With a Texas twang sweetened by years in Louisiana and standing on impossibly high heels, Abby Rike brought tears, laughter and inspiration to the audience at the 15th Annual Women’s Wellness Forum.
Rike, author of the 2011 book “Working It Out: A Journey of Love, Loss and Hope,” and a 2009 contestant in the reality TV series “The Biggest Loser,” shared the story of a perfect life turned to ash by tragedy. An award-winning teacher, she was married to her best friend. They had a beautiful, energetic inspiring little girl and a newborn son, until Rike lost everything in a car crash Oct. 13, 2006.
Her keynote speech summed up the empowering message of the daylong series of presentations intended to help Rim Country women gain control of their lives — and their health.
Approximately 188 women participated in the Women’s Wellness Forum Saturday at the Payson High School. Presented by the Mogollon Health Alliance, the forum was made possible with assistance from Cenpatico, Soroptimist, Eastern Arizona Area Health Education Center, Hospice Compassus, Rural Women’s Health Network and Vita-Mart. It featured a variety of speakers on a wide range of topics Many of the speakers were area residents, including Mayor Kenny Evans and local physicians Sam Gillette, Alan Michels and Cynthia Booth.
Rike set the tone with her gripping story of how she reclaimed her life after tragedy.
She tried to pick up some of the fragments of her life after the accident that claimed her whole family and returned to the classroom when school resumed following the semester break. When she felt that wasn’t working, she went back to school herself and threw herself into the work, earning a master’s degree in a year.
Rike moved to Louisiana and tried to start over in a new place. Part of that was joining a gym. “I went one time,” she admitted. But that one time proved just the right time, because she met someone who had participated in “The Biggest Loser.”
All the changes did not fill the emptiness.
Speaking to the forum participants, Rike recalled the day she hit rock bottom: Friday, Feb. 13 — her family had died on a Friday the 13th. It was almost Valentine’s Day and she realized she had to do something drastically different. “I was existing rather than living,” Rike said.
The day before she hit rock bottom, the friend from “Biggest Loser” she had made at the gym blogged about upcoming auditions for the show.
Different is possible, so she signed up. She made it through the rounds until she was invited to come to Los Angeles.
“The most difficult thing I have done is opening that car door at the airport to get on the plane,” she said.
But she did it and if she hadn’t, she said she would have missed out on the new life that followed.
Arriving in Los Angeles, she met with the producers and was asked to sign a contract. She never signs anything without reading it and part of the contract concerned her. She asked for a change, the show refused — so she walked away — safe.
For a time.
The producers called her back, saying they had changed the part of the contract she had questioned — so she went back.
She talked about being afraid of Jillian Michaels, the show’s tough-as-nails coach.
Rike saw the challenge through until a stress fracture sent her home. Still, she stuck with the eating plan and exercise and returned at the end of the season 100 pounds lighter than her starting weight of 247.
Her journey to health did not end there. She said she had always wanted to be a runner and became so dedicated she’s competed in several events in the past few years.
She said she would have missed out on all of that if she had not opened that car door. “The whole world is hurting and a lot of people suffer in silence and alone. (If you are one of those people) realize you are not always going to feel that way. There is hope to live in joy,” she said.
“Even if it’s hard, it’s where you’re supposed to be, because it shapes who you are supposed to become. Failure is great. It means you’re out of your comfort zone. Comfort zones suffocate us,” Rike said.
She went on to say inaction is the same as deciding just to exist. “If you want different, act. You can’t choose your circumstances, but you choose how to respond (to them).”
Rike said nothing external “will fix you. Find your peace and joy within.”
Because of the joy in which she and her family lived, she said she would be dishonoring them if she did not “suck the marrow out of the bone of every day.
“Count your blessings. Dream a little — about the life you have to give and a way to serve. Step out of your comfort zone, do something different. It’s OK to fail. What if IT is possible? Be fearless. Don’t miss out.”