AN INSPIRATIONAL STORY
OF COURAGE AND
By Sheri Hawkins
STORY OF COURAGE
AND SELF DISCOVERY
By Sheri Hawkins
Before We Begin
Before we begin, it is important to note that Mercy’s story may trigger others given what she has experienced. But it’s essential to understand how courageous Mercy is in coming forward to share her story.
GROWING UP MERCY
Most unsettling of all is that both Mercy and her sister had experienced years of ongoing childhood abuse by a family member, which was the cause of much of the trauma she went through, both as a child and later in life as an adult.
For most of her childhood, she had sworn secrecy to her sister, due to the threats the perpetrator had made to her immediate family. Wanting to be a good sister, Mercy protected their secret. Finally, near the end of high school, her sister decided it was time to talk to her mother about it and the authorities were notified.
The two girls were encouraged to go to therapy, but as their mother was working multiple jobs to pay for the cost of it, they decided that it wasn’t really helping, and they agreed that they were “over it”.
Life moved forward as Mercy’s sister got accepted into college on a cheerleading scholarship, and Mercy received her practical nursing license at a vocational school in Manhattan, Kansas. At the age of 21, she decided to pursue her registered nursing degree at the University of Kansas.
During her time in university, Mercy worked as a licensed practical nurse for Community Living Opportunities in Lawrence KS, which was assisted living group homes for adults with special needs. . After receiving her practical nursing license, she decided to pursue her registered nursing degree at the University of Kansas. She began to lose focus after 1.5 years of university and decided to take a short break from college. Shortly after she married and settled in Houston. The marriage was short-lived and the breakup and subsequent divorce was very difficult on her.
In the back of her mind, Mercy had always planned to go back to school. However, she had not anticipated her “year off” would end up being 13 years in duration before she would return to post-secondary education again until 2010.
While living in Houston, Mercy was working as a a urology nurse when she met her second husband. Married now, well into her 30’s and working in her career as a clinical research nurse, life seemed to be running pretty smoothly when, out of the blue, Mercy received a message from her childhood abuser, asking how she was doing. She never replied to the message but being faced with the reality that he was still “around” triggered memories and emotions she thought she had resolved. She couldn’t sleep and she had frequent nightmares. She became depressed and questioned how people could have missed signs of their abuse.
Mercy then decided to return to therapy, where her therapist explained to her that she was experiencing a “delayed response”. As a child, she hadn’t really dealt with her trauma, she had just blocked it out. Even when she spoke about it, she would disconnect and speak in the third person, almost as if she wasn’t directly involved in it.
After some time in therapy, it had stopped affecting her. She was no longer blaming others and the open communication with her family and her therapist seemed to help. But once her internal pain became manageable, she started pushing her emotions down again. Suffice to say, it was only a matter of time before they resurfaced again. Several years later, coupled with other stresses, she fell back into a state of depression and turned to talk therapy, with the addition of EMDR treatments to help her try once again, to heal from her trauma.
By reaching a place of “not quite forgiving, but understanding”, she was able to take another small step forward towards healing herself.
A “figure competition” is a form of body building, but the goal isn’t to get big muscles, but rather to maintain muscle mass while staying lean. Mercy underwent an intense workout for 12 weeks, but soon after the competition, determined that regimented “gym life” and lifting weights was not for her. She began looking for more interesting ways to work out, recognizing that her workout needed to be fun if she was going to stick with it.
Mercy credits pole fitness for helping her come out of her shell and shaping the person she has become today.
Muay Thai Boxing
While she was attending her cardio classes at Pole Le Teaz Mercy was hearing thumping kicks and loud noises from the gym next door. Her curiosity eventually got the better of her, so she went to check it out. The place was called Kru Pong’s Muay Thai Boxing (kickboxing from Thailand), and according to an article published in one of Houston’s local magazines, it was ranked #2 in the “The Top 5 Hardest Workouts in Houston”.
Kru Pong was a man in his late 60’s who ran the Muay Thai circuit training, and she absolutely loved it.
It’s the most intense workout I’ve ever had”, says Mercy. “I want to do work outs that are fun, because that’s what keeps me working out.
She whole-heartedly embraced the sport and her community in both Muay Thai and pole fitness.
TAKE ME HOME COUNTRY ROAD
After her husband decided he needed to pursue a different path in his career, they moved to West Virginia. Nervous to leave her fitness community, she knew her first order of business would be to find a gym that suited her needs. Moving to Morgantown, WV, a town of about 30,000 people (60,000 during the school year), from the bustling city of five million people in Houston, her feelings of isolation increased. Her saving grace was a gym called Anu Academy, now called Team Junqueira Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. They were teaching Brazilian Ju Jitsu and had just started a Muay Thai program. She was their first student.
Mercy finished her anthropology degree at WVU, graduating with a bachelor’s degree. However, since the only experience she had acquired was in field school, she volunteered on historic and prehistoric digs in Virginia and Missouri. It was on the last dig when she realized she didn’t like the effects that being “hunched over all day long” had on her knees and joints.
Wanting to do something productive with her degree, she joined AmeriCorps. It was a one-year program working part-time for a non-profit historic preservation organization.
Anu Academy also had a boxing program taught by a pro-boxer. This is where she fell in love with Western boxing. Mercy continues to intermittently train with her boxing trainer at his gym, Jim’s Gym, where they have always made her feel like family.
Recognizing that she needed more advanced training with Muay Thai boxing, Mercy trained twice a week at Pittsburgh Muay Thai with a trainer who was a Muay Thai fighter, MMA fighter, and boxer. He was the perfect fit for her, combining both her love of Western boxing with her background training in Muay Thai. She trained with him for over six years until he relocated. In the time since, Mercy has since been training with Pittsburgh Muay Thai’s head trainer.
HOW MERcY FOUND YOGA
After the intense workouts from Muay Thai and boxing, Mercy found that her legs and muscles were very sore. So, she began learning yoga from a DVD at home to help with flexibility and recovery from her workouts. After memorizing the 20-minute yoga routine, she would do yoga stretches with the students after training in the gym.
When she moved to Morgantown, WV, Mercy started a regular weekly yoga routine at a taekwondo studio. It wasn’t until years later, when the childhood trauma had resurfaced in her life once again that she got serious about yoga, as a part of intensifying the treatment of her therapy. She attended yoga classes three times a week at a gym where they kept the classes interesting by changing the routine and the instructors. This was a different approach from where she had previously practiced and she enjoyed it.
Up until that point, Mercy hadn’t found a way to effectively manage her depression or stop the seemingly endless question of…
“What am I going to do with my life?”
As a self-proclaimed workaholic, yoga taught her how to slow down and just breathe. The structure of yoga taught her how to stay still and be in the moment. It gave her a way to get out of her head and just focus on breathing and holding a pose. This was something she had never done before and it helped to clear her mind. At the end of practice, she’d start to cry because, after her brief reprieve, her trauma would hit her again. She would think…
“Yoga is over, now what am I going to do?”
But as she kept practicing, she began to feel better about herself, she’d learned to breathe. She began to feel a healthier connection forming between her body and mind.
ANOTHER HARD KICK
After training in Muay Thai for nearly five years, Mercy decided she was going to compete in a Muay Thai fight. However, two weeks before the competition, she got her leg swept in training and she tore her ACL. When Mercy heard the “snapping sound”, her immediate thought was…
“I can’t fight, I can’t run, I can’t do yoga, my life is ruined!”
Her main way of combatting depression and finding inner peace was entirely dependent on the physical ability of her body. Without that, she didn’t know what she would do, or even who she would be. In yoga, she had finally found the thing that made her happy, and now, by this cruel twist of fate, she couldn’t do it.
Mercy missed her fight and had to recover from two ACL surgeries. She spent months in rehab to rebuild her muscles. Nearly three months later, she got released to start doing small activities. She went back to doing limited yoga. Slowly she began to progress.
Mercy credits yoga for helping her deal with both her mental and physical recovery progress.
DO WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY
I find that when I’m doing yoga and a good song comes on, I find myself pulsing and wanting to move to the beat. Is there something called ‘pulse yoga’ or something like that?
February of this year, Mercy went to Scottsdale to complete her training to become a Buti® yoga instructor. It was here, that she met Yogi Yoga Wear’s , Nina Joy Rizzo, a fellow student who was also getting certified. When Mercy noticed many of the students wearing YYW Booty Shorts, she approached Nina and told her how much she liked them. From there a great friendship ensued, which is why Yogi Yoga Wear is proud to announce that Mercy is one of the newest affiliates. Her role helping introduce Yogi Yoga Wear’s fitness apparel from our Shorts to our Leggings and beyond into the Pole Fitness World is remarkable and we couldn’t be more grateful!
On March 16-17, 2019, Mercy competed with Pole Sport Organization at Atlantic Pole Championships in Washington, DC and placed third in her level for “Exotic Level 3 with Masters”! She will also be finishing her 200 HR Yoga Teacher Training and will be receiving her instructor’s certificate on May 5th at Suncrest Studio . She will be teaching her first Buti® yoga class on May 9th at her pole studio, Vertical Vixens in Clarksburg, WV.
Mercy hopes to compete in her second pole performance showcase in Boston this upcoming November. She has established a regular yoga practice at a wonderful yoga studio where all the instructors are amazing. She credits her yoga teacher training instructor for helping her deepen her love for yoga and for helping her maintain a sense of serenity.