The Journey of Finding Joy Began 5 Years Ago

Bob & Joy

My expectation with every (personal interest story) interview that I have experienced over the years has consistently provided me with wonderful stories that I am excited to share. But there was one that was different, one that impacted me in a way that I had not expected. The result was profound. Today, April 22nd, 2018, marks the 5th anniversary of the day that changed my life forever. This was the day that I met Bob.

It wasn’t one moment or one word or phrase that Bob had shared with me that day, it was the collective of everything he did and said. The way he walked, his breathy voice, his beautiful blue eyes, his kind demeanor, and especially his sense of humor. His story is amazing, but it was how he handled adversity, how he made lemonade out of lemons, how he looked for joy in every area of his life, how he was a perfectionist and how he lived and loved that impacted me. I fell in love that day.

It’s a fact that I fall in love with stories, but little did I know that when I entered Bob’s home on April 22nd, 2013, that I would not only fall in love with his story, I would learn to love myself.

My journey towards finding joy in my own life was spurred by Bob’s request of me to find Joy. For when a 90 year old man tells you to find joy – you do it. Finding Joy (book and screenplay are being released soon) for Bob meant being reunited with his 1st love and providing a beautiful final chapter to a charmed life.

Witnessing happiness, kindness, and love between people is the best role model for visualizing your own happiness and manifesting it into your own reality. This was Bob and Joy’s gift to me.

Yesterday I mentioned this anniversary to one of my closest friends on the planet when I realized that I was driving behind a vehicle with a license plate that read: 2U JOY. How prophetic.

Bob continues to be a gift to me. It’s through his strength that I found my own. I am forever grateful and blessed for knowing him.

It’s all About Love

This week of Thanksgiving has begun with sadness and an overabundance of gratitude for someone who has profoundly impacted my life.The following is the eulogy that I delivered today for a man that I loved dearly, for he asked me to find Joy…

Bob would be sorry to miss this. He told me that he loved having family nearby so that he “had people to argue with and torment”.

Thank you for being here to celebrate the life of this amazing man. The poet Rumi wrote:

Goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes,

Because for those who love with heart and soul,

There is no such thing as separation.

My perspective on Bob is a bit unique. It was 4.5 years ago that I had the privilege of interviewing him for a cover story. I could not have imagined at that time, the impact that a nearly 90 year old man, who moved with a walker and had macular degeneration would have upon my life.

I love it when people surprise me and Bob was full of surprises: from the clarity of his beautiful blue eyes, his kind demeanor at his advanced age, the number of cats he cared for – which I am fairly certain exceeded the legal limit, his seemingly endless list of accomplishments, and most of all, his sense of humor.

Bob said he had more keepers than the zoo – with his daughter and her family living next door, and many friends and relatives who would come to visit him.

He told me:

“When you get to be my age, everyone thinks you’re senile – I say mess with people!” and “You’ve got to have fun in your old age, it’s awfully miserable if you don’t.”

His canned response to a question that he did not wish to answer was “I’ve tried that before and it’s a bit too spicy for me.”

 

Bob spoke and moved with intention. He was deliberate and precise, which were remnant characteristics of a man who was a perfectionist. I can only imagine how frustrating it was for him to first lose his vision, then lose his preferred methods of communication since his stroke. Yet in spite of these challenges, his sweet demeanor endured.

It’s comical to me that the term “survived” is chosen to represent those still living when one passes. Although in Bob’s case, “survived” must be an accurate description that his 3 children have a right to feel, having survived a perfectionist father.

Bob was blessed to have experienced many interesting and miraculous chapters in his life, a life that could not possibly be confined to one book, for his adventures could fill volumes.

Bob was born July 9, 1923. Bob’s childhood was a bit unique in that not many of his friends had a darkroom for developing in their bedroom. Bob’s parents, Frank and Jessie, indulged Bob by encouraging him to pursue his passions which included scouting (he was an Eagle Scout), he played multiple sports including tennis, and his love of photography – which was influenced by his father and would define his professional career.

 

Bob graduated from Arsenal Tech High School in 1941, at the age of 17, the war was imminent and Bob eagerly enlisted in the Navy that summer, for he wanted to be a pilot. But the Navy was after college grads to fill those coveted spots, so Bob enlisted in the ARMY, hoping to be part of the Air Corps. When he took the entrance exam, which is an IQ test, he scored 150. Maybe it was something about how he looked, maybe he made a smart ass comment, because he was asked to repeat the test. The second time he scored 151. His flight training unit was flushed into infantry, except Bob. Bob told me he was late for the meeting, but whatever the truth, he ultimately served in the US Army Signal Corps, training to be a professional photographer at Paramount Studios in NYC before being deployed to the Pacific, coming ashore in the 2nd wave on the beaches of Okinawa, Easter Sunday, 1945.

While he was proud to serve his country, he was reserved about sharing his adventures until later in his life – the first reason is that he was told not to speak of it, for he had been a spy. But Bob deeply felt the loss of those who did not return. He said they were the real heroes. Bob’s missions typically involved being behind enemy lines, which earned him a Bronze Star.

It’s funny to me that Bob claimed that he could throw a pistol with more accuracy than shoot it so he kept it wrapped and ready for inspections, using only his camera to “shoot”.

 

Bob’s sense of humor served him well, for humor was his coping mechanism that kept him alive. At the close of the war, as teams were sweeping caves on the island, a grenade was thrown at Bob’s feet, it turned out to be a dud. He commented, “what poor quality munitions”. He had observed the yellow picric acid, identifying the location of landmines on a nearby beach, and said, “better not go swimming at low tide”. He needed these moments of humor to help him cope with the uglier side of war, which he undoubtedly witnessed.

After he returned from the Pacific, he would become the first professional photographer Eli Lilly ever hired. He was a pioneer in the medical photography field, devising his own equipment to photograph lab slides at a pivotal time for drug companies, because the FDA pivoted to accept photographs in lieu of artists renderings.

Bob proudly shared that, for an insulin atrophy study, he “photographed more women’s behinds than pornographers”.

Sacrifices had to be made, all in the name of science.

Bob had said that it took him a long time to take decent photos of his children, since it was his job to focus in on scientific and biological imperfections, so once he stopped his compulsion for wanting to zero in on acne, he figured out how to take decent portraits.

I mentioned that he could throw a pistol with more accuracy – later in life he became an expert marksman and a hunter. He also pursued his passion for flying. He started flying almost immediately after returning home from the war.

Privately he told me that one time he was flying over Geist Reservoir looking for ideal fishing locations when a voice spoke to him, asking why he was flying alone when he had a beautiful family who loved him. He listened to that voice and gave up flying to spend more time with his wife Joanne and his children – entering into a new era-defining “survival”, as Bob and his two oldest children won archery championships in their age groups. True to form, Bob achieved professional status.

 

Bob knew how to keep busy. Everything in Bob’s life was a hobby; his job as a professional photographer was a hobby; flying, marksmanship, fishing, archery, and painting. He stayed childlike, exploring his passions. He became a HAM Radio operator, collecting postcards from people around the world, including King Hussein of Jordan. He also reached the pinnacle of leadership within his Masonic Lodge. He studied world religions, striving to understand other people and cultures through their religious beliefs. The phrase “Jack of all trades, master of none” didn’t apply. His name was Bob, not Jack, and he mastered them all.

In retirement, Bob and Joanne traveled, with one trip paid for by National Geographic Travel Magazine, with his photography taken on that trip serving as a cover shot for an issue. Together they took art lessons, creating many amazing paintings and crafts.

 

Fast forward a few years, It was April 29, 2013 when I went to see Bob for the 2nd time, under the guise of reading him the rough draft of the article I had written about him from my interview the week before. But Bob had a different agenda. He was a few months away from his 90th birthday. Retired, a widower, he was reflective of his 9 decades of life. As he took inventory, he had but one regret. He had one last shot, one last hope to wrap up a blessed, charmed life. He wanted to complete his final chapter with love and he asked for my help. That was day Bob asked me to find Joy.

I was overwhelmed by his courage. He had not spoken of Joy in 67 years.

There’s something special about a first love. While Bob and Joy were happily married for the majority of their lives to others, as God intended – they never forgot one another.

I found Joy thanks to Google and Joy’s daughter Beki’s obsession with genealogy, when I delivered an envelope the following evening to Bob as I took a car full of boys to soccer, and I simply said to him, I found Joy.

When he called Joy a couple days later, he said, “This is Bob Albright, Don’t hang up!”

Joy didn’t hear him clearly the first time, asking “Who is this?” and when he repeated his name, she had to sit down. This man was full of surprises.

 

Speaking of surprises, a surprise birthday party for Bob’s 90th was planned. Bob told me that his vision was better than they thought it was since he noticed the extra soda and chips being stashed about – but Bob was the one with the surprise. He had asked Joy to marry him and would announce their engagement at the party.

A question that took him 67 years to ask.

He said, “I don’t know how many days I have left…but whatever time I do have, I want to spend it with Joy.”

Their time together, while brief, was enough. It was a beautiful final chapter to an extraordinary life.

Bob and Joy joked that their relationship was all my fault, and I happily accept the blame.

Joy and Bob

Bob thanked me for one last miracle in his life, he thanked me for giving him the gift of Joy. But he’s the one who gave me – and all of us – the greatest gift, for he showed us what was possible. He showed us that you’re never too old for love.

With Bob Albright, living to age 94, becoming the oldest living Albright ever – a world record that I guarantee he hopes is broken by many in his family – Bob lived more than a dozen lives, for he lived – he really lived – through wonder, with humility, with courage, and with love.

 

To every thing there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die, a time to weep, and a time for joy, a time to mourn and a time to dance.

Bob would want us to dance.

 

Photos courtesy of Brenda Staples Photography

Love, Loss, and Breaking Through

HeartWith the recent passing of Prince, the media is reporting, and quite frankly blaming, 2016 for taking a few of our most coveted entertainers; David Bowie, Alan Richman, and now Prince.

While we do offer condolences to their families and loved ones for their personal loss, we are mourning a part of our lives where that person will live on.

First of all, death is a part of life, and regardless of the circumstances of their deaths, they all left this planet too soon.

Whenever anyone that we love, be it a celebrity or a close loved one, passes – it is always too soon. Few are lucky to know in advance that their life will be cut short, and by “lucky”, I imply that they and their families are able to talk about the tough stuff and plan. One of the biggest regrets people have is not sharing and expressing their love for another prior to someone unexpectedly passing.

Artists leave behind a body of work for us to continue to enjoy and perhaps in their passing we have a deeper appreciation of their creative genius and may be inspired to dig a little deeper into ourselves to spark our own creative legacy. Brene Brown states that our major contribution to this world will be born of creativity, and she’s 100% correct. We are all artists with different mediums in which we express our creativity, all of us will leave behind a legacy of creative means.

Those of us who have lost someone dear to us, know exactly what we lost, for it is in that absence that we see and feel clearly what we had. It’s my prayer that the lessons learned from those relationships are carried forward along with the love of that experience. Take only the good. Then move forward to create something better in your life, if anything, to honor that person you’ve lost.

Pushing forward through grief is empowering. Each courageous step through the emotional waves of grief moves us forward with the intention to love more deeply, more completely, and perhaps more fearlessly, for its love that saves us from the grief and sorrow. It’s love that is what we are truly here for – love is our true purpose in this life. And sometimes losing someone is the fastest route to something better that awaits us, for we have not missed what is meant to be ours.

The hardest part is letting go, but once we do, we are able to discover something amazing: a more profound new level in our capacity to love.

Why We Should ALL Be Coaches

As a teenager, I was too young to join the gym as a member, but old enough to be hired as an instructor. This was my first paid coaching gig. (I am sure my brother would attest that bossing him around wasn’t coaching.) At the time, I hadn’t identified it in this manner, but clearly instructing and leading others is a form of coaching.

A young Kara Kavensky
Look at the attitude at such a young age…my poor brother never had a chance.

While I wouldn’t yell at the participants, I am bossy and confrontative, as early personality tests indicated (and as evidenced by said brother). Last I checked, these are dynamic and critical leadership skills (insert polite attention-getting cough with power stare, which I have perfected). Instructing hip hop classes at the age of 15 to a room full of people twice my age didn’t phase me. It was fun. The best part was getting to know the personalities in the room.

Through my first career in sales and marketing, I was a personal trainer on the side. Coaching skills were applied daily in both jobs. What I learned was that even though I was meeting with people with both jobs for a small window during their week, we all were being our best, drawing common ground from strengths, not weaknesses.

It was these encounters with people that were powerful. I explored how to have that sense of empowerment all of the time, not just in the moments when it was required.

My Pilates studio, which I’ve owned for over fifteen years, is a networking hub. As a trainer, I was truly coaching others as well as sharing stories. Most all of my clients would confess that they loved coming to class for the stories as much as the workout. Every hour of every day was like a “girls night out” (even with men in the room).

Now, as I’ve transitioned to being a writer and a pitch coach, the focus is heavily upon cultivating and nurturing strengths in others. This is just like training a body, but through stories instead of Pilates equipment.

When I dig into my line of questioning during an interview, I am able to strike to the core quickly by asking a few simple questions. Frequently I will ask what drives them, as I uncover their true passions. The bottom line comes down to love.

We value what we love.

Once the love and passions are revealed, the story takes shape. The magic of these encounters is that by talking about someone’s passions, it rekindles their flame for their work.

This is the core intention of coaching: by pulling out the best of a person, you are empowering them. Assisting my clients or article subjects by creating the most effective means of expressing their passion is my job.

Recently my best friend sent me a note that read: Don’t ever be afraid to shine. Remember, the sun doesn’t give a f*ck if it blinds you.

I’m all about blinding people.

Writing Through Emotion

It doesn’t happen often that I experience an interview where I cry…

Lately I have had a string of emotional interviews.

Scott Wise, founder of Scotty’s Brewhouse, THR3E WISE MEN Brewing Co, Scotty’s Dawghouse (Butler University students and fans are geeking out over this one, as it’s the first bar on campus in over 200 years!), cried while sharing his story of recovery from a brain infection. Scott was brought to tears again in the same conversation several minutes later as he described the amazing impact to his team by integrating people with special needs at his latest restaurant in Muncie (which has become a model for all of his restaurants).

In my prior blog post, I shared the story of Kim Dodson who runs The Arc of Indiana, providing a voice for people with special needs (and is directly connected with Scott Wise’s second round of tears).

Last week I interviewed Luke Canterbury and his family. Luke is “Boy of the Year” for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. He’d been diagnosed with stage 4 Burkitt’s Lymphoma two years ago. When I asked him what it means to him to be Boy of the Year, Luke said, “It means I beat cancer.” (tissue, please!)

Then today I interviewed Luke’s pediatric physical therapist, Alissa Moody, who is running for “Woman of the Year” for the LLS. Alissa’s story begins with an uncle who passed from Leukemia shortly before she was born. Each year her family plants a tree in his honor and the row of trees is substantial. Alissa felt it was her duty to serve those with cancer to honor her uncle that she’s only been able to know through stories. Her uncle Randy was 19 when he died.
Michael Kelly Alissa V2
Alissa was also the PT for another young man, Michael Treinen. Michael passed away in 2008, just 6 days prior to his 20th birthday. Michael had an incredible spirit. He played three sports and insisted that a stationary bike be placed in his room at Riley Children’s Hospital during his treatment. Alissa was able to get Michael a bike, but it was rather shabby and had taped handles. Michael didn’t care, he rode it daily anyway. He’d vomit from his chemo treatments and get back on the bike to stay in shape. Alissa credits his devotion to exercise as his stress management, which kept Michael off of anti-depressants.

While on the bike, Michael was inspired to help ensure that every patient on the oncology and stem cell transplant units have access to an exercise bike. His mom, Kelly, is the Principal of Promise Road Elementary School, and started a weekly fundraising campaign where students and faculty would pay a dollar to wear jeans to school on Friday.  These dollars allowed the Treinen family to help outfit Riley Hospital with a slew of new bikes that were used on the oncology unit and throughout the inpatient hospital at large.  Michael’s full name is Michael Thomas Treinen, with the initials MTT. Each stationery bike was given a license plate saying, “Moving Through Treatment”, MTT, to honor Michael.

luke and lissa v 2
Luke Canterbury on a bike that was donated in honor of Michael

Alissa’s mom would repeatedly say how if her brother (Randy, the uncle who passed) had been around today, the treatments would have saved his life. Alissa isn’t so sure – as young children are lost in great numbers to Leukemia and Lymphoma.

Alissa now has two young children and has taken a hiatus from work to be with her kids. She is honored to be able to give back to the LLS through her Woman of the Year campaign for LLS. She was nominated by Kelly Treinen. Alissa didn’t hesitate to say “yes”. Her story will be the cover for the April issue of Broad Ripple Magazine.

As I write her story and wrap up Luke’s, a box of tissue sits beside me…
writing through emotion 2

Writing through emotion 1

Love Lives Here

Recently I wrote a piece on my local library, which I was inspired to do since I love books. Around this time, the library’s website experienced a much needed makeover.

Part of their fresh new face (website) are these wonderful tag lines, “Ideas Live Here”, “Innovation Lives Here”, “Discovery Lives Here”, and I was thinking if I created my own tag line along that same vein, it would be “Love Lives Here”.

The line, “Love Lives Here” would describe the subjects in each and every article I have ever written. This is truth. Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing Martha Hoover, lawyer turned restauranteur, whose love of providing the best quality ingredients to her patrons is what deeply motivates her. Another subject of an upcoming article is on Mickey Maurer, whose CV is longer than the street I live on and filled with an abundance of amazing business accomplishments and civic duties he has performed, is driven by love – the love of his family and helping others. Just meeting him and getting a glimpse into what he is all about makes you want to be a better person. He’s written 4 books, and I can honestly say I read all 4 cover to cover in 3 days while I wrote his article. (and I highly recommend them all: google Michael S. Maurer for titles)

Carol Frohlich, a 75 year old who performed with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra as a chaired violinist for 38 years, has channeled her energies into training for triathlons after having both knees replaced shortly after her husband (also a career violinist with the ISO) passed away. Carol exercises out of love of self. She knew she needed to exercise to keep moving and remain independent, not realizing it would lead to a 3-sport competition and loving every minute of it.

The kids performing with Summer Stock Stage at Park Tudor love performing, Josh Posner opened Eva Maison because of his love of natural skincare products, and Kevin Heffernan opened Center Stage Vintage Guitars (in Noblesville) because he loves repairing and creating new instruments – he is an artist in love with his craft.

It’s easy for me to connect with people when I speak with someone who loves what they do, because I love writing. And if they don’t love what they are doing, I quickly find what it is that they do love, because that’s what gets them talking. And I also love listening.

I am grateful to have the privilege of meeting so many incredibly interesting people, and all have the common bond of love. It’s love for what they do and their love of helping others that drives most everyone I meet and in the process they inspire us all.

The Will to Stay Strong: Lyn Jones

 

IMG_2111Running has been a major part of Lyn Jones’ life for 35 years. The Junior Olympics started a running club at her school, encouraging kids to channel their energy in a positive way. “Coming from a poor and dysfunctional home, running saved my life,” shares Jones.

“Thanks to the focus I maintained through running at a young age, I went on to become the first person in my family to graduate from college,” says Jones, who earned a doctorate degree and now teaches English education and creative writing as a professor at Ball State University as well as being the Education Outreach Director for the Indiana Writers Center.

In 2010, she blew out her knee while playing with her son, Will, severing the nerve at edge of tibia. Given the severity of the injury, Jones was told she would never run again.

“Given my life experiences and my rough childhood, I can honestly say that not being able to run was the worst thing to ever happen to me,” says Jones, “That is how vital a part of my life it was.”

This period of Jones’ life was dominated by depression and stress. “I was weak, emotionally and physically,” says Jones. Lyn and her husband have a beautiful son, whom they love very much. Will is a joy and a blessing in so many ways, but he is also physically demanding. Will has cerebral palsy and autism, requiring two people to physically assist him 24 hours a day.

After two surgeries, multiple procedures, and exhaustive therapies, Jones was teetering into despair without having an outlet for her stress and no means of restorative physical exercise.

Her pediatrist, Dr. Scott Schulman, a former weight lifter, suggested Jones try iFAST. Jones was convinced that no one could help her, but Schulman persisted.

“Scott said iFAST was an amazing place,” says Jones, “I couldn’t imagine that a gym could help me, but I had nothing to lose.”

At iFAST, Jones started with physical therapy every day. She had a team to help her on her road for recovery. Her trainers believed in her at a time when she lacked the same positivity. Her team was determined that she have a successful experience and reach her goals.

“I need to be strong for my kid. I need to be strong for me,” says Jones, “I had a team that wanted me to be better. I had support. Hope returned that I could be strong again.”

“It’s a powerful moment when a client has hope,” says Mike Robertson, co-owner of iFAST, “My business partner Bill (Bill Hartman, PT) says that he wants an answer for everything. The goal is to learn and educate yourself so that you can ultimately help as many people as possible.”

Even though Jones will not run again, she has learned how to do cardio differently thanks to IFAST.  “I can do shorter, more impactful bursts of cardio using ropes, a prowler, a full incline treadmill, or with box jumps,” says Jones.

In terms of results, Jones started developing muscle definition and feeling emotionally and physically stronger within the first 2 weeks of training.  Most importantly, she was doing this pain free.

Just six months after starting at iFAST and experiencing slow and steady progress with regaining her strength, Jones broke her foot by tripping over her son’s hospital bed. “I was crushed, just when things were going well,” says Jones, “This break happened.”

Surprisingly to Jones, her trainer Zach said, “Get in here, we can work around it.”

“He kept me strong,” says Jones.

After working out at iFAST for just over a year, Jones attended a power lifting meet. “I want to do that!” Jones said to her trainer.

By making that pronouncement, her fitness goals changed as well as her training program. After years of reaching a finish line, she set a completely different goal for herself. Jones trained for a year before competing in her first power lifting meet, and she did well.

“iFAST is a special place. It has certainly been important in my life. My mantra with them is ‘keep me safe, keep me strong’ and they have helped me accomplish my goals,” says Jones.

To accompany photo with Lyn, Jim & Will, or with Jim and Lyn:

Jim Jones spent 23 years with the Army, now teaches at BSU. He is a martial arts expert with a 2nd degree black belt in Kung Fu and a black belt in Japanese sword fighting. He is currently working on being a Master in Tae Kwon Do.

Kirsten Shaw

Kirsten Shaw, who works the front desk at IFAST, has struggled with obesity for 20 years. In 2011, Shaw decided doing the Geist 5K would be a fun way to get fit with her family. Within days of completing the race, however, Kirsten’s husband Larry required emergency heart surgery and received three stents in his “widow-maker” artery.

“The doctor told us that walking the race probably saved his life. His surgery was a huge wake-up call for me on how important it was for me to stop the yo-yo madness and make being healthy my new normal.”

“My goal was to change one habit at a time.” says Shaw, who has lost over 115lbs to date. “When I finally prioritized my health and happiness, I blossomed. Taking care of myself first has enabled me to be a better mom, a better wife, and a better employee.”

This article originally appeared in Fishers Community Newsletter, April 2015

Kara Kavensky

Kara Kavensky