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The Oxygen Challenge

How I Became the Woman I Am Today

In their final months before passing, my parents bestowed words of wisdom that forever changed the trajectory of my life.

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Looking at me today, you might see a super-confident, strong and fearless woman. And you might assume those traits were just innate or somehow built in the gym. But the truth is, I became the woman I am today after experiencing two terrible losses in my early 20s.

It all started when I got into a car accident at age 18. My car slipped into a field, and I was told it did about eight rotations. Somehow, I came away from this accident with only minor injuries — I didn’t break any bones, even though I was going more than 70 miles an hour. I remember thinking it was the luckiest night of my life.

The first responders still brought me to the hospital to double-check and make sure there wasn’t more serious damage — and strangely my parents were already there but not because of me. They were there because my dad was having what he thought was severe bronchitis.

But what we actually found out that night was that my dad, who was not a smoker, had stage IV lung cancer. It was a very intense night for all of us. My mom was a wreck. And that evening changed the course of the rest of my life. From that point on, my father’s health continued to decline. He had multiple surgeries, chemo and radiation. By the time I was a senior in college, he had passed away.

Lessons from Dad

Thankfully, before my father passed, he taught me some incredibly important life lessons. While attending college at Baylor University, I was being groomed to become a professional golfer. But I couldn’t play golf for about six months after my car accident because my shoulders were pinched. That was distressing because being a golfer was a huge part of my identity.

I’m grateful to have had a lot of amazing conversations with my dad before he passed away. One night, I told him I wasn’t ready for him to die. He said, “Venus, whether I die today, tomorrow, in five years or 20 years, you’re never going to be ready. It’s not going to be comfortable. We only live this life once. I’ve lived a really great life, and I’ve enjoyed my life. I want you to feel the same way. So you’ve got to figure out what you want to do and what you will enjoy doing.”

His words really stuck with me. I just remember being like, What is it I want to do? I acknowledged that I’m actually a very creative person, and I realized that I didn’t want to be a golfer. I wanted to create and to help people. I embarked down a few paths (such as comedy writing) until I found my true calling: becoming a trainer. And I owe that all to my dad.

A Second Tragedy

After my dad passed away, my mom was understandably depressed. They’d spent 20 years working side by side, running a restaurant together, and now everything had changed. About a year later, my mom was diagnosed with leukemia. She went through radiation and chemo. We even tried to find a bone-marrow transplant, but we couldn’t find a match. It was really rough. I know she died of cancer, but I really believe my mom died of a broken heart.

My mom had always been a very tough lady. As immigrants, both of my parents had tough lives. They worked really hard to get to a certain point in their life and career. So it was really hard to see my parents go from running a successful restaurant to losing their health, their business and their lives.

Before my mom passed away, I also got to have a lot of really great conversations with her. And just like my dad, she said, “You know, I used to worry and get mad so easily about things that don’t even matter. I just wasted so much energy and time being mad about things that don’t matter. And, you know, I just want you to be happy.”

That was huge for me because my mom was always the type that would push everyone to work harder. She had never been the type of mom to say, “Just do your best,” but instead she told me to “do better.” She loved me deeply, but it was a tough love.

Reflections into Adulthood

It was pretty amazing that I got to have these conversations with my parents. As much as it was a tragedy that I had to lose my parents at such a young age and so close together, in the end, I got to learn and understand what really mattered to me.

A lot of the success I enjoy today came from me trying to heal myself. That’s why I love flow so much, and that’s why I like to exercise. I like to feel my body. I want to be connected because we only live this one life, and I want to live it to the fullest capacity that I can.

It’s important to note that I didn’t do all this healing on my own. I’m a firm believer in therapy and leaned on that. I think it’s important to not only use therapy but also to educate yourself. So I’ve read a ton of self-help books. I also found a tribe of friends who are very supportive, understanding and caring, and it’s been so important to surround myself with people who are not only good listeners but also people who can give honest feedback. I think that these are all the keys to life.

It wasn’t easy. I had some very dark times in the wake of these losses. But things evolve, and nothing is permanent — not even this life. So my advice to everyone is to be mindful of how you treat yourself and how you treat others. Be mindful of how you treat your body, and also look for joy.

People tell me, “You’re so strong,” but really you only have two choices: Either get stuck feeling like crap and living in fear or realize that it’s your turn to live life and find joy. I chose the latter, and I know my parents would be so proud of the woman I’ve become.

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