84: Listening to My Inner Passion

84: Listening to My Inner Passion

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Happiness

Listening to My Inner Passion

Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.

~Abraham Lincoln

It was my forty-fourth birthday and I was feeling down. I was sitting cross-legged on the pontoon boat on Christie Lake, watching a water skier zip by. Tears were falling down my cheeks. I felt old... fat... and washed up. Were the best years of my life over?

I thought back to some happier times and drifted all the way back to my teen years. I learned to water ski on my bare feet and spent three summers barefooting with the guys on the lake. Barefoot water skiing was my passion, and every time I was out on the water, I was happy.

One day, when I was nineteen, I turned to cross the wake, caught a toe and fell. I slammed sideways into the water. In an instant, I went from hard of hearing to deaf. When I climbed into the boat, I was engulfed in an eerie silence. My friends’ lips moved, but I couldn’t hear them.

The next several months were tough ones as I learned to adjust to this new change in my life. I started college at Northern Illinois University and I lived on a floor with other deaf and hard of hearing students. I was extremely uncomfortable at first. Hands flew back and forth in American Sign Language, and I found myself a foreigner in this strange, new land.

During the day, I struggled in my classes and discovered that it was next to impossible to lip-read a professor walking on stage. At night, I cried myself to sleep as I battled tinnitus, a horrible roaring sound in my head. There were times I was in despair — I couldn’t understand what was being said in my classes and I couldn’t understand the American Sign Language that zipped back and forth at parties. I cried my frustration out in the shower as well.

One morning, I woke up and had an epiphany: I could continue to struggle and mourn the loss of hearing, or I could learn to become the best possible deaf person I could be. I put my hair in a pony-tail, slapped on my hearing aid and marched myself to the disability office. It was the first time that I went out in public with my hearing aid perched for all to see. I returned the useless FM system and I requested sign language interpreters for all of my classes.

That was the day that becoming deaf turned into a blessing: I unwrapped a passion for living life as a deaf person and I found happiness in that acceptance.

Life became busy and full. I got married and had three deaf and hard of hearing children. I worked as a sales manager and a writer and served on the board of a non-profit organization. I started to lose myself in the process. I had stopped barefooting a few years after becoming deaf. Over the years, I stopped exercising and the weight began to pile on. So by the time my forty-fourth birthday rolled around, I missed the very thing that I truly enjoyed: water skiing on my bare feet. I figured I was too old and too overweight to ever do it again.

A few months after my birthday, my husband sent me a link to a Today show segment that featured a sixty-six-year-old woman barefooting on the water. In the video, Judy Myers was carrying a few extra pounds, but there she was, skimming the water with her bare feet. What’s more, she learned to barefoot when she was fifty-three. Surely, at forty-four, I wasn’t too old to get back on the water again? I was so inspired by her, that I reached out to her on Facebook and told her my story.

“Come to the World Barefoot Center in Florida and we’ll get you barefooting again,” she suggested. So I flew to Winter Haven and met with Judy and the two-time World Barefoot Champion, Keith St. Onge. On my first try, I placed my feet on the water and went barefooting again. I had a million-dollar smile on my face.

I unwrapped my long-buried passion that day and found incredible happiness as a result. Along the way, I met women barefooters from all over and they quickly became my new friends. In an unexpected bonus, Keith helped me to change my eating habits and the weight began to come off. At the end of the year, I accomplished something that I could never have imagined as a teen: I learned to barefoot backwards.

The sport that brought me both happiness and sadness was now filling me with happiness again. I also learned something valuable from meeting Judy and getting back on the water again: the best years of life are still ahead.

~Karen Griffard Putz

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