us to compete smaller now,  so that’s to my advantage. I only came in 6th in the last championship, because they thought I was too hard, too shredded. The rumor was that they wanted us to come in 20 percent softer, but it’s really hard, because you can never really know what the judges are looking for.

For national competitions, you weigh in on Thursday night. On Saturday, they do the pre-judging. There’s a pump-up room in the back and there are bodybuilders there that oil you up. Then you go up to the stage and do quarter turns and a 60-second routine without music. They want you to look simple for the pre-judging. Nothing fancy. Your hair is usually up. When you come back and do your one-and-a-half minute routine to the music, you get dolled up. I can hear Rick to the side of the stage, coaching me as I pose. People in the audience are cheering. Friends have come from all over. It’s really exciting.

There is so much discipline involved. Everyone asks me why I love it and I can never give a definite answer. I love taking my body to the limit, but I also love to compete. I love the actual training and I love to see my body progress.

I should see a psychiatrist about this because I work my ass off, but I’m uncomfortable going out in public! I’m kind of a freak in public. I joke about this, but it’s true. I stay covered up. I’m getting a little more comfortable with it now, but even when it’s hot, I’ll probably cover up. If I’m with a guy or with Rick, I’ll go sleeveless, but otherwise, I won’t. I’ve been competing for 20 years, so it’s been a long time. I can’t think of any negative things that happen; I always get positive reactions, but I’m just uncomfortable with the attention. People always stare, even if I’m not in pre-contest shape. I have my own personal training gym now and when I’m out with clients, they will always comment on the way people stare at me. I don’t like it, even though I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished. Go figure, right?

My mother and father are super supportive and proud of me. I’m different from my brother because of how I look, so it’s not really comparable that way, but they’ve always been proud. They love it. My mom is actually pissed off now because she hasn’t gotten the latest pictures from my last contest. I laughed and said, “Mom, I haven’t gotten any.”

I have two girls who are now 20 and 22 years old, respectively, and I enjoy being with them on my down time. We’re great friends and we laugh a lot. I’m proud of them, and they’ve always been proud of me. They’ve seen me train and compete since they were very little.

I’m proud of myself for being so disciplined. Doing this isn’t easy. I may or may not compete in the Nationals, coming up in November. I’m not sure yet. I’m already part way there from having trained for the last contest, but I don’t know if I’m up for the intense dieting. We’ll see. I started dieting a little this week . . . just in case.

Kelly DobbinsKelly Dobbins has been competing in amateur bodybuilding championships for over 30 years. She resides in Oakland, California, and owns her own personal training facility appropriately named Kelly’s Gym. She invites you to come for a complementary consultation! Just mention Dare To Be Fabulous when you call. (Tel: 510-601-5432.)  

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE CLICK by Barbara Stitzer

All About the Click

When I was a little girl, every shooting star, every coin tossed into every fountain, every candle blow of the birthday cake candles resulted in the same wish: to be the same as everyone else. I used to make lists of how different I was from everyone else. I had dark, curly, frizzy hair, in the land of the blonde and blue. I was way, way taller than everyone else, 5’10” by the time I was twelve. My parents were 43 and 47 when I was born, so everyone told me that I was adopted or that I was abandoned by my “real” parents and living with my grandparents, and I kind of believed them.

The lists grew. I couldn’t draw a straight line, or even color within the lines. I was left-handed, which meant that I had to use those little snub nosed left handed scissors, as if by virtue of the fact that you’re left-handed, you are going to lose control of your left hand and start flailing around and stabbing yourself if you have a real scissor.

I had the highest IQ in the State of California at the time, which I desperately tried to hide. But every single month, a group of adults invaded my classroom with pads and pens and “studied” me, which of course made me immensely popular with the other kids. I skipped a grade, so that I, with my one of a kind holiday birthday, the Fourth of July, was almost two years younger and now even more uncoordinated and immature than all of the other kids in my class, which was really great when I was ten years old in sixth grade and looked on in horror from my Barbie Friendship as take two of the Summer of Love raged on five feet from me. Tod Fisher, bless his sweet little redheaded soul, would walk up and hold a softball on my bat for me to hit it. Even then, actual contact with the ball was iffy at best.

I joined a group of kids who put on musicals to raise my self confidence. When I sang, people actually, physically turned around and asked me to stop. So I mouthed. For four years.

Although I got into Stanford, Harvard, UCLA, and more, my mom made me go to the crappy loser school down the street, because when I started applying to college, I was only 14. After graduation, I couldn’t muster any enthusiasm to interview. Besides, my mom had a big dream for me: a job at the DMV. “It’s so safe”, she’d coo, her minty green eyes shining. “Once you get in, you’re in for the rest of your life, benefits, two whole weeks vacation,” she pleaded. So I did the only thing I could do: I became an actress. Big mistake for someone with no self-confidence. In one day of auditions, I was too tall, too short, too fat, too skinny, too pretty, AND not pretty enough.

When my mom came down with lung cancer, I went to stay with her while I decided what I wanted to do with my life. Well, things got really sad, and I bought a used Canon AE1 camera to keep my mind off it. There is a riverbed behind my parents home in Los Angeles, and when it rains, which isn’t very often, some bright guy gets the idea to take a boat down the riverbed and they usually drown, so about three days after I bought my little camera, the news crews were there filming a helicopter that was training with a dummy to rescue those guys, so I took my camera and ran down there.

I didn’t have a press pass, so they wouldn’t let me around the 8 foot chain link fence to get to where the action was, so I was trying to shoot through the fence, and this guy turned around and asked me what I was doing. “I’m taking pictures, duh” I said, and he’s like, “Well, you’re on the wrong side of the fence.” I said, “I know, I’m new at this, and they said that I couldn’t go over there.” He said, “Look, if you want the shot, if you really want this shot, just jump the fence.”

I’m still not sure why I decided to jump that fence. But something inside me welled up, and even though I was in high heels, a little short skirt, nylons, and was holding my purse, I did it. I jumped the fence. And he just thought it was so funny — there I was with my little manual pawn shop camera, and he had this super space age digital model. But I didn’t care. I shot for all I was worth. I bobbed and weaved, I laid down and shot up, I shot through a broken bottle top. I felt powerful, invincible.

After it was over, he asked me to “come to his ‘place’ and develop the film.” I wasn’t about to go to any guy’s “place” — I had, after all, just gotten OUT of that business s –but then he gave me his card, and it turned out that he was the head of a large Los Angeles area newspaper’s photo department, so I went back to the newspaper’s office with him, and lo and behold, my picture was better than his. “Whoa, that’s so cool!” he said. Where did you get an eye that let you see like that?” It was the first time that anyone had ever looked at my difference as a good thing. I was stunned. He published my shot and gave me a job.

Things just clicked after that. For the first time ever, everything I did was right. The Northridge earthquake came and our paper won a Pulitzer for coverage, and then everyone under the sun wanted to see my portfolio. I shot fashion, food, jewelry, editorials, magazine covers, everything. I got on an airplane to North Dakota for an assignment to shoot an RV show, switched seats with a guy, and wound up sitting next to the cutest, sweetest, funniest, most fascinating man who I married exactly a year later in a dream ceremony at the Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel, followed by a dream honeymoon on a private island in Fiji.

I opened a studio in my new home state, and was booked a year out immediately. Why? Because I was different! I had my subjects wade in a waterfall, balance on train tracks, roll in mud. Nothing was too out there for me. Everything I touched turned to gold. I started winning awards. I got invited to a press trip in St. Kitts, in the Caribbean, got bored during the presentation and went out to feed the monkeys. An older gentleman came and sat down with me, and we started talking and laughing at how stupid the meeting was. It turned out that he was the Minister of Tourism, and that was his meeting! He invited me back to shoot a calendar, and again to shoot all of the tourism for the island. I insisted on bringing my own models from North Dakota. None of them had ever been on a plane before, much less seen the ocean. Watching their faces was awesome. People saw those shots, and we kept getting invited to different islands to shoot. My oldest daughter, Zoe, has been to 16 islands shooting with me, and my youngest, Tenley, nine.

I learned to digitally paint my photographs, and my work has taken a new turn. One of my paintings won grand prize in a contest and was sold at auction for $25,000 to a collector in Austria. When he flew me out to sign it in front of him, I asked him why he would pay so much for my painting, and he took my hand, looked me squarely in the eye, and replied, “Oh my dear, it’s going up. Way up.”

I’ve been busy photographing and painting people from around the world who fly to see me or fly me to their area of the world to work with them. I’ve built a reputation on having an individual sense of style, and people seem to really value my view of who they are behind the facade. Now if only people would quit asking me to stop when I sing.

Barbara Stitzer

Barbara Stitzer is the mother of two perfect, popular, and brilliant daughters, Zoe and Tenley, and her fabulous, handsome, athletic right-handed husband, Buzz, who, despite her utter lack of respect for keeping anything neat and clean, treats her like the princess she always hoped she was. She has won over 400 local, regional, and national awards, and is available for photographic commissions throughout the world.

IN VINO VERITAS by Ginny Lambrix

In Vino Veritas Ginny Lambrix

Writing about what makes a person fabulous is incredibly easy, unless that person is you. Suddenly you are struck with writing something similar to a personal ad and my first few lines were something like “loves slugs, and ice cream, but not slug ice cream”. Perhaps my ad would go unanswered? But seriously, one of the hardest things about writing this story was realizing how difficult it must have been for my parents to watch a daughter whose sole goal in adulthood was to flee her childhood. I wish that I could instead write about them and the friends who have helped me along the way. I am sure it was not easy for them and they are truly fabulous. But here is my story.

I spent much of my adolescence roaming the fields around our farm in upstate New York, planning my escape. In retrospect, it was not that life was so bad. Shoveling up after cows was just such a far cry from the pages of the fashion magazines that I subscribed to. I wanted to live in a city, be sophisticated and look bored and mysterious. When I was accepted to Colgate University and awarded some scholarship money, I knew that my calculated efforts were paying off. With glee, I shed my McDonald’s after school polyester uniform, loaded up my mother’s car, and promised to never look back.

Even though the university was a short 45 minutes drive from the farm, I spent the holidays at school working. I could not see beyond the campus that held the promise of success, glamour and a glimpse of a world that was so completely foreign. My new friends willingly made me their project, giving me makeovers and things to wear. It was surreal. At some level though, I never quite left behind my love of the land and the outdoors. In the summer, while my friends took off to work as interns in NYC, I was holding a garage sale to raise money to move to New Mexico, where I lived and worked in a state park selling hot dogs and hiking. Not the fast track to corporate success, but I was happy. While I could now dress reasonably well and navigate a cocktail party, the core of who I was proved to be much more resilient…

I am grateful that the twists and turns of life have led me back to farming. Ironically, when I went to apply for a job as viticulturist at De Loach Vineyards, the biggest impediment seemed to be that I was dressed too well to possibly be a farmer! I had to convince the French owner of the company, Jean Charles, that I could be completely happy in grubby clothes, with dirt under my nails. My Colgate friends would have been so proud! I think I even said “I can be really dirty” and then turned eight shades of red as I back pedaled. Fortunately the opportunity was granted.

My work is now completely interwoven into my life. I help guide our farmers (that Truett-Hurst sources fruit from) towards organic and biodynamic farming practices, showing them the things that their piece of land is trying to tell them. A combination of awe, when a conventionally farmed vineyard suddenly comes to life when the chemicals are removed, and passion for making great wine have forged friendships that are real. The people I work with both at the wineries and in the fields have become a second family.

I have no illusions about being the most beautiful, intelligent, athletic, or interesting woman around — the competition is too fierce. Although more than one person might nominate me for being the most stubborn!

What makes me unique is a reverence for nature, a commitment to being true to myself, and the ability to open other people’s hearts to the lessons that can be learned from the earth. Each season, together, we learn new things about the complexity and beauty of life. These resonate within us, and, if we are lucky impart the finished wines with a fresh and elegant voice.

As partner, Ginny Lambrix oversees winemaking for the brands of Truett-Hurst Inc. which also consist of VML Winery , named after her (Virginia Marie Lambrix). Not only is Ginny one of a handful of women vineyard managers blazing trails in the wine industry, she has led the way for establishing sustainable farming in grape-growing practices.


Doris Granny D Haddock

Doris “Granny D” Haddock received a lot of attention when she walked across the United States to raise awareness of campaign finance reform. She did this at the tender young age of  89. This story is an excerpt from her book about that experience, provided exclusively for Dare to be Fabulous.

Jim and I, at long last, got in the vehicle and drove home to Dublin, New Hampshire. My, it was delicious to see the miles fly by and not have to even think about walking them! And then my town ahead, and there it is! And the old house! My old chair! Bathtub! Books! Ahh, my tired bones!

On Tuesday morning I made my way back to my old friends – our Tuesday Morning Academy. They were happy to see me, but it was rather as if I had been ill for a time or off on a cruise. Within a few minutes, I was one of the girls again – except for one difference. One of my friends, after a few minutes of conversation about my walk, said she didn’t see what was so important about campaign finance reform.

It is reported that I took her rather sharply to task with a presentation of memorable ferocity. Well, was that me? Old Doris? It was not the Doris who had sat meekly among them a year and a quarter earlier. Even at my age, I had changed quite a bit.

For the first time in my long life, I was clearly not afraid of what someone might think of me – I cared more about the issue than my vain self. That transition was worth the walk, though I must keep working on it.

Several weeks later I received a call. A group of campaign finance reformers from the Alliance for Democracy were going into the Capitol Rotunda to petition for the redress of our grievance against campaign corruption. Yes, I said – I would go with them this time. I could care less anymore if people thought I was crazy. This was a way to push the issue forward – to demonstrate the depth of our concern and to take the pain of social change upon ourselves.

So I returned to Washington. On the evening of April 20, 2000, I walked from a train at Union Station to a church building near the Supreme Court. There I was to meet thirty-one others who would risk arrest. I was a bit late, as the streets of Washington can be confusing. I entered a room where the thirty-one were seated in chairs gathered in a great circle, and my perilous seat waited empty for me.

In the few steps across the room, I reminded myself that my whole life had been spent worrying too much about what others thought about me. Go ahead, old girl, have a seat.

It was a comfortably well-worn chair, and I looked around with wonder at the smiling people around me, bathed as they were in the golden light of the old room. Many had lost themselves to their causes many years ago. Some, like me, were young beginners.

I was arrested the next morning for reading the Declaration of Independence in a calm voice in the Rotunda. I did so to make the point that we must declare our independence from campaign corruption. My wrists were pulled behind me and cuffed. I was taken away to jail along with the others. When you jump fully into the river of your values, every moment glows with a blissful joy, even when your arms hurt behind you.

But, oh, dear husband, Jim! Are you up there looking down, laughing at me in the pokey? Get used to it, dear.

The fear of not being liked – of not belonging – has been central in my life. “She’s not like the others. She’s different. Sometimes I wonder if she’s mine at all, like I found her in a basket on my front doorstep,” I overheard my mother say when I was seven.

Not knowing how else to proceed, I embraced the idea that I was different. I was a princess in disguise. The pink granite Laconia Public Library, complete with turret, became my castle, and I read every adventure book in it. At home, my nose was always in a book until Mama scolded me to do my chores.

That overheard conversation, and that uncertainty helped me to become well read and adventurous, which has made me a connoisseur of life and of people. It has sent me on a lifetime of adventures – I can’t imagine how boring I might have otherwise become to others and to myself.

It does help to know that I was, in fact, loved. At Sybil’s wake, when a priest asked Mama who would be taking care of her now that Sybil was gone, Mama’s eyes brightened with joy when I said, “Why, she will be coming to live with me, won’t you, Mama?” It may have been only the sparkle of an extinguished worry, but I have clung to it.

Do we see who we are, finally? Do we see, behind the curtain, the scars and the insecurities that have controlled us? And when we see them and look them squarely in the eye, do they lose their power over us, backing down from their bullying bluster? Indeed they do. We become free to take our lie in whatever shape it has become, and find a good and enjoyable use for it, serving others and ourselves.

Interesting! After all this chattering, I have not told you five minute’s worth about my long career in the shoe industry. For so many years, that was all I could think about, and now it hardly seems worth bringing up. I think the lesson there is that a career, in the end, is a much smaller part of our lives than we can possibly imagine at the time. Our career distracts us from our real work, so we must learn to see past the limits of that blinkered world. All those years condense now in my mind to a chuckle.

The aftermath of my arrest was that I was later brought before the judge in Washington for my crime of being a troublesome person. While I hoped he would not put an old woman in jail for six months for reading the Declaration of Independence in the Capitol, as well he could, I yet worried that perhaps all of this, all of me, had been silly and he would now send me away to contemplate my silliness for a few months. As he sat expressionless in his great robe, I wondered what this wise-looking old man thought.

Judge Hamilton finally spoke, and most mercifully. He sentenced me, and the others, to the time we had already served, and he added these words of heavenly grace:

“As you know, the strength of our great country lies in its Constitution and her laws and in her courts. But more fundamentally, the strength of our great country lies in the resolve of her citizens to stand up for what is right when the masses are silent. And, unfortunately, sometimes it becomes the lot of the few, sometimes like yourselves, to stand up for what’s right when the masses are silent.”

His honor gave me a fine hug in his chambers afterward. His staff members were tearful and I was tearful, and America felt like my own country again.

So I am happy for how my walk has turned out, and for how my life has turned out. I am thankful for the troubles that have shaped me. If you and I were having a cup of tea and you were telling me your stories, as I have told you mine, I would see that it was your hard times that made you so interesting, so wise and able to laugh at life. Aren’t we lucky, friend, to be the creatures of such a genius Creator that even our darkest troubles graciously serve to deepen and wide our hearts? And all our memories, like days cast in amber, glow more beautifully through the years as the happy endings finally reveal themselves and flow slowly into the bright and mysterious river of the Divine.

Well, I am not finished … with my life or with my passion for campaign finance reform. There is almost always time to find another victory, another happy ending. I hope that is your feeling about life, too.

Granny D

Doris “Granny D” Haddock  continued to speak publicly and travel the country for campaign finance reform until she passed away in 2010, six weeks after her 100th birthday. 


Excerpt from GRANNY D: WALKING ACROSS AMERICA IN MY NINETIETH YEAR by Doris Haddock and Dennis Burke, copyright © 2001 by Doris Haddock and Dennis Burke. Used by permission of Villard Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. 


Gold Medal Mermaid

When you’re the odd kid out at a small Catholic grammar school, you’re destined to get picked last for every kickball game. In my tiny class of 17, the odd kid out was me. I suppose it was not only inevitable, but also a precursor for every success I’ve had. But at the time, it was traumatic, since, as middle-school popularity goes, I had several things going against me.

First, I kind of enjoyed learning, which was completely uncool. I did my homework, I tried to get the right answers, and I refused to let anyone copy off me. Except for the boy I had a crush on. I helped him out once … and then felt incredibly guilty for the rest of the week. I was, undeniably, a goody-two-shoes.

Second strike against me was totally out of my control: my family was not rich. We lived in “that” side of town, or as I like to joke, eight houses and one drug dealer from the freeway. The freeway separated my sleepy, boring town from the crime-ridden city, which would later be called the “homicide capital of the country.” However, there was this handy little footbridge that went up and over the freeway … right at the end of my street. Anyone running from police cars on the other side of the freeway could handily find escape in our neighborhood.

Okay, really, it wasn’t that exciting or dangerous. We neighborhood kids played tag on our front lawns, and careened up and down the block on our bikes. Still, I did not have everyone over for swimming birthday parties in my backyard. The only pool we had was plastic and about 18 inches deep.

Strike three was my arm. My early medical records call my condition “congenital microdactyly.” Yeah, exactly what the Latin says: I was born with a small hand. To be more specific, my right elbow is fused, the bones in my lower arm barely grew at all from when I was a baby, and I have this tiny hand with three little fingers. No one else in my tiny grammar school class had that, and although it made little difference in the early years, by the time we were in junior high, my friends had all abandoned me for the “cool” crowd, which was the rest of the class. And, at the time, I was utterly convinced the reason they all stopped wanting to hang out with me was because of my stupid, ugly, rotten arm. It was, in my young view, the cause of all bad things that happened to me. I would eventually discover that I was totally wrong, but that was my reality at the time.

High school couldn’t come fast enough, as junior high dragged to an end. The last big hurdle before high school was The Eighth Grade Play. This was an honor-laden tradition, at my elementary school. The most popular kids always ended up with the lead roles. It was, I thought, my last chance at redemption, my last chance to prove to all those jerks who picked me last for kickball that I was, too, cool, and perfectly capable of doing anything I wanted.

While most of the previous classes got do actual known theatrical works, we got the less-well-known “Magical Musicals,” which consisted of a seemingly random collection of songs chosen by the music teacher, who was drawing heavily on The Little Mermaid. There was a sprinkling of stuff from Little Shop of Horrors and Les Miserables, but most of it was by Disney.

As the solos got assigned, I sat patiently waiting for mine. I was in the church choir and was feeling confident. After all, I could hear when people around me were singing the wrong notes, when they were off pitch. I could pick out harmonies, and taught myself to read music more or less. Singing was something I could do. But at the end of class, when, as expected, the Queen of the Popular Crowd got the best songs, and the rest of the solos were handed out, I was without one. I was disappointed, but there was a ray of hope.

“That’s it for today,” our teacher said, “but we might add another solo or two. Probably Ariel’s solo from The Little Mermaid. We’ll talk about it next week.”

On our way back to homeroom, I planned. I would have a solo part in The Eighth Grade Play, and then they would have to respect me. I made a mental note to look for my Little Mermaid soundtrack. Of course, I didn’t have to look hard. The soundtrack was in my tape player, of course, since it was, secretly, my favorite movie. A little voice in the back of my head wondered if this really was my ticket to respect, since it was no longer cool to like The Little Mermaid. But I decided to ignore that little voice. If anyone asked how I knew all the words to the song, I could just say, “Oh, it USED to be my favorite movie.”

I dug out pen and notebook, and set the tape deck next to me on the bed. Painstakingly, I hit play, stop, rewind, play, stop, rewind, for what seemed like hours until I had transcribed every single lyric into my notebook. I then spent the next week listening to the song incessantly, memorizing every beat. The next week in music class, I knew I’d get the solo. No one else cares enough, I thought, no one else would work this hard to sing a stupid Little Mermaid song. At that point, it wasn’t about what song I would sing. Clearly, any song was good enough for me, so long as it was a solo.

The next week in music class we practiced and practiced the choral numbers. And we watched some of the soloists prefect their performances. We did that over and over for the next several weeks. I went in there every week, hoping that the teacher would ask for tryouts for the part, but she never asked. “She forgot,” I said to myself one week near the end. “Oh well. High school is almost here. It doesn’t matter.”

In fact, that day, I had other, grown-up things on my mind, like the fact that I had, for the first time, gotten my period. Really, I just wanted to go home. Music class, let alone standing up in front of everyone to sing a song, one I would probably get teased for knowing, was the last, last thing I wanted to do. But it was apparently my fate. I ended up sitting in the exact middle of my classmates when the music teacher asked if anyone knew the words to the Little Mermaid solo. I looked around at my silent classmates. Everyone was looking to see who would put their hand up. No one did, and I finally, sort-of, kind-of half-raised my hand.

“Kelly?” was the surprised response from the teacher. “Um, okay, stand up.”

Before I could think about it, she hit play and I was standing in the middle of my class singing along with Ariel. I finished, and the teacher hit stop. Our gymnasium was awfully silent. Either it was really good or really bad, because no one was even moving. And then it happened.

“That was really good, Kelly,” I heard her voice say. No, not the teacher. The Queen of the Popular Crowd. Relief washed over me, and I totally forgot about wanting to go home.

“Yeah, good job,” several of her minions chimed in.

I did it. See, they did think I was good at something—something other than school. I knew I was good at something, and now they did too, because I finally had the courage to just do what I wanted. I had been true to myself, and I had worked hard. The success of that moment was exhilarating.

That moment was over twenty years ago now, but it is still vividly real in my imagination, and its lesson enduring. In fact, I could have picked a hundred other moments in life when I dared to let Fabulous Me out of the box I tend to keep her in. Like many others, I sometimes hide, or disguise, or misplace the lady I discovered that day in eighth grade. It is a conscious decision to be fabulous, a decision I try to make on a daily basis.

Some days I’m more successful than others. On the really good days, the moments of daring, where I listened to my heart and followed my dreams and my desires, divorced from my inner critic and others’ expectations, my life has shot off like a rocket in exciting and new directions. The results of such forays have been stunning: Valedictorian of my college class and two gold medals in swimming at the 2004 Athens Paralympic Games. Fabulous Kelly hasn’t failed me yet, and honestly, I don’t think she ever will.

Kelly CrowleyKelly Crowley, a sports fanatic who happened to be born with a “funny right arm,” is a two-time, two-sport Paralympian. In 2012, she raced as a professional cyclist with Primal/Map My Ride Women’s Team, and won two bronze medals in cycling at the London Paralympic Games. Previously, she won two gold medals in swimming at the 2004 Athens Paralympic Games. Kelly was the valedictorian of her class at Santa Clara University, and has a Master’s Degree in Public Administration. Today, she is a USA Swimming coach and a sought-after speaker.