Throw Back Thursday…to honor my friend Nancy

231162_1053038977042_2947_nIt’s Not “JUST” TaekwondoBy Ms. Lisa Nevolo, 3rd dan 2008

One day after a testing, deciding whether a young student should pass their black belt testing; one of the other instructors said to me, “What’s the big deal, it’s “just” Taekwondo”. I have never been able to get rid of that. Maybe because I was much older and hopefully wiser. I knew my small decisions now would be more meaningful to the student later. My journey starting at 36 years of age was never “just” Taekwondo. It changed me as a person. How I viewed myself and how I felt the world viewed me back. I was always this sort of old independent sole who loved where I came from and always wanted to prove I could do anything myself. And usually do!

Taekwondo gave me the means to show who I am as a person. Which is why I am at this place in time writing this piece. I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer in November 2007. I was scared for about four days between the call telling me I had cancer and the day I saw the Surgical Oncologist. The unknown factor was the hardest thing I dealt with. I wanted to be told I wasn’t going to die from this. It was truly my only concern. Then the focus was how fast can you cut this out of my body. Can you do it right here in the office. It took a lot more tests and several weeks before it got scheduled. During that time I never thought about; “I have cancer” or “why did this happen to me.” I was more clear headed then I can remember at almost any other time in my life. Get the facts, make decisions and move forward. I felt reluctant to be a student of breast cancer. But I needed the information to make good decisions.

My thoughts leading up to the surgery. God I have a great life. A job, a home. A family I adore. A lot of people on my side, in my corner cheering me on. I kept being tossed back to the previous few years and used the past experience to explain to my health professionals why I was always ok. I felt I had to explain, nobody could be ok with going through this. Right! That’s what everyone kept telling me.

In December of 2005 I was tested as a person and a Taekwondo instructor like I had never been tested before. My hope is that this tragic and unfortunate combination of events that has come before my diagnosis lends understanding to why I feel blessed and only look toward the healing. Life is wonderful and sometimes so incredibly unjust….I knew immediately why I was involved. Now the lesson is paying me back in spades.

The first week in December started out with excitement building. Testing, Banquet, all the year end fun. I had decided to honor someone I felt was a saint. Nancy Shapiro had spent years making the elementary school my children attended a wonderful place to be. Never mind a personal friend and my direct line into a school that as a working mom I always felt an outsider. I was going to honor her because I never understood why they didn’t. It was going to be a special night.

I was home putting the finishing touches on awards as I usually did and Ken and the kids were already up at Robinsons Ranch, the banquet hall. Ken calls me and is explaining to me that one of our moms had been murdered. I was having a hard time letting the word murdered sink in. We were asked not to share the information because the school her children went to wanted to have a group meeting with the children that knew the family. I was now entrusted with smiling and carrying on as if this hadn’t happened. Having to clear the place settings at a table I knew the family could not show, without anyone else questioning why I was doing this. The story is a sad one of domestic violence. A murder suicide that happened as her and her children arrived home after a long day of work and school. It was on so many levels difficult to deal with. As the facts came to light I realized that my youngest, Sky, had been having dinner with them talking about having a play date at their house; twenty minutes after leaving him this mother was shot in cold blood in front of her children.

Banquet was the year-end celebration it was suppose to be and my dear friend Nancy was happy and her family so proud.

The next night was our monthly Bunko night. More holiday hoopla. Nancy wasn’t herself and something was definitely a miss. On Friday morning I call our mutual friend (Nancy’s sister from another mother) Brenda. I’m happy because my boss has decided to contribute money to help out the boys who lost their mother. To my shock and awe Brenda proceeds to tell me that Nancy went to the hospital last night and had a seizure before they could even see her. I’m in stunned silence. As the rest of the week played out with the funeral of the murdered mom and finding out more about Nancy’s condition; the reality verses the speculation of what was wrong became numbing. Glioblastoma; I hope no one ever has to hear that said to them and certainly not have it spelled so you can look online. After spending a day digesting what I had read I called a friend who was a brain surgeon. He agreed to talk to me if I agreed never to share with the family what he was telling me. I agreed because that’s what they had their Dr’s for. I was still a friend and would be teaching Nancy’s children Taekwondo regularly. It was very important to know the facts. 3 to 18 months life expectancy. That’s the fact.

Brenda and Nancy. Most people looked at them as the same person. I never did, I liked each of them for very different reasons. Nancy would thank me for being there for Brenda. I hoped Brenda was just happy to have another friend to share with. Being a care giver is a really hard job being able to exhale is really important. I know it was hard but I think the times that were the most rewarding were when Nancy was just lost in joy or the emotion of a wonderful moment. She had an exceptional quality of life for most of the year she survived. Highly unusual for this condition. She made choices not to plan for her death. Everyday was another day her children had a mom and she was going to do everything know to man to give them one more day.

As time went on Taekwondo was the family it needed to be. The safe place for this family to continue living and I mean living. Those boys earning a black belt took on a whole new dynamic and set of obstacles. The years Nancy had sat in the background had new meaning to how important the supporters of people earning a black belt are. Her kids were stoic and courageous without fail. It became a big focus.

I think that the following sums up the fact that it’s not “just” Taekwondo. Failing a child at their black belt testing, knowing full well in two months their mother may not be there to see it happen; Is only magnified by the fact that the child understands and the black belt would mean nothing without having earned it. Nobody wants to be given a black belt.

My life has new meaning since this year of complete and utter courage was witnessed. An opportunity to make everyday of the rest of some ones life as wonderful as it can possibly be, and we did. Nothing I face in the fight against Breast Cancer will ever feel insurmountable.

Life is good…take a deep breath! Enjoy my life with me……

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A Magical Moment…I Won’t Forget It Any Time Soon!

Callaway Jr World SeriesHave you ever had that feeling that you just witnessed something extraordinary?  A turning point; that moment that has the opportunity to mold a person into the person they are to become.  I recently had that magical moment happen over a two-day golf tournament.

I have known a lot of exceptionally talented people in my life, as I am sure most of you do and have as well.  A lot of talented people succeed on an average level being able to make a living at what they love.  Others flounder and survive in a chosen life all regardless of how talented they truly are, never giving up the dream and it is clear they should.  Not understanding why they don’t have success, but know they have the talent to succeed. Then there are those few who have the “it” factor.  They have the potential to be the best of the best in their chosen field.  Excelling when other’s, equally talented or more talented, fail.  Getting to see the exact moment “they know”, is an incredible endorphin producing experience.  I have seen and experienced similar success before…this was different.  It wasn’t me yet I could feel it as most people watching I am sure did as well.

Having a husband who molds golf champions for a living allows me the opportunity to watch the growth in people over long periods of time.  As any parent knows, just because your child has talent doesn’t mean they have the ability to display it at the time it counts most.  The entire reason why it is so hard to coach someone close to you.  It brings unrealistic expectations and disappointment for all involved and hard not to show all of the above causing conflict between people who love each other.  I have seen more talented people from musicians, athletes and entertainers etc. whose talents are unsurpassed and yet they never accomplish even their own ability or expectation of success.  They get in their own way…talent/ability does not always equal success.

As a black belt in Taekwondo I spent a lot of time at tournaments; as a referee, competitor and instructor coach.  There was a very talented fighter who you could not touch on sparring nights and was incredible in fighting exhibitions;  That great talent that only comes around once in a blue moon.  Watching this person when there was nothing on the line was pure excitement, you would never imagine that this person could ever be challenged.  Yet this competitor never had great success in fighting during tournaments.  There was never the play to win mentality, only the fight not to lose.  If I hadn’t seen this time and time again from this individual I would have never understood how important freeing yourself to succeed is.  If you play not to lose, you “may not” lose, but you “will not” win.  Luck would be your only chance.

On the opposite side of this, I recently watched a young golf student go from having a good round of golf in a tournament to becoming a challenger on the second day.  A 48 hour transformation into the person they are meant to become.  That first round was a good day where the student lived up to their own expectation; nothing particularly special, but a solid round.  The next day the student was told to make a statement on the first drive of the day.  If the drive were executed to the maximum ability it would send a message that they were here to compete.  Execution was perfect, the message sent and statement made.  Every hole increased belief and trust in the ability of this golfer.  During the round you never saw retreat and every stroke was intentional.  The last hole needed a par to win over the previous days leader. The pressure putt did not drop forcing a playoff.  You could actually see this person transforming during the round…growing and maturing in their play.  Even though there will be good and bad days ahead for this player, as golf is a very difficult game, you got the feeling this golfer was never going to be the same as they were just the day before.  Everyone watching felt it.  Even the playoff was exciting and went two hole’s, although the golfer wasn’t victorious in the tournament they were victorious in the paradigm shift of their golf life. The student was asked a few days later if they felt it and when.  Responding “I knew standing on the tee on the second day, I knew I could do it (catch the leader).”

Again, as I said in my last Blog…Do Not Fear Success! Go After It! Exceed your potential, exceed your dreams.  Once I heard Ted Turner say in an interview, “My dad told me to dream bigger then you can even imagine”.  He talked about how his father had set and met his goals and never seemed to continue on to bigger dreams. His goals and dreams had been met.  Dream bigger then you can imagine so you are always working toward something.

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My First Post…This Crazy Life

Life May feel Crazy Right Now…I truly think that living in a global, visual world has created what feels like; Things being and feeling crazier and more out of control than people remember.  I come from an era of race riots, flower children and all that means, the Vietnam War, Manson and much more that was “crazy”.

Every night my father made us watch the news.  It was a ritual in our home the same as eating dinner together at the kitchen table.  During the Vietnam War I can remember being so scared war would come to the shores of our country.  I watched in terror every night as the bodies of brave soldiers were carried off the planes in flag covered caskets.  We were very aware of the body counts every day of that war. I’m not sure why they don’t do that now (sort of rhetorical).  Race riots were scary for me as a young child.  There were towns, just miles from where I lived, we avoided going into for fear of losing our life.  Being a child of the 60’s and 70’s free love turned into a death sentence as AIDS emerged.

Are things so different now?  Or do we just have bigger band wagons to show we care about a cause or event and many more avenues to get followers on board?  Everyone is a photo journalist. We see every little thing in every little corner of the earth.  When I was growing up I wasn’t sure what someone from an Asian, African, Mexican or any other country looked like or lived like unless I read it in National Geographic.  I had a pen pal from a suburb in Boston.  It was a big deal.  Mind you I lived in New Jersey.  Does anyone born in the last 20 years even know what a pen pal is?  Today it’s a Twitter follower or Facebook friend.

I don’t think that what entertainers and athletes do is so different now.  It is just that we can’t pay off the entertainment rags to keep things out of the populous.  There is almost no way to be a private person in this day and age.  Marketing yourself or your cause or product through social media seems like the only way to get ahead.  So everyone subjects themselves.

My oldest son is entering his last year in college in the fall; desperately trying to figure out adulthood.  My younger son has chosen to take a different paradigm and pursue a long hard road in the entertainment industry.  I think It has all been said before…but every time it’s said, maybe one more young person will get it.  Life is unbelievable when we have a loving family, goals for our future and live a moral life (no matter what that looks like, people loving people and forming a family).  The journey of life is so much more important than the goals we put in front of ourselves.   It is not that goals aren’t valuable, but they are more a measuring tool than the life lessons that shape who we become.  When it comes to technology the moral lesson is that nothing is private.  If you wouldn’t say it on the front of a newspaper, do not say it in a text or Twitter or Facebook post. Just Don’t!  Our time here in this human space is tenuous at best.  Life is beautiful and yet can be so unjust.  Bad things happen to good people.  Good things happen to bad people.  And yes, there are good and bad people.  In every walk of life; making generalizations stopped for me when I started to travel.  The world becomes a much smaller place. Success happens, Goals are reached, Accidents happen, Health happens, live for today, plan for your future and learn from your past. Wasting your time or enjoying a lazy day?  Not the same thing.  Know the difference. Do Not Fear Success! It debilitates your ability to allow opportunities and be open to them when they cross your path.  Recognize opportunities.  Never say “I’ve worked harder”; “I deserve”;  or my ultimate favorite “I’m not ready yet”; working hard when you want something is how you get ahead, and how do you ever determine what is deserved.  No one is ever ready, so trying before we are ready allows growth and ultimately the lessons to succeed.  It is all relative…and none can guarantee success.  Sometimes people do get lucky.  On the other hand sometimes an overnight success takes 10 to 20 years of paying your dues.  Try to work smart, but, always work hard.  Every day I listen to my husband try to explain to his golf students the idea of freeing your mind to allow for greatness.  It is the hardest concept, but once belief in yourself and trust in the ability’s, given or made through hard work click, it’s all there for the taking.  Yes, some people have natural talents and others work at creating talents.  Desire has so much to do with creating a talent and developing a natural talent.  Different paths, but they can both have the same outcome.

I’ve spent my children’s lives teaching them how to treat others.  Developing their talents and getting them to recognize those talents; creating opportunities.  In 2007 when I was diagnosed with late stage breast cancer my children were 12 and 15 years old.  I knew they still needed me.  So many lessons still to teach them.  I wasn’t finished with them or myself.  During those very important developmental years my children were affected in very different ways; from diagnosis through the end of the initial treatment.  The only.. and may be valuable things they learned from me was the will to live, fight, persevere, continue to live your life through the struggle.  The reality was that I woke up went to work, came home, was force fed and went to sleep and slept all weekend.  They saw very little of me during that time.  Other people in my life and theirs took up the slack. It was a helpless feeling as a parent. Although the gratitude I felt for the people who stepped up for me was humbling and overwhelming.  I never cried over having cancer.  But another person’s kindness for me, my children, my family will bring tears to my eyes just thinking about it.  Those kids of mine have become independent self-starter’s who I have no doubt will be successful adults.  Cancer changed my quality of life.  It’s likely I have many less years ahead of me then my family’s longevity might indicate.  Now I am sure my sons will be fine, I’m not wishing my life away or being a pessimist.  Just the opposite; I wake up every day knowing I can accomplish something, touch someone’s life in a way they didn’t expect.  The impact I make may not seem like it is impacting the world…the people I touch will all pay it forward and perhaps in some way that actually does impact the world.  I have all the faith that both of my sons will impact a global audience as they reach their aspirations.  They are my gift to the world and I have nurtured that gift as a reflection of me (they are far from perfect, but they are and will be respectful, responsible citizens of the world).  They both have a complete understanding of how they are to go forward and make a difference once they find their voice.

Living with an esoteric mind and a life filled with anomaly’s makes life a bit confusing and isolated (thank god one person, my loving husband, pretends to understand me).  My mind, often allows me to see an alternate perspective. Being a circular thinker makes it easier for me to explain others who are often misunderstood.  That is truly a gift.  I agree with my family when they tell me I’m weird.  Yeah So!?  It makes me who I am, good, bad or indifferent.  Definitely Unique!

I remember dropping off Nico every day at preschool saying, “Today you will be Kind, be Caring, be Considerate, be a Good Person”.  I would have him repeat it back to me and I would say, “that is who you want to be”.  We each have a responsibility to nurture children; make them good citizens in our communities. That is my responsibility if I want to be a parent.  Making tough choices when things don’t go the way you plan is hard but necessary.  No person in their right mind commits the atrocities we have seen throughout history.  Life now may seem “crazier” then we remember.  It just wasn’t a constant assault on our lives.  No one was communicating in pictures and 140 word shout outs every minute of every day in mass.  I had to wait for the postman to bring my 4 page letter from my pen pal.

Work on what’s in front of you and eventually you will be impacting the world!

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