FROM
WOUNDED
TO WARRIOR

AN INSPIRATIONAL STORY
OF COURAGE AND
SELF DISCOVERY

Interviewed and Written
By Sheri Hawkins
FROM
WOUNDED
TO WARRIOR
AN INSPIRATIONAL
STORY OF COURAGE
AND SELF DISCOVERY
Interviewed and Written
By Sheri Hawkins
 
When I first saw Mercy and her tiny, 95 pound frame wrapped around a pole, her wispy blond highlights flowing behind her as she twirled around it effortlessly, as much as I admired her, I must admit, my initial reaction was that, this is a woman who’s had a lot of advantages in life. Aside from the fact she’s lean, energetic and beautiful, she’s also very sweet, lovely and down-to-earth. I’ve always been a pretty good judge of character, but admittedly I was guilty of assuming that she must never have come up against anything too difficult in her life, otherwise at 43 years old, she’d have packed on at least a few extra pounds like the rest of us. That said, I will admit that I’m capable of being completely wrong. I love it when people surprise me.

 

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.

First it’s important to know that I am and have been a very private person.  I don’t share much and I haven’t shared my childhood history of abuse and subsequent bouts of depression with very many people… less than a hand full of very, VERY close friends. My guarding and hesitation to share I now know comes from my past trauma.  I know it will be a great shock to many people to learn of my history because most people know me as very happy, easy going, and mild-mannered person. I am very much that way now, because of all that I had gone through in my childhood, I try to avoid any drama and negativity at all costs.

GROWING UP MERCY

Mercy is a first generation American-Filipino. Her mother and her father met in the Philippines and, at the age of 19, moved to Hawaii, where Mercy and her older sister were born. She lived in Hawaii until she was four years old. Her parents divorced and her mother remarried; she has two stepbrothers.
Mercy was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness throughout her entire adolescence and never celebrated a holiday or a birthday until her late teens. Her stepfather was in the military, so she moved around quite a lot. From Hawaii, their family moved to Fort Knox, Kentucky, then back to Hawaii, until finally settling in Kansas, where she completed both high school and nursing school.  It was difficult to acclimate from island to stateside living.  Although Mercy doesn’t specifically remember having difficulty fitting in and making friends in Hawaii and Kansas, her relationships were developed with only a handful of close friends.
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.

Delayed Response

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.

Skeptical about it at first, she thought, “How are vibrations and light going to help me deal with this?” But to Mercy’s surprise, it did help. It forced her to stay focused on the moment and helped her express what she felt and thought. It even helped her release some of the anger she had felt towards her abuser, as she was able to recognize that he himself was possibly acting out from the trauma he’d experienced in his own childhood.
By reaching a place of “not quite forgiving, but understanding”, she was able to take another small step forward towards healing herself.
After two failed IVF treatments, coupled with the PTSD she’d been experiencing from her childhood, had once again made her deeply depressed.
“I’ve been a workaholic my whole life. No matter what I’m doing, whether it’s homework or actual work, I’m always working.”
Upon the encouragement of her supportive husband, she stopped working as a nurse and decided to return to school.

Digging Deeper

Mercy had always had an interest in anthropology, so she decided to pursue a career as an archeologist. She took the leap and enrolled in the University of Houston to obtain her undergraduate in anthropology.  A year later, she attended field school for archeology by participating in a month-long dig in Louisiana during the summer. During that month of sweating and minimal eating, she lost about ten pounds and completely leaned out. Down to a svelte 92 pounds, she wanted to capitalize on how she was looking and feeling, so she decided to get back to working out. She had done a figure competition when she was 30 years old, and she’d fallen out of a regular exercise routine.

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.

That’s when Mercy began doing cardio workouts at a pole fitness studio in Houston called Pole La Teaz (now called Revolve Pole Studio. She started with chair classes and ‘Jiggle It’ classes, which were designed to get her butt into shape (literally!) by teaching movements focused on cardio and toning. Due to her unique social and religious background, she’d been rather shy and never really felt comfortable in different social settings, so it took her awhile to drum up the courage to try Beginner Pole.
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. 
Although she has no plans to train for another fight, she is happy that she is now able to do almost all of her previous activities with minimal limitations.

DO WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY

Mercy is happy to say she has finally found her “thing”. Trauma brought her to yoga, but it was also the thing she needed to discover that would bring her the most joy and fulfillment in her life. She is no longer trying to “find herself” or figure out who she is. Now she knows. I can’t help but reflect that, in amidst of all the pain, there is an element of beauty in that.
While she was doing her yoga training, she had to pick a form of yoga to study. She had said to her instructor,
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?
Her instructor replied, “Buti yoga, that’s what you’re looking for.”  She found a local Buti® Yoga instructor and after the first class, she said, “Yep, that’s it!”

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!

What’s Next?

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.

“Collectively, I’ve now been pole dancing for a little over a year.  My pole fitness instructor is a phenomenal teacher and human being. She has taught me so much.  She has coached me through my very first pole performance [in November] for her studio’s open house showcase and my first pole competition this past March.  With every performance, she encourages each of us to tap into our creativity so we can develop a pole routine that is uniquely us.  Because of her encouragement, I’ve discovered a creative side that I never thought I possessed and that has helped me develop my own yoga teaching style as well.”

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.

I’m in a place right now where I feel completely happy”, says Mercy.  “I’ve found a great group of friends through my activities and my neighborhood. My neighbors have lots of kids, I enjoy spending time with them, and they help fill a void for me. I have a supportive husband and friends that are my family. I have found my community here.”

I’m in a place right now where I feel completely happy”, says Mercy.  “I’ve found a great group of friends through my activities and my neighborhood. My neighbors have lots of kids, I enjoy spending time with them, and they help fill a void for me. I have a supportive husband and friends that are my family. I have found my community here.”

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Comments (5)

Incredible Article, Mercy! Thank you for sharing your story with all who read it. May they be inspired in their own journey’s as well.
xoxo-Nina

I am so proud of you honey. I can’t hold back my tears…you finally released the pain you held inside. I love you 😘😘😘💐💐💐

Wow! Mercy gives a whole new meaning to the term warrior! Love to hear her inspired journey to finding herself.

Wow Mercy. I always knew you was special. So proud of you.

I love you more than you know. Thank you for your strength and courage little sister! You’re my hero.

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