As a child, my body craved movement. My parents redirected my running, jumping and bouncing into a flurry of activities. My earliest memories of my mom included her driving me from place to place to place in pink curlers: dance class, swimming and diving team, cheerleading, Girl Scouts and catechism. The seeds for entrepreneurship started to sprout when I organized a neighborhood swim camp in our backyard pool at the age of 14.
noun \härt\: courage or enthusiasm
These activities exposed me to many positive role models; though the one who impacted me most was Linda Hamm, my volleyball coach and physical education teacher for six years. “You play with your heart, Cheryl,” she always said.
I would dive for every ball, take hits and come back for more. Being in my body was always grounding for me. It was a great stress reliever and, in high school, Linda and the volleyball court were stabilizing forces during my parents’ divorce.
Competitive volleyball became my regular companion throughout college, and enabled me to play throughout the United Kingdom. Bodybuilding, triathlons and dance were things I did when I wasn’t literally hitting the court.
noun \’bädē\: the physical structure of a person, including the bones, flesh and organs
In December 1984, I read a New York Times article about personal training in New York City. I didn’t realize I could make a living doing what I loved to do for others and myself. Within a short period of time, I had a job at the Sports Training Institute – the only facility in New York that hired trainers with college degrees.
Within 18 months I gained enough experience and built a large enough clientele to open my own studio – The Trainer’s Edge. I hired and oriented 11 personal trainers. We counted many recognizable names among our clients – but we never told anyone who used our services. Although I can share now that I was trainer to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Caroline Kennedy. I loved all my clients and they trusted me.
noun \trəst\: firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability or strength of someone
I was up each day at 4:30 a.m. and saw my last client at 10 p.m. On the weekends I would drive to The Hamptons where I’d lead exercise classes on the bluffs and in swimming pools. For a country girl from a small town, I felt I had arrived. In between training hours, I put my own body through its paces.
It was on a run one day through Central Park when I finally took off my headphones and listened to my body and my heart. In that one instant, I recognized I was burnt out. I had a constant sore throat. My body was always in some state of recovery from yet another injury. I wasn’t eating well enough. I’d made a career of maximizing other people’s physical potential, but didn’t know how to be there for myself.
I phased out my clients in New York City and Hartford, CT, sold my business to my manager, and started a new chapter.
By 1994, I was married, gave birth to my son and completed graduate studies at the University of Connecticut. But something was missing in my life. I’d consciously chosen to stay home with my family and pause my career, yet I felt lost. I started to become spiritually curious but didn’t know how to channel that emotion.
noun \,spir-i-chə-ˈwa-lə-tē\: the quality or state of being related to a force within a person that is believed to give the body life, energy and power
I’ve learned that often times when the path is unclear, life will show us the way. While moseying through a bookstore one day, the manager approached and asked, “Can I help you?” My eyes welled up with tears and I surprised myself with my response. I told her I didn’t know what to do next. Without skipping a beat she walked me over to a table and handed me Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book, Wherever You Go, There You Are. Reading that book was my first step toward becoming soulfully mindful. I started taking yoga classes and continued through my second pregnancy. I often called my daughter my “yoga girl.”
Encouragement from friends led to a cascade of events: from being extensively-trained in Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program; to achieving a certificate in spirituality at Saint Joseph’s College; to writing my book: Mindful Exercise, A Bridge Between Yoga and Exercise. Before I knew it I was trained in working with body, mind and spirit. I figured this would help me help others when I formally went back into the work force. I founded The Mindful Path in 2003 and began teaching mindfulness meditation.
noun \’breth\: life force
Little did I know I would need to help myself first. My breath became my new best friend.
In 2001, my husband was indicted for a range of criminal offenses. It was a time of public embarrassment for my family and included multiple life changes. I learned things about my husband I didn’t understand until that time. I awakened to the painful truth that I had trusted the wrong person.
My focus became protecting my children, which required that I extricate myself from my marriage through a painful four-year divorce process, which ended in a seven-day trial. My children learned a lot at a very young age about having things and losing things: friends, lifestyle, social standing and eventually even the small home we had downsized to. My husband was sentenced to prison for 10 years and I was a solo parent. I sold all my possessions to survive.
noun \riˈzilyəns\: the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness
In 2010, I became a certified health and wellness coach and entered corporate America for the first time. I joined Aetna as the Wellness Clinical Program Design Lead in the national care management division. It was the first time since my divorce and my husband’s incarceration that I could financially take care of my children and myself. My self-esteem was on the mend.
My mindfulness practice, my spirituality and my constitution got me through moments of chaos, and allowed me to stay clear and rooted. I learned how to ‘be’ with suffering. I spent many hours hiking trails in solitude. I trusted that somehow things would be okay. My children and I made it through to the other side of pandemonium. I believe our happiest chapter is ahead.
Now I’m prepared to empower others. I know how to help people discover their strengths and connect to their own inner resources to build resilience. I want to walk a mindful path with people so their lives are less busy and more meaningful. I want to help people evolve from surviving to thriving.