December Rule Your Nation Awards

Welcome to the last Rule Your Nation Awards for 2015! This year was pretty amazing, and December’s group is no different.  Today I present four stories of determination that will inspire you to do great things. Let’s get started.


Haley Viloria

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Where are you from?

I grew up in Sonoma County, California.

Were you athletic growing up?

No(laughs). I was not athletic at all. I played a lot of video games and did a lot of art, photo shop, 3D, stuff like that.

Before we go any further, I have to ask. What was your favorite video game?

Final Fantasy V. I really liked Final Fantasy X and X-2 too because I always wanted to be like Yuna(I forgave her for not saying FFVII. Nobody’s perfect. -Ed). I actually hated her in FFX, but she was a strong character in FFX-2.

So what inspired you to be a contortionist?

I saw my first circus when I was 14. It was Cirque Du Soleil, and one girl had a solo number and I was like, “That’s what I want to do with my life.” She was just so feminine but dominant over the male characters. Her name was Dasha Vintilova actually.

[After that] my mother signed me up for gymnastics and I enrolled in circus school at 17.  I wanted to do trapeze so badly, but my coach said, “You’re not doing trapeze. You’re doing contortion.” After that I did my first show for Cirque du Risqué when I was 19.

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Why contortion instead of trapeze?

My body wasn’t designed to do trapeze because I gained flexibility very easily, and trapeze artists are supposed to be more explosive. So my coach taught me aerial hoop and aerial strap.

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Which is your favorite?

Aerial strap because it allowed me to use my flexibility and strength. The artistic boundaries are limitless.

Do you have any advice  for anyone who looks up to you as a role model?

I meet people who think it’s too late to do this, and it’s not [if you] find the right coach. It’s a mental game and a physical game, but’s doable for anybody. I know because I started from zero.

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Any advice for your past self?

If I was looking at my 17-year-old self, I would slap her in the face(laughs). I would tell her to open up more. I’m very outgoing and rambunctious now. I would tell her to open up her heart.

Why was your heart closed?

My father passed when I was eight. He had a blood clot in the heart, and it was very sudden and a shock to all of us. So there’s always this fear of losing something that’s precious to you. We grow up though and I would tell still tell my [past] self to open up.

I would also tell my [past] self to stop being so damn lazy! I would play video games for hours, just a lazy kid!

So when did you open up your heart and why?

Quite recently actually. Maybe when I was 21 was when I was able to open up fully and not be such a Debby Downer.

I had started a new contract with people I didn’t know. I saw how they interacted and wanted to be a part of that, so I made an effort. I’m really glad that switch happened.

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What made you stop being a “lazy kid” as you put it?

Right after that Cirque du Soleil show, something clicked. I didn’t know how to workout, but I tried. I ran and did jumping jacks. I knew what I wanted. I just didn’t know how to get there.

What inspires you the most now?

Besides knowing I have the best job int he world and get to travel to great cities? Like right now I’m in Paris.

I look forward to the show when we put our hands together and say, “Whatever you do, whatever you are, be in love.”

Could you define what you mean by “in love?”

It’s different for each of the girls. Be in love, let love in, love your peers.  For me it’s general. Go on stage filled with love.

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And what do you love the most?

My mom. I love my mom the most.

This may sound like an obvious question, but why?

She’s had to raise two girls by herself. She went back to school. She did whatever it took, and the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I’m very proud that that’s my mom. She’s my biggest fan.  She’s so strong.

Can you think of a moment when she exuded that strength?

My mom was a stay-at-home mom. When she was getting her Masters degree,  I was babysitting and not helping at all, and she just broke down and asked us to stop. She was crying because there was no one there to help her and she was so tired.

I remembered that moment when she got her diploma.

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So when you hear the phrase “Rule Your Nation,” what comes to mind for you?

The first thing that comes to mind is knowing that no one else can make you happy. Don’t let someone else’s bad timing ruin your good time. You need to try and create something to help others but don’t depend on anyone else for your happiness.

You should try to make someone’s life better, even just for five minutes. That’s what I do on stage.


Kora-lea Vidal

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Where are you from?

I moved around a lot, so I didn’t really have a hometown, but I went to university in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

What inspired the name W8lifted?

To me it’s more than just weights. It’s lifting your spirits. So I used a sort of play on words.

Just to back up a little, were you an athletic kid growing up?

I started playing sports in ninth grade and joined every sport my school offered: fastball( Softball in the states. -Ed.), basketball, volleyball, badminton, cricket, and track and field. I earned athlete of the year in grades 11 and 12.

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I understand you played professional football as well. Could you tell me about that?

I started at the end of the 2009 season playing one game and going to two practices. Then I tried out for the national team. I did well at the fall camp in physical fitness, so they invited me back for the spring camp.

I made the national team in 2010 and we played in Stockholm, Sweden. We got the silver medal(She played for the Canadian team that made it to the IFAF Women’s World Championship game against the United States to be exact.-Ed).

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Do any memories from your football days stick out to you?

It was all an amazing experience representing my country. I hadn’t dreamed of going that far in women’s sports.  It was the first ever woman’s [world] football championship[game]. I was proud and honored.

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When did you retire and why?

I had my son after [Worlds], and played one last season. He came to every game and practice, and I breast fed him during half-time. It wasn’t very reasonable to keep playing as a single mother. You have practice three days a week and you’re always travelling.

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Did you also do a fitness competition?

Yes, that’s correct. It was one of my goals to do a fitness show, so I did my first show in bikini class in 2014. I placed ninth, which isn’t all that great, but considering it was my first time, I was proud.

Did you do any more competitions?

No, I decided it wasn’t for me. It wasn’t a healthy avenue. You have to be in some ways obsessed with your body image.

With such an impressive resume, someone likely looks up to you. Any advice for someone who sees you as a role model?

Be true to who you are. I think we’re all born with our own gifts and talents, and if we kind of look within ourselves, we’ll find them. Like I’m realizing now that personal training isn’t my dream job. It was just a means to an end.

What is your dream job?

I want to do humanitarian work. For now I’m an actor and motivational speaker to get me into my dream job and to contribute in a big way.

I noticed that you were diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Does your humanitarian work involve helping people with mental illness?

My body insecurities led me to take fat burners in 2010, and after a week I ended up having an episode of psychosis. After that I went through a pretty bad depression and a doctor gave me antidepressants which led to another episode of psychosis and another.

About eight months after having my son, I was under a lot of stress and not sleeping, and not sleeping led to another episode of psychosis. The psychiatrist who was treating me wasn’t doing a very good job, in my opinion. He held me against my will in a psych ward for a month and told me I was crazy and would need to take lithium for the rest of my life.

I filed an appeal, and he said because I filed an appeal he would keep me longer.

That’s where my desire to become a speaker comes [from] because I felt like I had to give more of a voice to people who are being mistreated in the mental health care system.

With being diagnosed as bipolar, I strongly disagree with that, and that’s definitely a title I haven’t tried to live up to. I’m perfectly fine. I just have a sensitive system where if I don’t sleep that triggers me to have these break downs. So as long as I’m taking care of myself, I’m  completely fine.

Medication is worse than the actual breakdown because of the long list of side effects. It’s just a corrupt system. I’ve done a lot of research about the pharmaceutical industry and how they basically bribe doctors into over diagnosing people.

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So for how long have you been a motivational speaker?

I just started this year. I joined Toastmasters International, and I’ve done four speeches and started my own YouTube channel.

I basically use the lessons I’ve learned through sports to give back to people, and use the decisions I’ve made [to teach people] to stop lowering ourselves. I’m going to stop limiting myself [as well].

What limits did you place on yourself?

My attitude. I was very body conscious and never gave myself enough credit. I got caught up in being an Instagram model basically. I wanted to be a fitness model, but I have more to offer than my body.


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During that time, were you complimented on anything other than your body?

No, all people [cared] about was image. Some made really sexual comments, and then you have girls who would say, “I wish I looked like that,” and I said, “Are you sure because a lot goes into this.”

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Like what?

I had bulimia that started when I was 17 and was heightened by [fitness] competing. That industry is full of people taking steroids, and getting plastic surgery and starving themselves to fit an image. There’s a lot of politics and unhealthy mindsets.

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Any advice for  your past self?

Care less about what others think. Just being unique is what you should aspire to be. That’s the path I’m on now, and it’s more fulfilling and life-changing.

As a motivational speaker, do you have a catchphrase?

I always say if you put your mind at the finish line, your body will get there.

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Have you ever had to do that?

I once ran a full marathon without training and finished in four hours, but I do it all the time as an actor and motivational speaker. Once my mind is made up to do something, I’m doing it and that’s it. With [my] humanitarian work, I’m so driven and confident in myself that I have hefty goals [that I’ll achieve] because it’s not just about me.

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And when you hear the phrase “Rule Your Nation,” what comes to mind?

Leadership. Embodying what it means to be a role model and inspiring positive change in others by being a positive example.


Jenny D’Acquisto

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Where are you from?

I was born in Milwaukee and moved out to the Waukeshaw area. I’ve been in the city ever since I graduated from UW-Milwaukee.

Were you an athlete growing up?

My dad is really big into sports. He’s a football coach and wrestling coach and an entrepreneur, so I grew up with a competitive mentality. I played basketball, track, and rugby. I also played rugby my freshman year in college. Basketball was really my first love. I was as obsessed with it as I am with kickboxing now, but I was best at rugby oddly enough.

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What made you get into kickboxing?

I was already really good about being disciplined. I was in the gym every day even when I wasn’t playing sports. I had a friend at the time who was doing kickboxing, and she gave me a free week pass to the gym I trained at for a while. I tried a class and loved it instantly. Since I started I haven’t stopped.

Once I started training, I was working out four to six days a week. I thought it was just cardio, but I started at a pretty good MMA gym, and a lot of UFC fighters train there(Roufusport -Ed.). Anthony Pettis trained there. I ended up working there too. I was there for about four years.

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And now you compete in MMA?

Yes well, my first fight  was in kickboxing, but [Roufusport] was big in MMA. So I started competing in MMA last summer. I had my first fight last summer and I’ve had four fights since then. I now compete in amateur boxing. I am also currently a blue belt in jiu-jitsu.

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Which martial art is your favorite?

That’s like deciding which kid you like more. I prefer striking. I like jiu-jitsu, but I can’t go without punching things. I love muay thai, but I’m starting to fall in love with boxing. The stand up game is what I favor.

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So what inspires you to get up every day and do what you do?

I don’t know. I just love it. Even when I hate it, I still love it. I think[that’s true for] anyone who devotes themselves to something, which is required if you want to be good at an art. You can’t part-time things like that. It requires that kind of torture, but when you have those high moments, it’s [worth] the low moments. Martial arts teaches you more about life than anything. If you learn how to handle those lows and highs in fighting.

What low and high did martial arts help you handle?

One low was the last MMA fight I had. I lost in front of my hometown, and they’re still supportive of me. I got whooped in front of everyone. Even though you’re used to putting it on the line and being vulnerable, that’s not hard for me, it’s living with the expectations and not meeting them[that is difficult].

You have to fall in love with the process and not just the results. Luckily, I’m not a natural. It’s easy to fall in love when you’re good at it right away. I wasn’t good right away,and I love learning. You’ve got to learn how to overcome failures. I think that’s a good example of every day life. You can’t back down after losing once or twice.

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A big high for me was starting my own kickboxing class for women. You don’t know how many people are watching you and admiring you. Even though you grind every day, and don’t always get the results you want, people are watching, and I’ve gotten nice messages from people saying they prayed to be just like [me]and are inspired by [me].

Is that class Thai-Fit Kickboxing?

Yes, it’s a class I teach for women only. It exposes kickboxing for women who are scared to try it. I think a lot of women get deterred by being around all men because it’s a mostly male sport. It intimidated me, and I was an athlete my whole life. I couldn’t imagine [how hard it is] for someone who never tried it before.

What’s the purpose of the class? Is it for cardio, competition, self-defense, or anything else?

I’ve taken cardio classes where they water it down. The goal of my class is to maintain the integrity of the art, and I teach the actual technique, but it’s less intense and open to all skill levels. It’ll be a pad work class, but no sparring.

I enjoy coaching and teaching, and I think I feel more natural at coaching than fighting. I think your passion can inspire other people, and I just want people to enjoy what they’re doing. It’s an art like anything else that’s dying, and I would love to spread as much knowledge as I can.

Have any of the women in your class had to use what you’ve taught them?

Not yet. It’s been less than a year, but I do have women who feel the difference in their strengths in their everyday lives. I think the biggest thing martial arts teaches you as a woman is confidence. I felt more confident in defending myself once I started.

What about The First Fight Project? Is it a documentary?

It’s just a project I’m doing for my own personal enjoyment. I’m interested in the human experience. That’s one thing I love about fighting. Years ago, I came up with the idea, “I wonder what everyone’s first fight was like.” I’m so afraid of fighting that it helped me hear other people’s experiences. It’s good to hear people be transparent.

Everyone thinks fighters are all just tough guys, but it’s a vulnerable experience.  Any time you’re feeling something, it feels like “I’m the only one feeling this way,” [but] on every level, they all were scared as shit. Guys who are contenders in the UFC, they were scared, and still get scared.

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Do you have any advice for anyone who looks up to you as a role model?

The thing I’ve always kind of lived by is to be authentic and be you. When people see it in you, they’re drawn to it because they want to be authentic too.

You can’t do what isn’t in your heart, and you’ll always know the answer, you just keep ignoring it. Don’t follow anyone else’s ideals of what you need to be. It’s hard in this world, but you just need to be your authentic self.

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Any advice for your past self?

Trust in yourself and what you have to offer. You can’t be dimming your shine for anyone else. I think I held back for a while. Once I started valuing my own opinion, my life flowed the way it needed to be.

When did you stop holding back?

One day I just woke up and realized I wasn’t living the life I wanted to live. I always wanted to own my own business and be the master of my own fate. It meant changing my job. It meant changing my gym. It was a big change in my life. Even though it was so hard to, I’m really glad I did.

Since I was a kid, I always wanted to own my own business. I just couldn’t find my own path to it.  Everything’s been way easier since I got on that track.

It’s adding value to people’s lives and teaching. I want to see everyone be successful. Some people think, “Well I had it hard. So it should be hard for you,”  or “Only I can be successful.” I don’t agree. I think everyone should win and support each other.

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When you hear the phrase Rule Your Nation, what do you think of?

I think it means taking ownership of your own life and destiny. When I looked into what you were doing, I really identified with it because it’s how I live my life. There’s always pressure to be something else, but you have to be authentic and own your life.


Gary Martin

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Where are you from?

I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio.

Were you an athlete growing up?

Yep, I played basketball for St. Martin de Porres (A private school in Cleveland. -Ed.).

Did your school have a pretty new basketball team?

We were a new school, and there was a process to getting approval from the state. During my junior and senior year, we played I think 17 games in two years.

What position did you play?

I played point guard and shooting guard.

Have you ever played against any notable mentions?

Yeah, but not in [organized] games. I used to play against Earl Boykins at the Thurgood Marshall Recreation Center. That would be the most notable name.

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I have to ask. What’s the style of play in Cleveland?

I would definitely say there’s a certain level of toughness that people sleep on. [It’s] the attitude you have to have and the approach to the game. I think the style is a mix of having great handle and also being a really good fundamental player.

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What made you walk on to Fairfield University’s basketball team?

It was a life long dream to play basketball and it later became realizing an opportunity. Going back and forth from Cleveland to Connecticut, my parents couldn’t afford it. Playing ball let me stay on campus.

When I was a manager, I alluded to playing on the team and some of the coaches laughed it off, and I used it as fuel for motivation. So I trained, played a lot, ran a lot. It was all based on really wanting it.

What’s the biggest difference between trying out for a high school versus a Division I college program?

I actually didn’t have to try out for Fairfield’s team. I had put myself in a position that created relationships as a manager. I worked out and ran the [children’s] summer camps my sophomore year, and we would have open gyms. During those open gyms, word of mouth from the players [spread] and the coaches [saw] how physical I played. [So] they pretty much just put me on the team.

Did you play for Coach Cooley who now coaches Providence?

Yep, and my last year I played for Sydney Johnson who coaches Fairfield now.

Was there anything Cooley said about you that let you know why you made the team?

Coach always talked about my attitude, and even though I was a walk-on, he respected my growth as a player. This was a conversation we had as he was leaving. He mentioned me being one of his better players and having a great work ethic. He considered playing me, but they had scholarship players, and we were good, so it wasn’t like we were awful and I should be playing more.

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So what was the difference between playing college ball instead of high school?

Man, things are faster. You have to love it. Every detail of your game is important. Everyone’s good. Everyone’s athletic. It makes you take a step back and work on the fundamentals. There’s no shortcuts.

Which short cuts did you have to stop using?

My jump-shot wasn’t up to par in terms of speed. My ball-handling ability wasn’t as much up to par as I thought it should be. A lot of my game at that time was built totally on effort. You might be more skilled, but you won’t work harder.

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Any basketball aspirations after college?

Not really because ultimately I knew I wanted to be in the corporate world.

Are you in the corporate world now?

Yes, I am an equity research associate at Northcoast Research.

How do you enjoy that job?

It’s great. It allows me to use my hyper-competitive spirit and bring it into the workplace.

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So with your achievements people might like to you as a role model. Do you have any advice for them?

If there’s someone who is from a similar situation[as mine], not the best neighborhood, but looking to go to school, try to make friends with people who aren’t necessarily people you would normally make friends with. It’s great for having an understanding of the world in general. Don’t’ be afraid to ask questions about life and try to develop yourself from there.

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Put yourself in positive uncomfortable situations so you can be comfortable in those situations all the time.  A positive uncomfortable situation is something you’ve never done before but it won’t hurt you to do it, like if there’s an art exhibit that you wouldn’t normally go to, that’s something you’re not familiar with. Or maybe you don’t know a person but it wouldn’t hurt you to befriend him. The more you do that, the more you broaden your horizons.  I feel like too often people gravitate toward the norm or what they’re comfortable with.

Any advice for your past self?

Being comfortable writing is helpful, and you get a certain level of respect professionally when you do it. Speaking and math as well.  I used to find it tiring, but I wish I focused on it a little bit more. Being good at writing and good at math can make you a lot of money, and I’ll be candid about that.

Do you see that in your line of work?

Yes and no. When you’re at my level, that’s important, and that was a question that came up in interviews. How well can you write and how fast?

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What inspires you to get up and do what you do every day?

For work in particular, I worked three years to get this job, and I was told no over and over again. I networked to the point of meeting some important people, and one guy told me, “We don’t typically take kids who went to Fairfield in that area, so how about you think about this?”

I associated that with the basketball thing.  I’m telling you I want to do something, and [that response is] very disrespectful. They may not have meant it that way, but that’s how I took it. Now I’m working hard to be the best, and I’m not there yet, but I’m getting there.

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There are people I want to be able to take care of and help out. I’m blessed to see things that my mom and dad would never be able to see without me showing it to them. There were sacrifices they made for me that at the time I didn’t understand. I want to be able to get to the point where I can take them to things I saw and let them see, and that will never happen without me getting where I want to be.

Can you give an example of a sacrifice from one of your parents?

So I got a lot of money from Fairfield, but after my sophomore year the tuition went up but my aid stayed the same. I needed more money, so I went to borrow, but they wouldn’t let me. So my mom borrowed to get me through that year. The next year, she didn’t get approved for a loan, so I had to borrow because the price went up again. My senior year, I couldn’t borrow any more, and I was blessed enough to play basketball or I wouldn’t have been able to stay.

My mom couldn’t even really afford that first loan, but she did it for me.

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When you hear  the phrase “Rule Your Nation,” what do you think of?

I automatically think people might think your nation is everything around you, but I think it’s more about ruling everything you can control and what you can do. Just rule what you can do on a daily basis.


The common theme in all of these stories is perseverance in the face of adversity. Hopefully, we can all enter the new year ready to conquer new challenges.

Stick with it, my friends.

No Apologies,

G. Miller

 

 

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