Last February, while lying in a hospital bed, I was let go from my job.
It was unjust and awful, but it’s not what my story is about. Instead, I want to share what happened three days after I was laid off, when I received a diagnosis of a rare and serious disease that would forever change my life. Feeling like I had nothing left to lose led me to abandon my fears, take a giant leap and finally, fearlessly, pursue my business ideas.
I’ve been a graphic designer for more than 10 years. I’m also a marathon runner and involved in my community. But running and coaching runners are what brought me the most joy.
Last fall, after several bouts of an illness that left doctors baffled, I became increasingly sick and unable to train or even work normal hours. Emergency room visits and tests by specialists gave no answers, ultimately leading to a two-week stay in Mayo Clinic Hospital, St. Mary’s Campus, in Rochester, Minn., last winter. When I was finally discharged after weeks of being in physical crisis, with eight days on an IV and seven days unable to consume food, I left with a diagnosis, but little else.
Arriving home in Des Moines, I experienced true exhaustion for the first time. I could not lie down without blacking out in sleep, and, for the first two weeks, had to use a wheelchair to leave the house. My body no longer felt like my own. Beyond that, my personal confidence and professional confidence were shattered.
Now jobless, but not hopeless, I was determined to use the time confined to my house to explore a business idea that had been brewing in the back of my mind for years, one that I never had taken the time or energy to really explore.
First it was a vision — a line of greeting cards for runners. As a runner and coach, I love to support my friends who finish races all over the country, but I could never find greeting cards that adequately conveyed the good luck message I wanted to send. So I decided to create my own cards. Hello And High Five, a line of fitness-inspired greeting cards, was born on my couch. It was there that I designed my first card, a T-Rex dinosaur chasing a runner, which paid homage to the “I only run if I’m being chased” sentiment shared by many of my new runners. I posted it on my personal Facebook page and was blown away by the response. Within hours, I had people wanting to purchase the card as well as requests to create cards for cyclists, yogis and CrossFit athletes.
I thought I might be onto something, so I created an online shop and continued to design and print small batches of cards. Then my line was picked up by the local Fleet Feet Sports store, and another in Davenport. Encouraged, I designed cards for cyclists, then yogis. I partnered with brilliant social media strategist and fellow runner Rachel Peterson, who gives an empowered, female voice to the brand on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.
Our message is one of empowering female athletes, expressing gratitude, inspiration and sending high fives in style. We have a team of brand ambassadors, a partnership with the IMT Des Moines Marathon (the state’s largest road race). We’ve expanded to five stores across the state, and we’re sponsoring a series of yoga classes and pop-up shops.
As far as I’m concerned, this is just the beginning. I will always have my medical diagnosis. As I accept my new way of life, there are plenty of days I wish I didn’t have to be careful of the things I eat or fear the next acute attack, but I know that if I hadn’t gotten so sick and reached my lowest low, I never would have taken the time or found the courage to start Hello And High Five.
We all have an idea that nags at us from time to time, whether it’s a business venture, a creative project or that next big family trip. Wouldn’t it be a shame to wait to act on that dream until you have nothing to lose?