Share Your Strong: Interview with Stephanie Freeman
To know more about Stephanie Freeman's non-profit organization Share Your Strong, visit http://www.shareyourstrong.org/
First off, please give a brief introduction about yourself and any fun facts!
I am a brain injury survivor for 28 years. I have my own non-profit where I do a lot of peer visiting and support people going through the same issues I went through as a child.
Please share as much information as you feel comfortable about the nature of your injury and how was it caused. You may also share your thoughts regarding this time period as well.
I have a severe traumatic brain injury and was in a coma for two months. I had to learn how to walk, talk, and function again. I was 14 years old when this happened, but I turned 15 while in a coma. It was a rough time. I’ve been very successful in my recovery, but of the problems that I’ve dealt with from ‘93 to today, I would say the biggest have been mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and fatigue. For example, chaotic mind frames from time to time throughout the years. Doing what I do today with non-profit work, I help people that are going through the same things that I went through and I still sometimes battle. It’s very special for me to do that.
Were there any obstacles in your life that tried to stop you from accomplishing your goals? How’d you overcome them?
There have been many obstacles thrown in my path throughout the years. I felt that the universe was trying to see how badly I wanted something or if it is what I really want. When I came out of my coma in 1993, I was in a wheelchair. I have worked hard in my recovery. I can say that I have set goals for my running marathons, then different obstacles would come up within that. Forming my non-profit organization, again, different obstacles would come within that. These obstacles would throw chaos in my path and I had to ask myself, “is this really what I want?”
What pushed me forward and what always has, has been remembering myself in that wheelchair and remembering that I was told I’d never walk again because of that brain injury. That has always been my driving force.
Tell us more about your organization “Share Your Strong”.
“Share Your Strong” is a non-profit brain trauma organization. Our mission is to bring help, health, inspiration, encouragement, and love to people that are going through traumatic problems in their lives, whatever they may be. If we can provide this support, I believe it can be part of recovering their health. I love it. I do have my real job but I would do Share Your Strong full time if I had to.
What are examples of you “Sharing Your Strong” with the people around you?
I do have my social media platforms. I have people that reach out to me within hospitals, and from all over the world. I connect with them through phone, through Zoom, and through the internet. Just so many things, just to keep in contact with them and to check-up. I’ve done fundraisers for people. I remember going to peoples’ homes, just to visit and all.
Before Covid, I was going into hospitals and visiting people. I was running support groups. We would all get together and have a gathering. I’d say it’s a gathering of grace. We would sit together, talk, and have that interaction with people.
What’s your most favorite memory with starting “Share Your Strong”? Why did it make such a big impact on you?
I’m going to tell a story about the start of my organization.
I set out to qualify for the Boston Marathon and I’ve always had in the back of my mind, the things I wanted to do with my story from a brain injury. I worked with a shoe company and I got an opportunity to work at the running expo at the Boston Marathon in 2013. I was working while the marathon was going on. Me and the people that I was with went to the Sheraton mall. It was around mile 25 and a half of the Boston Marathon. We were sitting there having pizza.
That’s when the Boston Marathon bombs of 2013 happened. It shook me to my core. I had my brain injury in 1993 and here I was in 2013, exactly 20 years after that injury. I’ve always seen these signs throughout my life and I always ignored them, pushed them to the side.
Experiencing that bomb that day, I didn’t see any death, I just saw a lot of tragedy. It was really scary. I flew back to Georgia that next day and I started having PTSD. I was seeing things, hearing things, it was really a rough time for me. I got through it. I started running, speaking, and riding.
Four months after the Boston Marathon tragedy, I started to do some modeling. and got a modeling contract in Woodstock, Georgia at North Atlanta. We were at a photoshoot in Woodstock. People that own the company were taking the photos. The man of the company, he had children. He gets a phone call while working. On the phone call, he said, “Okay, so we have to stop the photoshoot.” He went to me and said, “You go to Starbucks. I’ll be right there in a few minutes and I’ll pick you back up. My wife needs help with our son.” He didn’t know my story and I didn’t know his.
I went up to Starbucks and about 20 minutes later he pulls back up and honks his horn and I walk up to his car. He was really frustrated, just sitting in the front seat. I look at the back seat of his car and saw an 8-year-old boy. He had his head hanging down, spit hanging out of his mouth, all from a brain injury. That moment let me know, it was time to use my story.
I went back after that photo shoot, and I went home. That’s when I began my non-profit. It took two years to be approved, but I got it going. I’ll never forget that moment. After I saw that little boy with a brain injury, I knew it was time for me to speak. Time for me to do something with my story.
How did your family, and the people around you react for using your power to help make a change for others? How did did you feel when you realized how big of a change you’re doing?
It brought more joy to my heart than I could ever explain. My family’s been supportive, my friends have been supportive. It’s been strange for people to see that I’ve been doing this, however, I take that as a compliment. From down south where I’m from, most of my family and friends saw me, visited me in the hospital, and they remember me when I was on a respiratorator or when I was in that wheelchair. It brings a lot of joy to me, and I’m sure they will see that.
What are you most proud of when it comes to “Share Your Strong” and out of your other accomplishments?
That I’ve never given up through all of these obstacles. Whether it’s the mental health issues and other problems in life that come up, I take pride in the fact that I’ve never given up through it all. This inspiration within me, and my story in my mind, has blazed me forward.
After the pandemic cools down, what’s the first thing you would like to do?
I would love to go into a hospital and have some support groups with some of the people that are there that need family, friends, and interaction. That’s the first thing I plan to do if I can.
Where do you see yourself in the next ten years?
I see myself traveling the world to different areas doing the Share Your Strong message. Speaking with individuals in hospitals, speaking at schools, and speaking at fitness facilities. Helping to elevate peoples’ thinking that they don’t have to just stop. That life is not over after a brain injury or trauma.
Interviewed and transcribed by Brianna Paulino