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The Power of Inclusion

Sports were always my outlet. For absolutely everything. Until I thought I found a better

life with heroin. But I will get to that. Being a part of something was always something I’ve struggled with pretty much my entire life. It really didn’t matter what age I was; I was always wanting to be with someone because I never wanted to be alone. The odd thing about it is that I have huge families on both of my parents’ sides. We always got together for the holidays and birthdays too when I was a kid.

When I went into 3rd grade that’s when sports started for me. I played T-ball and softball only because my dad was my coach. I definitely wasn’t into it as much as he was, but I think I was good at it for that age anyway. He absolutely loved every single sport Adam, my brother, and I was in. He was always involved. He was my biggest cheerleader, and yes cheerleading IS a sport!! He was also the custodian (we could never call him a janitor because he would get offended) at my elementary school and always helped out kids with quarters to get an orange juice with their breakfast because they didn’t have the money for one.

Cheerleading was the very first sport that I tried out and I think it was the first time I experienced any type of anxiety. Well, at least the first time I was old enough to recognize it. Throughout this story, you’ll see how important cheerleading was to me. It was what I became the best at.

Not too long after I started cheerleading my mom had gotten sick again. When I was about 3 years old, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. When I was only 3, I really didn’t know what cancer was, all I knew was that my mom was very sick. We found out she had cancer again whenever she carried a friend of mine up the steps and lay her down in her bed and when she bent over, her back broke. It wasn’t just breast cancer this time. It was full-blown stage 4 cancer all through her body. My cheerleading squad got together and made her a get well soon video. We taped it after practice one afternoon. I think a family member of mine actually does still have it.

It wasn’t but just a few short months after we made that video that cancer took her life. She was only 38 years old. That kind of freaks me out because I’m 34. Fortunately, the times I checked; everything has come back negative. This was probably the biggest reason why I was a part of this cheerleading team. Well besides the fact that I was a complete badass at it too! I needed girls, and positive woman influences in my life. I didn’t have anyone to tell me about getting a period or becoming a woman. Including cheering, I not only wanted to be a part of all the other teams I was a part of, but I NEEDED it.

Six short months after my mom passed away, my house burned down and about 90% of everything we owned went down in flames with the house. So now, everything materialistic that was a part of me was also now gone.

Sports were my outlet. I formed a small group of close girlfriends that I had basically from that point on anywhere I went or anything that I did - at least 2 of the 4 of us were together. Even in all of the sports that I played, which were not just cheerleading but basketball, volleyball, and track that came in 9th grade, at least 2 of the girls were also a

part of those teams. I was a part of the very first junior high volleyball team that my school had. All 4 of us were cheerleaders and not just for my school, but a professional all-star team in Indiana called The Evergreen All-stars. And yes, we became national champions too!! We all cheered for both teams until we graduated. As I said, we’re always together! I needed these girls in my life more than I think any of them will ever know.

A few months into 9th grade, 9 days before my 15th birthday the man that attended every single game and competition I had, who sat in the front row, smack dab in the middle of the crowd - hooting and hollering - cheering me on in every way that he knew, had passed away. He had a heart attack in his sleep. Even though I had the greatest best friends in the entire world, I didn’t have my mom or my dad anymore. I didn’t have an evening supper to come home to after school practice or games. I didn’t have that family of 4 that went to church on Sundays anymore.

One of my best friend’s homes became my second home shortly thereafter because I yearned so badly to be a part of a family and to have a mother and father figure in my life. Her household provided that for me up until I graduated and went to college.

You want to talk about the feeling of being alone! I had absolutely no idea how to go to college, schedule classes, nothing. No one taught me that. I wanted to stay in high school because I knew how to do that and it was familiar to me. Fortunately, I had a pretty cool roommate in college.

So now there was this huge void in my life because I was away at college, and I again had no one. I’m not a part of anything anymore. The first place I looked - yes, the very first place I looked was straight into the eyes of an opiate. I will just skip all the details and tell you that everything after that went downhill, and downhill fast.

Before I knew it, I was deep into the addict pool and surrounded myself with them because that was my new normal and my new familiarity. These were my people because they were just like me, and I was just like them. I was a part of heroin, and I was a part of cocaine, and they were both a part of me. Basically, they defined me. This went on for 15 years!

But today, today I’m a part of my extended family. I’m also a part of a nonprofit that focuses exclusively on mental health and collaborating with our physical health. We have events with physical activity and follow that up with a class we teach on different aspects of mental health. This group was started in February 2021, although I wasn’t here when they started it.

The group started thanks to the brilliant mind of my cousin, who was getting tired of hearing the word “no” whenever life was flipped upside down in his world - and he had decided to seek professional help. For example, in seeking help to schedule an appointment with a psychiatrist - he was going to have to wait 45 days to actually see the doctor. When that day actually came, the doctor wasn’t there. He was rescheduled for another 45 days and when that day came, he just didn’t go. 90 whole days to actually see a professional! This was just downright unacceptable to him, so he rallied up a few close friends that were supportive of his idea to break this cycle and to get more information, more resources, and more help in general, for those of us that are struggling to get help. He wanted to bridge the gap from phone calls to appointments. He wanted to put something together that gave help to those that were too afraid or too stuck or just too anxious to make the call to a professional.

Like me, he also used sports as his outlet, for his mental health medication, however, he was unaware that he even had a mental health diagnosis until the age of 37, which was literally a year and a half ago. His world kind of came crashing down around him and that’s where Gym Therapy Inc. came into play. He and a friend put together a nonprofit that included classes of a 30-minute simple workout or activity followed by a class on a mental health topic such as learned helplessness or grief and trauma or eating disorders.

In October of last year, my cousin - the founder of Gym Therapy Inc - for lack of better words kicked down the door of the third-story triplex apartment that I lived in and

insisted I go to treatment. He made the first move though he will never take credit for it. So, I went to a 28-day treatment center, and I completed the program in 21 days rather than 28. That wasn’t the plan and not a single person was happy that I left a week early. As a matter of fact, when I was dropped off, I sat at Sheetz for 4 hours before I was picked up, and I wasn’t allowed to live with him. I had to find somewhere to live. The point is this group saved my life. They gave me a purpose. They gave me something to be passionate about.

So here I am, incorporating physical health back into my life. I go to the gym at least 3 times a week, that is if my 2 jobs allow me the time to do so! As you know from the first few paragraphs, sports are what I absolutely live for! I am again a part of a tripod that is consistently keeping me accountable and teaching me how to be an adult! I just could not ask for a better group to be a part of. I could not ask for a better relationship to be in, romantically as well. I have incorporated mental health and physical health back into my life again - the 2 things in this world that am most passionate about. Not only that but I’m teaching mental health classes too! This is exactly what I’ve been searching for!

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