4-xoiDPGWdQknJFRJeQiSyPltvV81SCUjkjW59-fbfoAs a young girl, I had a secret: I wasn’t supposed to be alive. And, any given day could be my last.

I would go to school and blend into the background, sometimes taking part and sometimes holding back. With each new activity, I’d ask myself, “Will this be more than my body can handle?”

I wonder how hard it must have been for my parents? So excited when they were expecting their new baby girl, but then to hear that my heart was damaged—so damaged that I was pronounced dead at birth. Working heroically, my caregivers managed to bring me back, day by day. After I had been alive for 6 months, a doctor wrote “Miracle” across my chart. They told my parents not to hope for too much. My heart defect was so severe they didn’t expect me to live long. I was given a life expectancy of 12 years.

My heart was damaged. Their hearts must have been broken.

Why did I keep it a secret from my classmates? I suppose for the same reason kids always keep their struggles secret. I so desperately wanted to fit in, to have that blissful feeling that I was just like everyone else. I was the only one who knew the difference between them and me. They had their whole lives in front of them. Mine could end at any time.

And that was when the real miracle happened. As I entered 5th grade, I met the teacher who would change my life. When I told him why I wasn’t able to participate in his gym class like the other girls, he listened carefully. And a few days later, he had decided that maybe there could be more to my life. He told me, “The heart is a muscle. If you use it, you can strengthen it.” And so, under his careful, watchful eye, I began to run. A little bit at first, and then, more and more.

In time, he coached me from being the girl who sat at the side of the gymnasium watching others grow into an athlete. I never stopped running, even long after 5th grade. My body kept feeling stronger. I felt like I was being reborn. My doctor marveled at the progress. He said my heart was indeed, healing itself. My life expectancy moved from 12, to 18, to 24.

When I was 24 years old, I ran my first marathon.

Crossing the finish line, I realized that my parents, doctors, and a caring gym teacher brought me to this place. Not just to the end of a race. Somewhere better– a very special place too few of us reach. A second chance.

It was my turn now. How many others were holding themselves back? Secretly hiding their own “defects,” unable to participate fully in their lives? It was a new challenge for my heart. It was strong enough to run a marathon. But would it ever be as big as the one in a 5th grade teacher who refused to let a child slip through the cracks?

I didn’t know the answers. I still don’t. But I had learned that there aren’t any answers on the sidelines. It was time to start the most important race of all, helping others. My message was simple. Perhaps the things people believe are holding them back are the things that can make them stronger.

I quit my job and returned to school to begin a new career of inspiring health and wellness in others. Shortly after graduating, I began working for a company that put me in charge of wellness programs for over 50,000 employees. And then, I started my own yoga company, which I still run today.

Along the way, I discovered something amazing. When you try to find ways to help the world, it helps you back.

Every time you get the chance to acknowledge a second chance and you do something with it, the doors will open. I believe life helps you most when you are listening to your heart, finding gratitude in opportunity, and taking every second chance as a gift.

For some it may be the second chance in a relationship. Or, perhaps a relationship has ended and you are now starting over on your own. For others–perhaps you’ve moved, started a different career, or even have overcome a sickness. Whatever your second chance is, big or small, what matters the most is what you do with it.

Second chances aren’t just for lucky people. They aren’t just for some people. They are there for every person, every day. Look for your opportunities. Look for the sunshine in the rain. And most of all, look for the person who believes in you when the rest of the world has shut you out.

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