“I was ahead in the slalom. But in the second run, everyone fell on a dangerous spot. I was beaten by a woman that got up faster than I did. I learned that people fall down, winners get up, and gold medal winners just get up faster.” – Bonnie St. John (Starbucks Cup Quote)
If you have ever doubted the power of positive thinking or perhaps wanted proof that it really works, doubt no longer because Bonnie St. John is that proof. As the first African American to medal for skiing in the 1984 Winter Paralympics, Bonnie St. John’s life has been riddled with obstacles that through the power of positive thinking, she has been able to overcome and then some. Bonnie was born in Detroit but raised in San Diego, and is one of three children to her mother Ruby. Before the age of five, Bonnie was already faced with obstacles. The first was when her birth father left before she was born and the second when doctors diagnosed her with a birth defect that would result in the shortening of one of her legs. Initially, Bonnie wore a heavy leg brace and orthopedic shoe that she recalls having to drag when walking to Sunday school. It was at the age of five that her mother gave doctors permission to amputate Bonnie’s leg and replace it with a wooden prosthetic. Shortly thereafter, her mom took a picture of Bonnie in her backyard proudly modeling her new leg. She also gave Bonnie a brochure featuring a picture of an amputee on a ski. It was then that Bonnie’s interest in skiing first sparked but it would be another 10 years before she actually hit the slopes for the first time.
Around the age of 15 Bonnie’s friend Barbara invited her on a ski trip. It only took her three days to get the hang of it. When recalling her first skiing experience Bonnie says, “the feeling of going fast, the wind in my hair, it addicted me…” That addiction is what drew her to want to attend Burke Mountain Academy, a high school in Vermont for ski racers. Although the tuition was expensive, it was through the help of an organization called the National Brotherhood of Skiers (an organization of African-American skiers) that her mom was able to afford to send her. Bonnie continued to excel as a ski racer and in her first National Handicapped Ski Championship, she won six medals. It was performances like this that earned her a spot on the U.S. team for the 1984 Paralympics in Innsbruck, Austria at the age of 19 where she took home one silver and two bronze medals. At this point in her life, Bonnie faced yet another obstacle: the passing of her step father. However, it wasn’t his death that proved to be the obstacle but rather the painful repressed memories that resurfaced of the sexual abuse she endured from him at a very young age. Determined to excel despite these memories, Bonnie pressed forward and went on to attend Harvard University where she graduated Magna Cum Laude. Upon graduation she was awarded the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University where she studied Economics. Soon after graduating she went to work in the White House for the Clinton administration as Director for the National Economic Council.
In the years since working for the White House, Bonnie has been married, gave birth to her daughter Darcy and divorced. Yet despite the many challenges life has thrown her way, as CEO of her company (Courageous Spirit, Inc.), Bonnie travels the world as a motivational speaker to inspire and encourage the tens of thousands of people who come to hear her speak. Her motto, “live your joy”, is exactly what she lives by and experiences as she chooses each day to have a positive outlook on her life’s circumstances. She is now a celebrated author of several books including, Succeeding Sane: Making Room for Joy in a Crazy World, Money: Fall down? Get up!, Live Your Joy and How Strong Women Pray. Additionally, she is a sought after guest and keynote speaker on such shows as NBC’s Today Show and countless other television, radio and corporate motivational programs. Visit her website to learn more about how to “live your joy”.