I’m honored to be able to share this amazing mom’s story from her recent interview with The Local Moms Network. Sara Hood is a mom of two little boys (ages 9 and 7) and is married to NFL player Evander “Ziggy” Hood who just signed with the New Orleans Saints (they were college sweethearts at the University of Missouri). But her amazing story started when she was a child, born in a Sudanese refugee camp to two Ethiopian parents that fled civil war. When her oldest son, Josiah, was born, she had a heart attack—at only 23 years old. Josiah was later diagnosed with autism and is non-verbal. But she has come through with her happiness and health intact—not only losing 60 pounds but becoming an advocate for those with special needs. Here’s how:
As a 4 year old in a refugee camp in Sudan, did you ever imagine your life as it is now?
No—I’m so blessed. I’m the epitome of the American dream. Being born in a refugee camp, the cards were stacked against me. The sacrifice my parents made was for the betterment of our future and it was a great decision.
Amazing. How did your childhood impact how you have navigated the challenges you’ve faced as a mom?
I have the most incredible parents—they are resilient, loving, kind, compassionate, strong, and filled with so much faith. My childhood and my faith allows me not to be shaken when life gets rough. My mom respects and loves my dad. My father worships my mother. It’s the sweetest thing. Together they not only taught me, but showed me, courage and bravery by leading by example in spite of what life throws at me. When our son was diagnosed I had two options: 1. Stand strong, advocate for my son, love my son with every fiber of my being, be the mom that God wanted me to be or 2. Fall apart, balled up in the fetal position. I will have a breakdown once in a blue moon…I will allow myself the moment if I need it. However, it’s just that. I gather myself and push forward.
When you were pregnant with Josiah, they told you he would have special needs, and eventually he was diagnosed with autism. What would you tell yourself then that you know now?
I would tell myself you are made for this. You will see the world differently. Your eyes will be open. Your heart will be open to love others in a way you never knew possible. You’ll be this lioness protecting and fighting for your baby in a way you didn’t even know you could. I would tell myself the journey will be difficult; it will have its lows but the highs overwhelm the lows. You’ll learn to love without words. You’ll find your strength and voice. And above all I would tell myself it’s all going to be OK. You will be even greater than even I could’ve imagined.
Having a heart attack at 23 must have been a shock. Is that what motivated you to really commit to your health?
Nothing forces you to commit to your health like almost dying. That’s as real as I can put it. Initially it was fear that drove me to commit to my health…fear of losing my life. My husband. My son. My family. Then I stopped fearing and started LIVING. The consistency and the ensuing results became so addicting; watching how I could barely lift a 45lb bar and within a year I could squat 225lbs. Also I realized the endorphins made me happier.
So fantastic. You even coined a term, “Lovestyle.” What is it and how can we find ours?
As a mom our identities are so intertwined with our children. I didn’t know where one began or ended. Lovestyle is what your passion and purpose is and pursuing it without fear. Striving to show kindness and compassion to others even if we don’t agree. Lovestyle is knowing self-care is important. Lovestyle is to have an open heart and open mind.
How else did you find yourself again after going through these dark times?
It was my faith and I knew that I didn’t have a choice. I was facing a situation that was out of my control even though every part of me as a mother wanted to be a control freak and protect and love and bubble wrap him like the Michelin man. We were 26 years old when he was officially diagnosed and we were still so young. We all had so much life to live that it wasn’t fair to him or to ourselves to basically bury ourselves at that point. The diagnosis didn’t mean death. Was there some grief that comes along with it? Yes. You grieve the disappointment, you grieve the future you thought your child was going to have, the future you imagined for them…that’s the hardest part….But what I’ve also learned is there is so much beauty, in the new experiences that you get to have and how you see the world.