This, my friends, is Frane Selak. Frane is a Croatian music teacher. He’s also either the unluckiest or the luckiest man on the planet, depending on how you see things. Frane has survived a train wreck, a plane crash, a bus crash, having his car blown up twice, and getting hit by a city bus. Seriously, true story. Frane also won the Croatian lottery of a million dollars! After all he’s been through, he gave it all away to help other people, and he says he’s never been happier. Frane came back by giving back.
This is Nicholas Buoniconti. Nicholas is the father of Marc, who is a quadriplegic after a tackle in a college football game In the emergency room, as Marc laid there struggling for his life, his dad looked into his eyes and read, “Help me Dad.” And he did. He started an amazing foundation called the Miami Project, which is all about helping people like Marc, thousands of them, hopefully walk again someday. To come back, Nicholas gave back.
This is a friend of mine, Nicole Hockley. Her little boy, Dylan, was killed in the Sandy Hook shootings. Nicole co-founded Sandy Hook Promise, a foundation that is making sure the world is a safer place for our children. Nicole came back by giving back.
We all go through things in our lives that impact us, influence us, and change us. But while we can’t control everything that happens to us, we can control how we react to it, and that reaction is part of what I think is the art of the comeback. Nicole, Frane, and Nicholas all reacted by channeling their pain into making a difference, by helping others to make their own hearts grow stronger. To come back, they gave back.
Well, my comeback started on a beautiful Colorado day in May, 1994. Early that morning, my husband jumped out of bed, gave me a quick kiss and a “love you babe,” and headed out the door to go meet my parents for his 25th birthday surprise. A few weeks prior, my dad had run into an old family friend, Cliff, from Monument, who was a United Airlines pilot for 30 plus years. My dad came back so excited about Cliff’s new hobby. It was doing air shows with vintage stunt planes. We thought that would be the perfect surprise birthday gift for my young daredevil husband.
The plane did all the stunts, and Cliff radioed my folks, who were watching, to tell him that they were going to do a fly by over them so they could take pictures before they landed. Instead, the plane crashed into the ground and Bion and Cliff were both killed instantly. Obviously, I was devastated. For the next few days and weeks, I was so lost and sad that I couldn’t get out of bed. But there were two little creatures that helped me out: Nick and Whinny.
They would nudge me with their wet nose or give me a quick woof to remind me that life had not stopped, that we still needed to go out and play ball. So together, we played ball. We put one foot, one paw, in front of each other, and one minute, one hour, one day at a time, we started to come back. That is, until I blew a million dollars. That fall after the crash, I received a settlement from the plane’s insurance company.
You’d think that would help out a little bit, but it didn’t. In fact, the money made me feel terrible. I didn’t want money back; I wanted Bion back. I wanted our life back. It was incredibly hard, but it did give me some space, and some time to heal, and maybe a little too much time.
Part of my healing was a quick rebound marriage and divorce to a guy that I’d grown up with in Monument since eighth grade. You’d think his track record of three DUIs and a couple rehab stints would’ve stopped me in my tracks, but it didn’t. Unfortunately, that quick rebound marriage cost me half a million dollars of the settlement, and five years in court to get out of. It did, however, give me a beautiful gift to get back into the game of life, and that is my daughter. This is Tori, when she was a little one.
She brought me back to life, and she made me smile again. She still does; she’s sitting out there somewhere. But Tori was just part of the solution. I thought I needed to start a business to get back into life too, so I started and quickly shut down a baby bedding catalog company called “Nursery Works” because being pregnant and having Tori taught me so much about what pregnant women wanted – not. This was the sensible business that everyone thought that I should do not the business that Bion and I had dreamed up.
They thought doggy day care, Camp Bow Bow, was absurd. What was absurd was that I had just blown a million dollars in under six years. So I was a single mom, back in pharmaceutical sales, with $83,000 left in a retirement account. My little brother Patrick knew I was struggling, and he came to me and said, “Why don’t we dust off the old business plan for Camp Bow Wow and see if we can’t just make it happen?” I didn’t think it was so absurd anymore after I tried what was sensible, and had gotten absolutely nowhere out of it. So, we did it.
I wanted to get that million dollars back too, on my own merit. But I really wanted to see our dream of Camp Bow Wow come true. I really wanted to create the happiest place on earth for dogs. So, we launched Camp Bow Wow in an old BFW hall in South Broadway across from Herman’s Hideaway, for those of you who remember. It was a messy place, but we got it cleaned up, put a logo on the wall, and it worked out beautifully.