I have asked others to tell their story, to share their story with the world, so it is only fitting that I share part of mine. I was the kid that never really belonged. I have been abused for as long as I can remember – physically, sexually and mentally. My biological mother was a German immigrant brought to the United States by my father, an Air Force Pilot. My father ended up passing away from ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease and my mother, a now single parent of several children, became an alcoholic. She would often leave me at the bars that she would hang out at, forgetting that I was with her. Oftentimes, I would go home with the bar owner or manager until the next day. She eventually gave me and my siblings up knowing that she couldn’t take care of us any longer. Finally, I was adopted by a family that had convinced the courts that I was loved and going to be well cared for. That was not the case. The sexual abuse started very shortly after going to live with them and soon it became a “family affair”. I hated that place. I would be left in a locked closet while they went out or away on trips and would get beaten when they came home if I had soiled myself. Sometimes my punishment included having dish soap poured down my throat. If I threw it up, I would have to lick it off the floor. Another punishment would be to eat cold, out of the can tamales, layer of grease and all. Needless to say, that brand of dish soap is not allowed in my house and tamales are not a part of my diet in any way, shape, form or fashion. My foster, turned adopted parents, were under the impression that both my parents were German and that I was a “pure bred” as my adopted mother would say. When they found out that I was a mixed-race child, they took me back to court and tried to have the adoption voided, but the judge refused. He told them that I was a beautiful young lady and they should love me for who I am. I remember her yelling at the judge and being restrained by the guard. The racial epithets started, the name calling was constant and the racist jokes about me continued until I left.
Because I was so miserable, academics and sports became my solace, my escape. I was a gymnast, on the debate team, even started a Students Against Drunk Drivers Chapter at my high school. Then, I found running. Running allowed me to push my body to the point of not being able to feel what my heart and mind were going through. I became addicted to running without even knowing it. I ran on the cross country and track teams and never felt more at home than I did when I was running.
I had no idea what I was going to do with my life, but I knew that the time was coming, and I could finally get away from them. I tried to fill out college applications, but because I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I didn’t know what college to apply to and it was an apparent endless cycle. Then, I was watching television, trying to find something to watch when I stopped on the channel showing a war movie. It was an autobiographical movie about Audie Leon Murphy and took place during WWII. The movie was called “To Hell and Back”. THAT WAS IT!! I KNEW WHAT I WANTED TO DO!! I wanted to be a Soldier – I wanted to make a difference in the world and this was how I was going to do it. I went to school and told the school counselor that I wanted to enlist into the military. At first, I was set on the Marines, because let’s face it, their uniforms are way cooler than the Army’s uniforms. But, something changed my mind and I enlisted into the Army. I did what I do best, and I poured myself into studying what to do, the different commands, procedures and marching movements. I was going to be the best Soldier I could be so that I could prove to the world that I am worthy, that I shouldn’t have been aborted, that not committing suicide was the right choice to make, to prove that I could make it on my own without them, and that I do have the potential to do great things.
I left for Basic Training and never looked back! I had a very successful military career and I loved serving my country. I competed in many awards boards, winning many of them. I performed exceptionally well on my physical fitness tests and was hand-picked for very distinguished positions working for some of the Army’s truly best and brightest Soldiers and Army leaders. The most prestigious moment of my career was when I was inducted into the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club (SAMC) while stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. After all, Audie Leon Murphy is the reason that I joined the Army in the first place. I served over 20 years with distinction, honor and pride. I made a difference and there is no doubt that my children’s children’s children will be able to talk about my career with pride for what I accomplished. As is the plight of those of us that have chosen to defend this great Nation of ours, I have experienced battles, war, loss and despair. As so many of us, I have felt what it is like to lose troops, to bury my friends and to tell their loved ones that they are gone. I have also experienced tremendous happiness and pride in the work that I did day in and day out. I loved being a Soldier and have never second-guessed enlisting. During my career, I was badly injured. I had to have multiple surgeries and spent so much time in the hospital that I had forgotten what it felt like to have the sun shine on my face, the wind blowing my hair. My team of doctors said that I would most likely never walk again and if I did, it would most certainly be with the aid of a device such as a walker or a cane. I would most assuredly never be able to run again. It took a VERY long time, but I told my neurosurgeon, his team of doctors and the hospital staff that I would not only walk again, but that I would run again. With the help of my family and friends, I fought, and I fought, and I fought. My husband would not let me quit on him. My children kept me going. My friends kept me motivated. My mind went back to when I was a kid and how running kept me from attempting suicide. Running made my life tolerable enough to stay and handle it and there was no way that I was giving up now. My life up to this point was either you give it your all or you give it nothing and this situation was going to be no different. I have since ran countless races to include 5K, 10K, 25K distances as well as multiple marathons of varying categories of ultra, full and half. I have learned to rock climb and pay forward that skill to others as an instructor. I have ridden bikes in competitions and helped run an American Flag across the United States. Most recently, I have begun on a weightlifting path and have scheduled my first bodybuilding show. I am a runner. I am an athlete. I am stubborn. Most of all, I am a fighter.
I am also a Survivor. I have been treated for breast cancer and ovarian cancer and even though they were the fights of my life, again, my family and close friends would not let me quit. I wanted to (quit) believe me, I wanted to, but my husband & children activated the “stay and fight” mentality that I had pushed down deep inside me. It kicked in and one more time it was all or nothing. I chose the all route. It has been a battle for the ages, full of ebbs and flows, great news, then not so great. I have had surgeries and treatments that hurt like holy hell, but I couldn’t give up on myself when I had so many people that refused to give up on me. So, I fought, and I prayed.
I started my very own company, called Potential Realized, with the mission that I have always had – to make a difference. Everyone has potential, they just may not know it or believe in it. We believe that bringing out the best in each of us enriches all of us. The power of potential is huge, and it is my mission to help people figure out their passions, their goals and come up with a plan so they can achieve them! Everyone has a PR, whether it is related to sports or whatever path you are traveling. Whether you are working on Personal Responsibility, Private Relationships, Praise and Reward, Personal Record, Parent Responsibility, Physiological Response, Professional Rebuilding…the list can go on forever because it is reflectant upon what is happening in your life and what is important to you at this moment. Everyone’s PR changes and that is the beauty of Potential Realized, it changes with you, it changes to help you change.
Because of my life’s experiences, it is important to me that I show others that there is great pride in being a Survivor, not just of cancer, but of whatever struggles you have and will go through. I wear my hair in a mohawk and I wear super bright, crazy patterned clothes. You may not see me, you may not know me, but you will remember me. We all have a story. Some are more adventurous than others, but every story is amazing in its own right because it is YOURS! There is only one you and that makes it a one of a kind story.
I am a Veteran, a Survivor, a Motivational Speaker, a Certified Personal Trainer, a Certified Veteran Fitness Officer, a Wife, a Mother, a Friend, an Athlete, but more importantly, I am ME, I am DANA! Who are you and why?
This video interview took place during attendance to a personal training course. It was put together by Jacob Roberson Media. It is a video testimonial of Dana's transition from the military to civilian life, a few of the struggles she has gone through and how she was able to make it to the other side of them to be at that very moment and what propels her to keep going.
I met Dana sometime in 2016 I believe, through an organization we are both involved in, Team RWB! I was amazed at her “spunk” from the moment I met her. I don’t I use the word “spunk” to describe many people I meet, but that word fits for Dana, and did so even before I knew her history.
What can I say about Dana? Veteran, survivor, warrior, a person who inspires me? Wife and mother. Dana is all of those things. And yes, cancer survivor. Dana is a survivor of multiple bouts of cancer.
The thing you need to know about Dana is this: she is there for YOU, not herself. I find that quite amazing when you know (or will learn) of what she herself has been through! When you feel like the broken link in a chain, Dana will explain to you how the chain was never broken at all...maybe a little weak at points, but Dana will help you strengthen your own link in that chain. She believes in YOU just as much, if not more than, she believes in herself.
She’s supportive of everything I do! I am NOT a runner, and likely never will be. It’s never mattered to her. Dana committed to walk a race with me. Now, I am a slow walker and Dana is a runner. She is doing this because she believes in my POTENTIAL. She is helping me find my “happy place” again, the place where both my head and heart are happy. Dana’s taught me to stop and enjoy my surroundings, and that crossing the starting line is just as important as crossing the finish line.
She’s taught me that, after all, if you don’t start, you won’t finish. She inspires me with her guts, grit and determination. Dana has overcome every obstacle put in her path, and she keeps on going. That, to me, is an inspiring person. She’s one of the most inspirational people in my life. AND I LOVE HER!
-Karen West Burt
During the summer, Dana hosts a weekly climbing event at a local gym. She invites military (active, retired, disabled) personnel and their family members to participate. It is a great community bonding event, providing an opportunity for people to learn a new skill, meet new friends and enjoy a close net community. Dana doesn’t just host the event, she spends a lot of time going around to make sure everyone is comfortable, providing an inviting atmosphere. One day, I took my daughter and her friend. The girls loved the event and were determined to reach the top. If you have never been climbing, you know that mastering a rock wall is not something that is easily accomplished on the first day. However, Dana made sure to encourage the girls to let them know they can do it. She told them to not give up. On our third visit, my daughter was finally getting the hang of the system but was still having problems mastering the rock wall course. Dana came over and went over the options, provided some pointers on how to overcome the issues and reminded her that she could do it. When my daughter hit a roadblock, Dana took over and screamed up to her, “Don’t you dare let go of that wall. CLIMB!” It was a sight to see. My daughter didn’t quit and she finally made it to the top. When she came down she was beyond proud and extremely happy. She helped a little girl obtain her goal and reach her potential.