Karen Griffard Putz & Passion Pursuits
Unwrap Your Passion
Introduction I was born with normal hearing.  When I was seven, I became hard of hearing due to an illness with a high fever.  I received my first hearing aid when I was nine, but I did everything in my power to keep it hidden. I hardly ever wore it except at school.  As soon as school ended for the summer, the hearing aid stayed inside a box on a shelf.  Group situations were tough for me and I relied on lipreading to comprehend conversation as much as I could.  I tried so hard to "fit in," that I would bluff my way through parties, hoping to blend in enough that no one would notice the fact that I was missing out on jokes and teenage banter.
I took up barefoot water skiing and spent my summer days zipping around the lake on my bare feet.  I was proud to be the only girl on Christie Lake who could barefoot with the guys.  One summer day when I was 19, I turned to cross the wake and caught a toe.  I slammed into the water sideways-- there was no time to do a normal "tuck and roll."  When I climbed into the boat, I couldn't hear.  I figured that I simply had water in my ears.
In an instant, I had gone from hard of hearing... to deaf. 
Background  Just weeks after becoming deaf, I transferred to a university that had a program for deaf and hard of hearing students.  I was clearly uncomfortable at first with the hands that produced rapid-fire American Sign Language. A stranger in a foreign land, I struggled to fit in this new world.  I spent my nights crying over the loss of hearing and the frustration of trying to lipread professors that paced across a stage. 
My "ah-ha" moment came one morning when I was lying in bed and trying to summon the energy to face yet another class with communication challenges.  I came to the realization that I could continue to struggle, or I could accept the changes and become the best deaf person I could possibly be.  That very morning, I pulled my hair in a pony tail, slapped on my hearing aid and marched myself to the disability office.  I turned in the useless FM system and requested interpreters in every class.  That "ah ha" moment was the day I started a new journey of acceptance.  Years later, I adopted a quote from the movie, What a Girl Wants: "Why are you trying so hard to fit in when you were born to stand out."  How I wish I heard that quote as a teenager!
 Professional issue One of the things that was lacking on my journey to acceptance was role models and mentors in the direction that I wanted to go in.  I wanted to be a labor and delivery nurse, but a counselor gently, but firmly discouraged me in that field.  "It would be too hard to overcome the communication challenges," I was told.  Years later, I came to find a world of successful deaf and hard of hearing professionals in all fields.  Deaf doctors.  Deaf dentists.  Deaf lawyers.  And yes, deaf nurses.
I graduated with a graduate degree in counseling and went off to work.  Four years later, I became pregnant with my first child and was very torn about going back to work.  I had wanted to be a mom for so long and it killed me to leave my baby with someone else.  Two months later, I quit my job and stayed home for fifteen years.  I dove into motherhood with a passion.  I had no regrets, as I took complete joy in being able to spend time with my kids and teach them about life.  All three of my kids were born with normal hearing, and one by one, they lost their hearing.  I taught them to communicate and advocate for themselves.  When the kids were older, I worked part-time as a college instructor and as a writer for a writing company.  I also wrote for Disaboom, Parenting Squad, the Chicago Moms Blog.  In 2003, I became a Deaf Mentor in the Illinois Early Intervention program. I mentored families raising deaf and hard of hearing kids.  I wanted those families to know that there were unlimited possibilities for their children.  I joined the international organization, Hands & Voices as a board member and founded the Illinois Hands & Voices as a non-profit organization.
A few years ago, I took a full-time job as a Sales Manager and dove into the corporate world.  I wrote for the Chicago Tribune TribLocal and Chicago Now.
Along the way, I learned the value of a mentor as I explored new paths and new skills.  When you surround yourself with people who know more than you do, you have a rich pool of resources to tap into and expand your own learning.  Kevin Hall, in his book, "Aspire," shared a quote by Pravin Cherkoori: "Isn't life magical?  Look at what happens when you view yourself as an empty bucket and every person you meet as a well."  Every person that crosses our path in life has something to teach us.
Personal issue

While things were going well professionally, over the years, I had put myself on the back burner trying to juggle it all.  The weight crept up slowly and then one day, I found myself crying.  It was my 44th birthday and I weighed over 200 pounds.  I had stopped barefoot water skiing long ago and the only exercise I was getting was a weekly volleyball game and we always went out to eat afterward. The day before, I tried to barefoot water ski with no success--I couldn't even get up out of the water. I figured the best years of my life were over with and I'd never barefoot again.

My husband stumbled on a link to a TODAY show segment featuring Judy Myers, a 66-year-old barefoot water skier. I got in touch with Judy and she invited me to the World Barefoot Center where I met Keith St. Onge, the two-time World Barefoot Champion and he took me through the steps of learning to barefoot again. I was overweight, out-of-shape and out of breath, but the moment I put my feet on the water, I felt like a teenager again. Keith helped me to lose weight and began training me to compete. I entered my first barefoot water ski tournament at the age of 45.

Both Judy and Keith became my mentors and close friends. Keith and I ended up writing a book together: Gliding Soles, Lessons from a Life on Water.

Judy's nickname is "The Old Lady," but she's a youngster on the water. Every time I watch her barefoot water ski, I see a look of joy on her face. It's the same look I share every time my feet touch the water. Judy taught me that the best years of life are never behind us--they're always ahead.