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Women Who Took a Leap

2020 is a Leap Year, so we're celebrating Indianapolis women who took chances both big and small. Color us incredibly impressed.
woman jumping in a sunset

“Sometimes, the only available form of transportation is a leap of faith.”

For Leap Day 2020, Indy Maven asked local women to share their stories of traveling that scary and uncertain road to pursue a goal or dream, from auditioning for a major reality show to quitting a job in order to volunteer around the world. If you’re considering taking a leap, here are 13 stories that might just put you over the edge—in the best way possible.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

SHE FOUGHT CANCER AND FOUND HER CALLING

Kristine Camron, 48, founder/CEO of kOMpose Yoga

The leap: Eight years after being diagnosed with cancer, at age 37, and going through two surgeries and radiation treatment, Kristine opened a yoga studio. The mother of three had been working in corporate law for 20 years and was an up-and-coming partner in the business group at Ice Miller.

“Practicing law wasn’t my passion,” she says. “I was really good at it, but at the end of the day, it didn’t set my soul on fire. Now yoga—it lit me on fire like nothing I have ever felt before. I have always wanted to help people. That’s why I became a lawyer. What I eventually realized is that my desire to help people was just misdirected.”

The landing: “It’s definitely still a work-in-progress. Every year I set bigger goals for our team to serve more people and make a bigger impact on our community. This year we are offering 200- and 300-hour teacher-training programs and we are looking to expand our footprint outside of Broad Ripple.”

The wait, what the heck was I thinking? moment: One cold, snowy day, shortly after kOMpose opened, Kristine had to cover several classes for teachers who called in sick, plus teach her own. “At the end of the evening I was tired and hungry, and I was on my hands and knees wiping up the hardwood floors that were covered in salt stains from the snow outside,” she says. “I remember asking myself, ‘Why did I leave my corporate lawyer job for this?’”  

“Leap” lesson: “To work on my spiritual practice. When I can pause, breathe, and align with my inner voice, I can act intentionally and from a place of grace and compassion. It’s in those moments that I show up as my best self.”

Kristine Camron

SHE COOKED WITH MASTERCHEF GORDON RAMSEY

Tannoria Askew
Tanorria Askew, 38, owner/personal chef, Tanorria’s Table

The leap: Tanorria was working at a credit union when she auditioned for—and landed a spot on—season 7 of MasterChef, hosted by Gordon Ramsey. “I came in fourth place and earned the title of ‘Fan Favorite,’” she says. “Two months after returning from the filming in L.A., I quit my job and committed to my personal chef business.”

The landing: “I’m living and actively working towards my dream of having my own cooking show and brand! I cook food, talk about food, advocate for food for others, teach about food, and speak publicly about food, social justice, and race reconciliation.”

The wait, what the heck was I thinking? moment: “I ask myself, ‘What the hell am I doing?’ all the time. I question whether I should go get a ‘big girl job’ often. But every time I think about quitting this self-employment, dream-chasing thing, nothing in my mind says, ‘Yes! Stop now. It’s not worth it.’”

“Leap” lesson: “Don’t compare your journey to anyone else’s. Your path is your path and what others are doing or not doing does not define your journey. Comparing opportunities and accomplishments of others to my own crippled me in the growth of my business. It is not worth it.”

SHE PUSHED THROUGH GRIEF WHILE GOING BACK TO SCHOOL

Kelly Wheat, 53, paralegal at Katz Korin Cunningham PC

The leap: Kelly was newly divorced, with two teenagers at home, and had just started working as a legal assistant at a law firm when she decided to earn a paralegal certificate. “It was scary for many reasons,” she says. “Did I have the chops to complete homework, study for tests, and actually do well after 30 years of no academic experience?”

The landing: “I started taking three classes in January 2019 at IUPUI, and before the semester was over, I was promoted to paralegal work.”

The wait, what the heck was I thinking? moment: “I’d been in school just a few weeks when my 20-year-old son Joey died unexpectedly. I was shattered. Suddenly, school didn’t feel important at all. My youngest daughter who lived with me was deeply traumatized after losing her brother. At that moment, it felt very selfish and pointless to continue school.

“I knew not a single person would blame me for withdrawing that semester. But it felt too much like giving up, and I am not wired to surrender like that. My former husband was often able to be with our daughter when I was in class. I persevered, and ended up making Dean’s List that semester, and have every semester since so far.” 

“Leap” lesson: If you have ever thought you were ‘too old’ to go back to school (or too old to start ANYTHING), I’d say you have no idea what you are capable of until you challenge yourself. Even despite major setbacks, women achieve. Why not you?”

Kelly Wheat

SHE WENT FROM BINGE-EATING TO BODYBUILDING

Lizbeth Ayala Najera
Lizbeth Ayala Najera, 34, legal administrative assistant; partner/owner of Lizkari.net

The leap: Six years ago, Lizbeth went through a painful divorce and suffered from a deep depression. “My self-esteem was non-existent and I started binge-eating. I got as high as 200 pounds. One day after binge eating, I threw up so badly, I thought I was going to die. I tried to end my life that day. I didn’t want anyone else to have to ‘deal’ with me. I was failing as a person, and I couldn’t fix it.”

Her twin sister helped her pray that night—something Lizbeth hadn’t done in a long time. The next day, she joined a gym. She didn’t know anything about working out but met a woman at the gym who was doing bodybuilding shows. Lizbeth was inspired by her. 

The landing: Lizbeth hired a coach, Ricky Rice at UFit, who taught her not just about bodybuilding, but about spiritual faith. She competed for the first time in 2019 in the NPC Natural Indiana Championships. She’s now prepping for another competition in May.

The wait, what the heck was I thinking? moment: “I remember being six weeks out from my first competition and freaking out because I was so tired and hungry. I almost called my coach to quit. But then I remembered why I was doing it. The journey you take to the stage is unlike any other. It can consume you, but in my case, it was keeping me focused. It was keeping me alive.” 

“Leap” lesson: “Happiness has much more to do with what’s happening inside than anything going on outside. As long as God is first in my priorities, everything else falls into place.

SHE DECIDED TO GIVE THE BEST PROFESSIONAL HUGS

Lisa Meece, 49, founder of Holding Space

The leap: In 2017, Lisa started a professional cuddling business in Carmel to offer healing platonic touch to people struggling with loneliness, anxiety, depression, or past trauma. “I felt like the world needed this unfamiliar service, and I could effectively provide it,” she says.

The landing: She worked with individual clients and groups for three years and co-founded Cuddlexpo, a professional conference. After three years, Lisa closed her business. “I got laughed at more than a little bit, but I also got to help some people through things in their lives, and that was very rewarding.”

The wait, what the heck was I thinking? moment: “When I realized the industry and the world might not be quite ready for what I was trying to do.”

“Leap” lesson: “Even if what you learn isn’t what you expected to learn, the growth and understanding you get from trying new things is worth the risk.”

Lisa Meece

THIS TENNIS PLAYER AND COACH DID A “REVERSE” LEAP OF SORTS

Jennifer Magley
Jennifer Magley, senior manager of brand partnerships at CSM Sport + Entertainment

The leap: Jennifer, a college tennis standout and former NCAA Division I tennis coach, took an “opposite” leap in a way. The single/independent mother of two young boys, who founded OPEN GYM Indy, pivoted from being an entrepreneur to recently taking a full-time job at CSM Sport + Entertainment, a global marketing and brand experience agency. “Despite my success (as an entrepreneur), I still woke up every day with zero guaranteed dollars in my account,” Jennifer says.

The landing: “The result has been life changing. CSM has over 1,000 employees around the world. We have an office here in Indy and clients like Netflix, Amazon, and TikTok. In my second week, they flew me to NYC where I presented to a known philanthropist and the next day, I was the opening speaker at our offsite event before our North American CEO and global group CEO (from London) took the stage. So yes, things have changed fast and furiously for me.”

The wait, what the heck was I thinking? moment: “When I collapse into bed each night all I can think about is how grateful I am to have an actual job that ends whereas entrepreneurship is 24/7. That said, when my youngest got pneumonia, then the next week my oldest got pneumonia AND strep AND I was still getting settled with my new job AND I was prepping for a big keynote AND had coaching calls after AND before work, I thought, ‘What the heck am I doing?’ The feeling was: Girl, you are doing the most. In the past I would have freaked out but sometimes you just have to let it go and realize you can’t do everything perfectly.” 

“Leap” lesson: “A lot of people are scared to ‘work for someone else.’ My standards are already too high for myself, so this was not the scary part for me. My fear was more connected with being a single/independent mom and never wanting to seem flaky as my boys have needs. Here is the truth: the creator is always more powerful than the thing created. We create fear which means we are greater than it.”

SHE RE-CODED HER LIFE THROUGH A 12-WEEK BOOTCAMP

Ieshia Hill, 32, product marketing associate at Boardable

The leap: Ieshia left her career as an account manager in the oil analysis industry to attend an intensive, 12-week coding academy. “I’m a creative/artist at heart so I wanted to be an industry that was constantly evolving.”

The landing: “I work at an amazing software company where I get to use my technical and creative background.”

The wait, what the heck was I thinking? moment: “Learning how to code at such a fast pace was challenging and within the first few weeks of the program, I questioned if I had made the right decision. Then after graduating, landing my first tech job was tough. There’s a lot of competition and many companies were looking for candidates with three to five years of experience and I had just graduated from bootcamp with only 12 weeks of experience, lol. It was then I knew it was going to be much harder than I thought to make a leap into the tech industry.” 

“Leap” lesson: “Success won’t happen overnight. I had to start from the bottom and work my way up again and that takes time. Allow yourself lots of time and understand the journey will not be fast or easy but you can totally do it!”

Ieshia Hill

SHE GOT A TEACHER GRANT TO SPEND A SUMMER LIVING ABROAD

Dawn Fable Lindquist
Dawn M. Fable, 52, English teacher at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School 

The leap: Dawn, who teaches British literature, wanted to spend a summer living in the U.K. so she could follow in the footsteps of her favorite mystery writers and their main characters. She had never traveled to Europe and couldn’t afford the trip on her teacher’s salary, so she applied for a competitive Teacher Creativity Fellowship grant from Lilly Endowment Inc.

The landing: “In December 2018, I saw on Facebook that a friend had gotten early notice that Lilly awarded him a grant. I paced my living room for a couple of minutes to work up the nerve to check my email. When I saw the ‘We are pleased to inform you …’ line, I screamed and laughed and cried.

“I packed as much experience as I could into each day I was there. I saw plays in the West End and at the Globe. I ate fish and chips on the beach at Brighton. I saw the band Garbage play in Dunfermline, Scotland, and climbed with my oldest son to the top of Arthur’s Seat. I swam in the thermal spring waters of Bath and sat in Shakespeare’s classroom in Stratford-Upon-Avon. And I met warm, friendly, lovely people who empathized with the political mess in the U.S.”

The wait, what the heck was I thinking? moment: “June 23, 2019—when my partner and our 10-year-old son dropped me off at O’Hare International Airport. I kissed them goodbye and realized I wouldn’t see them again until Aug. 9. I didn’t for one second consider not going, but that was when the reality hit me.” 

“Leap” lessons: “A great public transportation system beats the hell out of driving all the time. I can adapt to living pretty much anywhere. I should have packed much lighter. I’m ready to take the next leap!”

SHE MOVED TO NEW YORK CITY TO FOLLOW HER CHILDHOOD DREAM

Gail Payne, 48, actress/singer/performer

The leap: Gail recently moved from Indy to New York to train professionally as a full-time performing artist. “I’ve loved performing, specifically singing, as early as I can remember,” she says. But after graduating from college, she went for a “safe” career in communications and public relations. In 2008, she married Brian Payne—a leader in the local arts community—and he encouraged her to pursue her dream. Gail was also rethinking her life’s plan after dealing with a few challenges, such as the struggle to conceive a child and achieve a certain career goal.

“All this space and time in my life—when I thought I would be busy with a career and motherhood—seemed like a blank canvas,” she says. “I was also turning 40. Brian encouraged me to do a solo cabaret show for my big birthday, ‘either in our living room or anywhere. It doesn’t matter. Just do it for yourself.’”

The landing: Gail performed for 120 friends and family at The Cabaret, then located at the Columbia Club. She went on to write, produce, and perform in shows in different cities. But she felt insecure about her lack of formal training, so her mentor and teacher, Faith Prince, recommended she audition for New York’s prestigious Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theatre. “I never realized that I needed permission to dream bigger than I could ever imagine,” Gail says.

She was accepted into that program in 2018, and is still in New York, taking classes, auditioning, and learning. “It was easy for me to see from the moment I moved here that this is what I was meant to do all along.”

The wait, what the heck was I thinking? moment: “I was walking out of my hotel to go to 54Below to perform my show. Everything in my body was on ‘flight’ mode. I remember it because I had to literally say out loud to myself, ‘Fu** off fear. I’ve worked SO hard for this. NO WAY you are taking this away from me now!’” 

“Leap” lessons: “To choose my love of what I’m doing and check fear at the door. To remember moments when I was little and how much I LOVED to sing—and didn’t care what anyone thought!” 

 

Gail Payne

SHE CHANGED HER LINKED IN PROFILE TO ‘LOVER OF LIFE. TAKING A SABBATICAL.’

Cassie Stockcamp
Cassie Stockamp, 58, past president of the Athenaeum Foundation

The leap: On Dec. 31, 2019, Cassie (with a 22-pound backpack) boarded a plane from Indianapolis to Sydney, Australia, to live her best “wild and precious life” and go on a year-long, worldwide volunteering adventure. “I was led to this point by ‘the voice,’” she says. “I mean that tiny little voice inside my head that told me that my time at the Athenaeum was done and I should move on. When I haven’t listened to that little voice in the past, it hasn’t ended well, lol.”

The landing: “It’s hard to describe all that I’ve seen as I covered five continents and 11 countries. These volunteer experiences have reminded me that we really are all connected, and that people are generous, loving, and kind all over the world.” 

The wait, what the heck was I thinking? moment: “As I type, I am sitting in Medellin, Colombia, getting ready to start Spanish lessons. I hope that improving my language skills will help me in finding a great placement in the Peace Corps. And then my mind starts racing, and I wonder where am I going to land? What is the next chapter of my life going to look like? I am finding that leading an intentional life is challenging! I’ve resolved myself to surrender.” 

“Leap” lessons: For great insights, read Cassie’s blog post, What Have I Learned? 34 Notions. (No. 14: “An unexpected change in plans often resulted in something better than my best-laid plan!”) Or listen to her episode of the Badassery Life podcast.

SHE RECORDED OVER THE ‘NAYSAYERS’ BY STARTING A PODCAST

Kelly Young, 48, founder of Badassery Life blog and podcast

The leap: Kelly started a blog that recently turned into a podcast with the support and involvement of two other women, Stevi Stoesz Kersh and Ginny Doran. “I worried people wouldn’t like it—they wouldn’t read or listen, they would criticize or judge,” Kelly says. “Once I made the decision to do it for myself, it was liberating.”

The landing: “I’ve connected to some amazing women with incredible stories. I can already tell some of these stories may profoundly change our lives—at least that’s my hope. I’ve also been invited to speak about living out our badassery lives.”

The wait, what the heck was I thinking? moment: “When I went ‘live’ with my first blog post and then two months later, when the first podcast episode went live. I’m somewhat of a perfectionist. In both instances I launched at night and hoped that any naysayers were asleep.” 

“Leap” lesson: “A friend told me I needed to be ‘free to be fierce’ and I loved it so much I made it a tagline. We as women need to allow ourselves to be more fierce—meaning strong, proud, daring, and ready to roar.”

Kelly Young

SHE GAVE A BIG SPEECH, DESPITE THREE BIG CHALLENGES

Cindy Aguirre
Cindy Aguirre, 59, owner of Aqua Serene Wellness 

The leap: Cindy accepted an invitation to be the keynote speaker at the Trinity School of Natural Health Legacy Conference in 2018—which included giving a PowerPoint presentation, something she hadn’t done in years. “I am hearing impaired, so speaking in general has its challenges: How loud am I talking?” she says. “To top it off, it was being videotaped. Video cameras are a huge trigger for me because I was the victim of a crime involving video voyeurism. So these three challenges—plus just standing up there in front of a bunch of people and not making an idiot out of myself.”

The landing: “When it was over, there was loud applause. I made people laugh and they could relate to me on a genuine level.”

The wait, what the heck was I thinking? moment: “I felt it when I was sitting in the conference hall, ready to go, and the time for my presentation had been delayed by 40 minutes. I almost bolted for the door!” 

“Leap” lesson: “You are your own worst critic, really, so no one will be harder on you than yourself.”

SHE STARTED THE COOL THING YOU’RE READING RIGHT NOW

Leslie Bailey, 36, co-founder/CEO/editor-in-chief of Indy Maven 

The leap: Launching Indy Maven

The landing: “So far, so amazing. It has been an incredible experience. Since launching last October, our team has met or exceeded every goal we’ve set, and I can’t wait to see what 2020 brings.”

The wait, what the heck was I thinking? moment: “I found out that I was pregnant with my second child days before Indy Maven launched. It was terrifying to think I was just beginning the journey of starting a business which is like bringing one baby into the world, while bringing a real human into it at the same time.”

“Leap” lessons: “Interestingly, the process of becoming a mother has helped me through so many lessons learned. My mom passed away when I was pregnant the first time and then I gave birth without anything except a little nitrous oxide. I figure if I can survive all of that, nothing else can really faze me. Also, I recently stumbled upon Marie Forleo and her new book, Everything is Figureoutable, which I haven’t yet read but that phrase alone pretty much sums up my philosophy in life and business.”

Leslie Bailey INDY MAVEN

Amanda Kingsbury needs to take a long leap to Colorado, rent that cabin in the mountains, and start writing that book…