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Little Wins

In a recent interview, I was asked about the concept of "success" and what my personal benchmark for Civile Apparel to be "successful" was. It took me a few stumbled over thoughts before I responded that my personal definition of success comes in the “little wins”. Admittedly, it has taken some time to embrace what it was I meant by that statement, and to fully realize it would take a chance encounter with pickleball player and Civile customer, Becki Wheeler.  

We proudly sponsored a Pickleball Forum for Women event in Palm Desert last month, where a woman made her way over to the Civile tent. She asked to purchase the Dink or Die Crewneck on the table and inquired if we had other items with the same tagline. She then introduced herself and chatted joyfully about how much she loves our brand. She finished the transaction and stepped around to the side where she began to tell me that she had read my personal story of loss and proceeded to give me a heartfelt hug. Not just any hug, but the kind of embrace that permeates the physical, a hug that holds you in a sort of suspended emotional animation. To say that I liked Becki immediately would be a drastic understatement. Then, she took a deep breath and asked permission to share her own story with me. I smiled and nodded. 

“You see, for me, pickleball saved my life, and so if I stop dinking, I will die.” I smiled gently and put my hand on her shoulder, encouraging her to proceed. “2017 was the year I knew I was going to lose my daughter,” she said. 

It was with those words that my mouth dropped open and my hands raced to cover my heart, as though I feared it couldn’t bear the story about to be told and was at risk of it fleeing from my chest. “She was fourteen,” she continued, and I felt my condolences turn into tears and begin their escape from my eyes. 

Becki went on to describe her daughter Emma, both when she was alive and well, and when she became sick. Emma was a Freshman in high school, she loved animals, and was vivacious in personality. Diagnosed with mono just three weeks prior, Emma stepped immediately into the fight of her life. Her disease was known as Hemophagocytic Lymphohistiosytosis, a rare, but in Emma’s case fatal, condition in which certain white blood cells (histiocytes and lymphocytes) build up in and damage organs, including the bone marrow, liver, and spleen, and destroy other blood cells.

After a month of constant and aggressive treatment, including a round of IVIG, Emma’s body was not responding; she was soon diagnosed with Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma.  She was life-flighted to Minneapolis and her kidneys began to fail.  Within two days of that flight, Emma could no longer move; she could no longer respond; multiple organs were shutting down; her kidneys were on dialysis, her lungs filling with a rare fungal infection and her body was experiencing seizure after seizure.  On the 14th of November of 2017, Becki climbed into Emma’s hospital bed, held her, and softly sang. Emma’s journey was over.  

I talk a lot about journeys, about empathy and understanding. I acknowledge that we all have our battles, but this one crippled me at the core. The strength Becki showed as she told me about her fight, about the experience of watching her child’s body become lifeless just 55 days from diagnosis, and about how she and her husband did their absolute best to stay positive and to celebrate the “little wins,” lives with me until this day. 

It was only a short time later, on Becki’s horizonless road to healing, that she discovered pickleball and the incredible community surrounding it. She told me how much our Dink or Die Collection means to her, how much the Civile story touched her, and how pickleball saves her life and pushes her to rise every single day. 

Becki and I wiped away the anguish that soaked our faces and embraced again. 

What an honor to have touched a life like Becki’s, and while it may not measure up to everyone’s standards, I’m incredibly grateful for these moments. They are helping me to craft my own definition of success.