For a long time my passion was horseback riding. I practiced for hours every day in order to train my body and my mind to be in tune with my horse and the sport. My intense passion allowed me to excel to the top of the competition, with dreams of Olympic gold seemingly within reach. But when I was seventeen, I suffered a devastating head trauma after colliding with a tractor-trailer while driving down an icy road. I couldn’t walk or talk, let alone ride a horse. While I have regained my speech and some agility, it was obvious that my horseback riding days were over.

After the accident I was obsessed with my recovery, but I knew I needed a new passion in order to find avenues for my brain to explore so that I could relearn the basic life skills that we all take for granted. That new passion became sharing the story of regaining my life, giving people hope and inspiration to follow their dreams. I spent two months in a coma and the next 15 years pursuing many therapies around the country. Now I spend my days writing and speaking on behalf of the organization I formed, The J Field Foundation. This was my dream come true, to develop a foundation to give money to people who have lost hope because the treatments they need are not covered by insurance.

In addition to the many alternative therapies that I found to be of huge benefit—including craniosacral, osteopathy, acupuncture, neurofeedback, biofeedback, continuum, and Brain State Technologies—I also found that passion has been a driving force in my recovery, and I’ve learned a lot about what passion does in the brain.

  • A passionate mind leads to a healthy brain. Passion creates neuroplasticity in the brain. For example, dementia can be held off from taking hold if the mind is passionate about an activity or a hobby. A study at Rush University Medical Center showed that people who are engaged intellectually do not develop memory impairment until much later in life.
  • A passionate mind increases the brain’s capacity. Passion allows you to stretch your mind’s capabilities. This means you can continue to think about and expand on the notion of who you are and who you want to be. Through your passions, you can learn more about your purpose in life. My passionate brain has increased my ability to think wisely and continue to engage in the world.
  • A passionate mind keeps you purposeful. We learn a lot about ourselves through our passions. Exploring them allows us to constantly question and examine ourselves.

Standing in front of an audience and telling my story, I now experience that same intense feeling of strong connection and challenge that I knew so well as a champion horseback rider. My message is simple: Always work hard to achieve your goals and never give up or give in. I have always worked hard and progressed, inch by inch by inch. I have learned that there are no shortcuts, but hard work and determination eventually gave me the miracle of my recovery.

Being passionately engaged creates a change in the brain, allowing new neural pathways to form. Subsequently, we think differently, act differently, and are different in a positive way. It is thought that the end result of being passionate may be a greater capacity for memory, curiosity, and intellectual engagement. After my car accident I began painting and writing poetry to stimulate my mind. I knew that I would need to challenge my brain even more if I was going to recover more fully. I learned to present my story through public speaking just a few years after relearning to form the most simple words with the help of speech therapists. This gave me a challenge and a problem to passionately pursue and solve.

The results have been clear: I am able to be of service to many who are struggling and have lost hope. Mastering my inspirational speech, “A Distant Memory,” and recounting it to audiences around the country has allowed my brain and speech to continually improve. I feel more and more connected to the world and people around me. I am not lost and dazed, as I was just a short time ago. My speaking has grounded me, given me renewed purpose in life and the self-confidence that I need to keep moving forward.

Being passionate—focusing on something enthusiastically, even obsessively—creates a fitness regime for the mind. It could mean playing bridge or tennis, collecting baseball cards, writing, or any of the endless pursuits that bring you joy and purpose.

What passion has made a difference in your life?

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