Cheryl Murray – “I’m not Disabled… I’m Cheryl.”

Cheryl fat face

Cheryl Murray – “I’m not disabled… I’m Cheryl.”

“I’m unwilling to be a helpless victim. Sure I’m scared sometimes, but I force myself to do what I have to do. It’s not the things I’ve done that I’m proud of, it’s the stuff in my head I’ve had to fight through to do it.”

                Those were the first words to come out of Cheryl’s mouth when I asked her what she wanted her story to say once people had the chance to catch a peek through the kaleidoscope that is her. Simple yet powerful her statement cuts like a knife through the gimmicks and trickery often sought after to “make it through” life by trimming away the bullshit and leaving you with a foundation you can either choose to accept or deny; you have the choice to be life’s victim when it attacks unexpectedly and relentlessly but rest assured that throughout that decision making process it will be terrifying beyond belief. We ALL have felt the mind and body blows of that last statement, but it’s what you do with yourself as the dust settles that defines who you are at your core… How do you respond and what actions do you take? If you’re Cheryl you respond like a cat with nine lives and the tenacity of a tornado… This is a glimpse of Cheryl’s storm.

                If you were to catch snippets of Cheryl’s life growing up you’d swear you were watching reruns of “Leave It to Beaver.” You’d see a loving family with a nice home in Northern California that recycled before it was cool. Church every Sunday with full societal calendars for the whole family in between… they were the epitome of the American dream. A dual parent household with one daughter and one son that ate healthy, exercised regularly, exceled in work and school, adorable family dog… I think you get the picture. Don’t get me wrong, per all circumstances her upbringing carried with it the “usual suspects” regarding growing pains and tumultuous times but to her own admittance nothing too extraordinarily tragic beyond that.

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                It was while she was attending grad school at the San Jose campus of the University of Phoenix when Cheryl’s Americana upbringing suddenly took a turn towards “The Twilight Zone” of the television spectrum. It started with a hospital trip and the two reasons that prompted her to take it; a bruise resembling a black and purple vortex that showed up out of nowhere on her hip and the nonstop bleeding that occurred after casually scratching an itch on her head. Combined with the extreme fatigue she’d been feeling (among other symptoms) she decided it was time to promptly get checked out so she stopped her dinner preparation for that night and had a friend bring her to the ER.

She never made it back home that night.

                After having some tests run Cheryl could hear her name announced over the intercom with a tone of urgency that instantly made her anxiety swell. Her husband at the time was working night shifts which left Cheryl by her lonesome to deal with the fear bouncing around in her head like pieces of shrapnel.

“I was in the waiting room for the longest time. While I was there my greatest fear was that it could only be one of two things… cancer or AIDS.”

                A lot of us have gone the “Web MD” route in our brains of figuring out the worst case scenario and convincing ourselves that’s EXACTLY what we’ve got, but when it turns out to be true… it can be profoundly soul shattering. Unfortunately, it did end up being one of those two things… leukemia. At the very least she had an answer to the suddenly surging ailments she was experiencing; it just wasn’t the answer anybody ever hopes for. Boot straps were pulled up as treatment started immediately and aggressively. With her grit to keep moving forward and the support of her family Cheryl went about trying to beat the cancer that had suddenly found its way into her family’s home.

                Progress was swift and after only a few months of dedicated cancer management (radiation therapy included) the cancer began reverting course! They’d beat the cancer into remission! It was an optimal situation because it gave them more time to get it gone for GOOD.

That lasted 3 months.

                The beginning of 1998 did not bring good tidings as the cancer came back with a vengeance in January forcing Cheryl and her family to get right back into defense mode. It would only be fair for Cheryl to deal with one life-altering catastrophe at a time but as we all know life is FAR from fair and it was April of 1998 when life dropped another sledgehammer driving Cheryl even deeper between the rock and hard place she’d already found herself in… On the day Cheryl was scheduled to have her annual bone marrow biopsies from the diagnosis a year prior, she had a stroke.

“After the cancer came back I harbored a LOT of anger. When I had the stroke though… It was bad… I mean I’m 29 and I’ve suddenly lost the ability to walk, talk, drive, ski… I thought I’d never be able to go to work, travel, or get on a plane ever again…Things you can take for granted until all of a sudden you can’t do them anymore.”

                Awhile back Cheryl and I had a conversation about the daily planner she kept at the time of her stroke. Cheryl detailed how she kept track of everything in this agenda; work obligations, social events, and medical appointments filled the bylines within the weeks up until the day where she was set to have a bone marrow biopsy which was cause for a very powerful moment when she showed me the point of stoppage. It bore a symbolic resemblance to an author stepping away from writing a carefully crafted book mid-paragraph.

                With the leukemia coming back around a second time and in rapid fashion the bone marrow transplant was a necessity still regardless of this newfound “kitchen sink” life had just rocketed Cheryl’s way. After gaining some control on the stroke situation the transplant was pushed from April to July. It was during those months Cheryl found herself dwelling on what she’d lost in her life and reveling in the anniversaries of bad occurrences for a long time afterwards.

“When I was in the hospital my Dad brought in a ‘PEOPLE’ magazine for me and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t read it. I remember thinking ‘I JUST WANT TO READ THE F*&@!ING MAGAZINE!!’ but… nothing. That was hard.”

                When the time came for the transplant fingers were crossed and prayers were sent out that Cheryl’s body would accept the new bone marrow and an immediate road to recovery could begin so they could put as much of this awfulness as possible behind them. At this point in the story I’m sure you’ve picked up on the tone that things hadn’t taken a lucky break yet and I’ll tell you they weren’t about take a turn in that direction now. With her body rejecting the transplant Cheryl suddenly found herself in yet another situation where she wasn’t sure she was going to make it out alive. Things got so bad physically she nearly needed a feeding tube to combat the inability and lack of desire to eat. Luckily Cheryl found herself able to stomach grilled cheese sandwiches which is essentially what she lived off of from July of 1998 until February of 1999, the date she was released from the hospital with her body finally accepting the donor marrow.

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Christmas of ’98 was spent in the hospital. Making it to Christmas of ’99 was in genuine doubt in this picture…

                Once released from the hospital the fight was far from over, but things were at long last starting to look up. With the bone marrow transplant going from being rejected to being accepted it wasn’t longer after Cheryl was deemed cancer free. The rigorous, aggressive, and draining treatment paid off! Sure, she had to get annual marrow biopsies for 10 years (they have to drill a hole in your hip to put in perspective those unfamiliar on how “not simple” this task is) but that’s better than actually having cancer! Cheryl’s spirit, however, was far from healed… The unexpected and sudden loss of abilities coupled with the weight gained from the drugs she now had to take left her in a dark, defeated place.

                It took a fateful crossing of paths at church with a single mom who had multiple sclerosis that started the revolt against her own demons keeping her down. 

“What I really admired about her was that she never let the MS get her down. I started going with her when she ran errands and even went to the gym with her. She helped introduce me to people after I’d been in a cave for so long. She showed me that things could be different…”

Bit by bit Cheryl started to crawl out of her shell as the days went on. She even started to do some volunteer work at her Church again! Over the years Cheryl dug deep to regain her life back even though the realization that it wouldn’t be the same life she had before had a tendency to send her on a roller coaster of ups and downs. Through the rough times Cheryl retaught herself how to drive, how to walk, and how to eat healthy again. She got herself back to work, travelling with the family, and even joined several gyms with yoga becoming a new favorite therapy for not only her body but her mind, too.

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Getting back to everything she was able to do before sometimes means needing a cane or motorized transport to aid with the devitalized left side of her body, but it all goes back to the first words Cheryl said when we sat down to put the pen to paper on this;

 “I’m unwilling to be a helpless victim. Sure I’m scared sometimes, but I force myself to do what I have to do. It’s not the things I’ve done that I’m proud of, it’s the stuff in my head I’ve had to fight through to do it.”

It was 2009 when Cheryl found her way to Anytime Fitness.

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“I’ve belonged to a lot of gyms in my life, but none of them hit like Anytime did. It was different… I found myself actually wanting to go and really liking the people there. I also remember thinking ‘who’s the weirdo who yells a lot?’”

(Spoiler alert: I was am that weirdo who yells).

Wasting no time she joined up with a transformation challenge that just so happened to be on the verge of starting and wouldn’t you know it… she won the damn thing. She even lost 20 lbs in the process! It was soon after that when Cheryl, who was once told she wouldn’t ever regain the ability to walk all that well ever again, trekked across the Golden Gate friggin’ Bridge.

“When I walked the Golden Gate, it wasn’t exactly something I’d been fantasizing about for years and years or anything… It was that things were going really well and I wanted to make a bucket list to give myself some goals and aspirations. I needed that, or else I wasn’t going to keep pushing myself. You need to have goals to work towards or else you won’t do anything.”

To know Cheryl now means most would be surprised finding out that for as gregarious as she is, she still sticks to her reclusive tendencies  (only they are much healthier now). From that initial challenge in 2009 Cheryl has joined damn near every single Hulk/Rebel challenge since (missing one due to hip surgery in 2011), putting her up there as one of the most tenured Hulkster/Rebels there is. Her presence is coveted and her inspiration is legendary as she’s shown more people than she knows the true meaning of strength, inside and out. If you ask her about her inspiration and her take on it though, you get a much different and humbled response:

“I get it, you know… People being happy for people with disabilities being able to make it past them, but I don’t see it that way. In my head I don’t see myself as disabled… I’m Cheryl.”

Cheryl cross legged

This photo was taken once we concluded our session. What you’re seeing is the first time Cheryl crossed her legs casually in a conversation since her stroke. The best part is it was inadvertent yet instantly recognized. Thank you Cheryl for such a wonderful moment :).

AhhhOOO.

–          Rebel8

PS Check Cheryl out!

ZUMBA!!!!

Today marks the second time I have had to ask the wonderful trainers I have the pleasure of calling my co-workers and friends to substitute a couple Rebel boot camps while I head out to put the Rebellion on film.

Last time, I recorded this little number:

This time around I made a ZUMBA video with the help of Jessica LaVenter, Jamie Bywater, Kelly Moody, and David Moody! I’ll be doing a full write-up on Zumba and how it’s “exercise in disguise” (thanks Jess) but in the meantime… watch how much fun you’re missing :).

– Rebel8 

Vote On Best Chant!

Click on the rebel to see more sweet black light 8.0 photos!

Click on the rebel to see more sweet black light 8.0 photos!

This week marked the 8th edition of my black light boot camps. I run one every challenge, and I make it a point to add to the festivities every single time.

One of the ways I wanted to share our black light adventures with you was by taking a video of both the Warriors and Vigilantes pre-boot camp chant and have YOU THE PUBLIC vote!!

Simply put, I want you to watch both the videos and vote on which team was louder! Both teams did an AMAZING chant (my eardrums are still ringing) and I couldn’t be more proud.

Voting will be closed at 8PM on Friday night (the 15th). I will announce the vote totals at boot camp on Saturday morning. The winning team gets 5 additional points!

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May the odds be ever in your favor…

Rebel vs Rebel: Teams Announced

Warriors – Every Tuesday @ 6:30pm & Saturday @ 12pm

Lori DeMarco
Lori Lablue
Tammy Moratto
Maggie Schuck
Marco Avalos
Kathi Belcher-Tyler
Lori Knapp
Kayla Waldner
Stephanie Stevenson
Ruben Martinez
Pete Macias
May Lissa De La Serna
Carlo Piscitello
Marion
Chenoa Busic

Vigilantes – Every Wednesday @ 6:30pm & Saturday @ 10am

Cara Jones
Jisaela Tenney
Darlene Catania
David Moody
Kelly Moody
Lucy Avalos
Kelly Dawson
Justin Zuiderweg
Julia Wood
Sam Enos
Alaura Finger
Karen Solberg
Alyssa Solberg
Jody Livingston
Alyx J Livingston Seagull
Austin Finch
Karin Bowhall
Michelle D Huntley
Christin Douth
Suzanne Pelz
Tami Tuminello
Leah Bayly
Kristina Tovani
James Tovani
Kaila Finch

Minnesota Memoirs

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“What inspires you?”

As I sit here with the notepad open on my iPod getting ready to spill my thoughts on my flight headed back to California, I realize I have no idea how to wrangle them all in a way that makes sense. As Ellie Goulding’s “Halycon” album plays in my ear, I’m reaching for the proper verbiage that can accurately express the impact I not only had on the great state of Minnesota, but more so the impact it had on me.

I went to Minnesota with many purposes and several goals at the forefront of my circus brain. I know there was a lot expected of me, yet none even dare hold a candle to the expectations I have of myself.

Before I continue further I feel it extremely important to express to you, the reader who I humbly appreciate taking time out of your life to care about what I have to say, in on something that most people may not know… As I boarded that plane in San Francisco last Friday, I had a certain feeling I tend to hide away from the world. An emotion I have often yet try not to show too often. Every day I feel this at some point or another in varying degrees for various reasons, but this day was the most intense I’d felt this in a long, long time…

I was absolutely terrified. Scared out of my mind. Beyond any words that I could possibly pull out of my scrabble bag of eccentricity to try to guide your brain into understanding exactly how I felt as they called for boarding group 4 to step onto that 10:30am flight.

Understand that to me, I am but a former fat kid from little ol’ Windsor California who has nothing but a big dream of changing the world and empty pockets that match my acceptance for failure. I am a broken man who, in the grand scheme of things, has figured out very little. In my 26 years on Earth I have come to understand that the more I broaden my horizon the bigger my hard drive for “life data” becomes. Essentially, the more I think I know, the less I truly do.

In every speaking engagement I have ever done and will ever do, I am careful to remind everyone that I am merely an ambassador. A representative for the many, not an isolated individual furthering myself from the pack. The things I have accomplished are small potatoes compared to some stories, but much like I accept everyone’s mountain to climb as their own, I hope everyone does the same for me.

With that said, I am nowhere NEAR the top of my climb, but you better goddamn believe I’m going to continue to climb with the strength of a silverback gorilla and the terror of an animal just trying to survive.

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What I HAVE figured out is this; it’s COMPLETELY ok not to be ok. I have found that in transparency there is truth. In this lies remnants of what I feel is lost in this world… A tribal bond. I want nothing more than to climb my mountain with as many rebel souls that are willing. I’ve found that in putting my palms out and showing my scars, it gives permission for others to do the same.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s excruciating every single time I share all of me with everyone. There has not been one instance in which I have stood in front of a group of people and bared my soul, shared my experience with bulimia, depression, self mutilation, and bullying where I haven’t reverted to that scared boy who still lives inside my heart. I imagine my heart as Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon’s closet beneath the stairs, and that little boy is Harry Potter; scarred yet powerful.

Why do it then? My give everything I’ve got to strangers I’ve never met? Why go through hellfire day in and day out as people ask me about my past and wonder about my future? What is the reasoning behind reliving the pain this lifetime has shared with me?

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Because I am FAR from the only one. With every opportunity I have to share my journey, I get a chance to peep into the souls of people just like me… damaged and just trying to make it. So what makes me different? What makes me special? I’ll tell you… I am relentlessly unapologetic to a fault for who I am and what I believe in and I just so happen to be really fucking loud about it.

Most people know that one of the most endearing and near-to-my-heart monikers I’ve ever had the honor of being bestowed with has been being referred to as a “Nerd Superhero.” It means everything to me because that means I’m the guy who *I* looked up to when I felt hopeless, and still do even though I’m overflowing with hope nowadays.

The guy who stands for good. The guy who has built himself into a machine beyond his wildest dreams who rather than use his newfound power for revenge and self-absorption instead fights for the ones who don’t know how fix themselves but want to more than anything.  These “superpowers” have given a voice to the voiceless. An AHHHOOOOO to those who only know a hanging head and settling-for-sad comfort zones.

Now lets get to what had me so terrified in the first place… In the 5 days I was in cold ass Minnesota, I was tasked with the following:

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1) kick off a community challenge of 168 participants in Litchfield followed by a boot camp with the goal of not only getting everyone PUMPED on this 3 month health and wellness endeavor, but getting through to those who don’t really feel they belonged there. Igniting the heart and souls of those who feel alone and not only reminding them how important it is to take their mind and body back, but more importantly showing them they are not alone. They don’t have to feel isolated anymore. There IS a spot in this world for them. The fitness rebellion.

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Mission accomplished.

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2) speaking at a meat processing plant in St. James to blue collar employees on their lunch break with the same goal in mind as Litchfield, but on a more personal scale. I sat with these amazing people on one of their most cherished hours of the day and watched their defiance turn to a planted seed before my very eyes. They had NO idea I was coming thus had no idea who I was. All they knew was here was some long haired Californian who was about to talk about fitness. Only that’s not what I talked about… I talked about pain.
I reminded everyone they HAVE A CHOICE. You are met with crossroads every single day of your life… Which road do you take? The smoothest that leads nowhere or the rough one with the ultimate destination: self worth. That was the seed I planted. I watched it grow and blossom in a mere 60 minutes time. They came in feeling like “just get this over with kid” (I know because they told me) and left by signing up for a tour of the local gym, shaking my hand, and asking how they can be a part of the rebellion.

Mission accomplished.

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3) Launching a rebel program in New Ulm that is run exactly as described above making it exactly like our down home Santa Rosa rebels. Drew and Lori are the rebel leaders tasked with hoisting their own shovels high with a rebel yell, spreading the rebellion message in a way where everyone understands they are a part of something breathtakingly huge. With their spray painted banners and infinite compassion, they led the charge right there with me. I spoke for 45 minutes to the pack of 21 daring individuals before leading a 40 minute boot camp with these awe-inspiring rebel leaders and I can tell you… Look out for these two. It is impossible for them to fail because they care just as much as I do. They have the same heart and compassion, and absorbed every bit of what I HAVE figured out coupled with a program I KNOW works because I have meticulously designed it for years. After the boot camp, they had 7 new sign ups. My first challenge ended with 5.

Mission accomplished.

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4) I was asked to be a guest speaker at an alternative learning school in front of 2 groups of about 100 young adults. I spoke once at 10am and again at 1pm. These kids truly know the exact pain I’ve been through. Most have stories and experiences I choose not to share for the sake of privacy for these amazing young adults. As I calmed the butterflies I always get before I speak, I pushed the podium they gave me to the side because that was the antithesis of why I was there. I stood in front of these youth (as a youth myself) who know nothing but rejection and defiance, and I opened up my chest cavity and exposed EVERYTHING. I told them every graphic detail of my journey (mixed with my own brand of humor that they thankfully found funny) and pleaded that if they walked away with ANYTHING from what I had to say then I wished it to be this; that every single one of us knows true pain, they are not alone, and it’s never too late to love yourself. I begged them to understand that their body was the plane and their brain was the pilot, and THEY were in control… We always have a choice. I concluded with a squat exercise I do
with rebels back in my neck of the woods to show them that if they can physically dig deeper then why couldn’t they mentally and emotionally? Afterwards I was swarmed by these teens who are normally used to rejection as we all bonded together, took pictures, exchanged Facebook pages, and simply laughed. Together. As one unified group. I heard “you’re the BEST speaker we’ve ever had! You changed my life man… I never knew I was so strong…” enough to make me shed tears that night quietly as I recollected on how much they will NEVER know how much that meant to me (I hope some of you are reading this). The higher ups in charge of the school said they have never seen any of this group listen so intently. They’d never seen these young adults participate with one another so happily before. They’ve been known to eat guest speakers alive, but not me… I said “well, it’s because I represent real life and give them permission to hurt and make it acceptable to hug it out with someone rather than take it out on someone. They accepted every bit of me because I accepted every bit of them.” Afterwards I was interviewed by the local paper who said they’d never seen someone do what I did in that room before…

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Mission accomplished.

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5) That night In St. James, the very town where that meat processing plant was that I spoke at the day prior, I was all set to kick off ANOTHER rebel boot camp pilot program with the amazing Beth Henderson and Jill Augustin (another original rat pack member). Marv and Jill Augustin are the owners of the two clubs that we were launching these rebellions at, and were not only vital to me being there in the first place but showed me more hospitality than any “thank you” gift or string of heartfelt words could ever relay. They were also the ones who introduced me to Beth, a fireball of energy who just like Drew and Lori has the heart of a lion and the soul of a rebel. A true rebel leader through and through, she is most certainly another amazing person you are sure to hear more about. With her fantastic partner-in-crime Kristin, they had their shovel all ready to be raised and praised in front of the group of 22 “ruffians” who showed up, ready to get down with the get down. My warm-up was an interview with a local reporter by the name of Tyson as to why I was there. Their warm-up was me speaking to them about the revolution they were leading and didn’t even know while heavily being sprinkled with the essence of all the things I wrote about above. After 45 minutes, we got into some rebel planks and exploded from there. My GOD these people rocked it! I saw the same things I’d seen in Litchfield, at the processing plant, at Riverbend School, and New Ulm… The fierce tenacity of human spirit grasping at this newfound empowerment with everything they had. Afterwards, everyone gathered around and shared stories of how hard-yet-amazing what they just took part in truly was as I grabbed Jill by the shoulders and quietly said “you see what’s happening?” Her response was deafening in its simplicity…

“Yeah…”

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Mission Accomplished.

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Tyson!

Now that I have chronicled my Minnesota memoirs in a way that I think BARELY does any of this justice, this is what I want you to take away from the novel you just read;

I was terrified, but I put myself out there with everything I had. I took my passion and dream for a world I truly believe can be better and stared failure in the face as my butterflies turned to fireworks. I had something I wanted to do, and I sprinted towards it with everything I had damning the possibility of letting people down because if I let THAT fear control me then I would have accomplished NONE of the miracles of humanity I witnessed in sub zero temperatures. We all have our own visions and hopes of things we want to do with our lives, and if I had let that gut-wrenching, cold sweat inducing voice in my head convince me I was surely going to fall short, I never would have stepped foot on that plane.

This is where it comes full circle and goes back to those crossroads and
Choices I talked about earlier…

We all have our own “plane” to step foot on. If you don’t take that first step, you’ll never know how amazing you really are.

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Ahh-fucking-OOOOOOO.

– Rebel8

Dig for the stars…

Recently we here at Anytime Fitness off Santa Rosa Ave had the good fortune to host Greg Cordell and Geno Church of “Brains on Fire.” Brains on Fire is the company Anytime Fitness partnered up with to pave the way in leading this fitness rebellion. They specialize in leading movements, and they’re damn good at it!

During their visit, they got to witness one of our Rebel boot camps! OPERATION: Fitter for Winter was in full effect that day, and I got an e-mail this morning from the wonderful Greg Cordell sharing something I find to be pretty damn awesome.

Greg said his “heart smiled” when he saw me reach for the shovel before our workout. To see such a symbol wasn’t just endearing at face value, it had a bit more of a back story… Attached in the e-mail was a short children’s story written by Greg himself all about never giving up on your dreams and always pushing forward no matter the obstacle.

The center piece was digging…

As soon as I read the story, I was floored. One because… wel, read it. No explanation needed there. The second reason is because I’ve secretly been writing a children’s story myself about a mole by the name of Trinket who is tired of “the way things are” and finds out his ability to dig is more powerful than he realizes. It’s halway done. Greg, you have inspired me to finish the other half.

Thank you, Greg, for sharing such an amazing piece of literature that resonates with me more than you know. I asked to share it because I know I won’t be the only one… This is proof that this revolution is real.

Never stop digging…

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– Rebel8