Still Walking (coming soon!)

KoorThey began walking each day before sunrise. It was 50 degrees and to keep warm, they had to keep moving – especially Koor who was naked.
Many had not survived the night. Those who did owed their lives to older children, who fought off lion attacks with torches. The older boys were 13 years old. Koor was six when his journey began and has since become a U.S. citizen. 24 years later, he is still haunted by memories of the four-month walk, and his heart is still in Sudan.

“Still Walking” a short series by Shawn Over – coming soon to


Remembering Sterling Lytle (originally published on July 3rd, 2013)

Today marks the first anniversary of the death of Nogales Firefighter Sterling Lytle. Last year, his family made the heartbreaking decision to take him off life support after doctors at U.M.C. informed them the severe trauma which came as the result of being struck by a vehicle on June 28th, rendered him brain-dead.
“I never really understood death until Sterling was lost,” said Sterling’s mother, Sarah Barcello. Despite their terrible and sudden loss, Sterling’s family is choosing on this day to focus on the positive and simply remember the time they had with him; the gift that they and countless others all received from God.
Talking with Sarah, her husband Casey and Sterling’s grandmother Cleo, memories of Sterling’s life of servitude were in abundance, each of them highlighting the character of a man who thrived by enriching the lives of those around him.

Sarah recalled a formative memory with her son, when he was just four years old. She had taken Sterling to volunteer at a shelter on Thanksgiving, where he handed out glasses of water to the homeless. At the end of that day, Sterling tearfully expressed his appreciation for everything he and his mother had. It was from such a spirit of gratitude that he lived.

Summers would find Sterling volunteering; as a lifeguard at the Ft. Lowell swimming pool, at the Pima Air & Space Museum, at Catalina High School’s JROTC, and especially as a firefighter.

Sterling worked as a Hangar Docent, logging 350 hours at Pima Air. Sarah went to pick him up one day but an employee told her to wait. Sarah said, “They told me not to interrupt him, because he was giving a tour. He was only about 12 years old and he was giving a tour!” Veterans who had met Sterling at the museum would call Sarah to express their thankfulness for her son, who was so attentive while he listened to their stories. “He could relate to anyone,” Sarah said. “He was a great listener. He could talk with WWII vets on their level.”

Sterling also loved to work with kids. Beyond his volunteer work as a JROTC instructor, he continued his relationship with the boy scouts, and would loan out his oxygen tanks and other firefighter gear to his old troop. He was just one badge short of becoming an Eagle Scout when he decided to become a pilot. It annoyed her terribly, but Sarah understood that Sterling didn’t care about accolades. In fact, he had turned down a full scholarship at Texas A&M because he wanted to remain close to his grandmother.

“He would come over often,” Cleo said, laughing, “He would always fall asleep at my house …I was always throwing a blanket on him.”

Small wonder, since Sterling’s work ethic made most look lazy. His resume bears witness to the fact. Even so, all his interests paled in comparison to his lifelong dream of becoming a firefighter. He studied fire science and emergency medical technology at Pima Community College. True to form, he went on to volunteer at Helmet Peak, where he was quickly promoted to Training Captain. He also worked as an E.M.T. instructor at P.C.C. Any time he would receive a phone call from his mother while teaching his class, Sterling would hold up his phone to all his students and shout, “Say hello to my mother, class!” To which the class would respond in unison, “Hello, Sterling’s mom!”

“The first time I didn’t have to call [to wake him up on time] was when he was with the Nogales Fire Department,” Sarah said.

Sterling achieved his childhood dream of becoming a firefighter in November, 2011. With his enthusiasm and commitment, he was loved by everyone at the station. The firefighters there gave him the nickname “Pequino”, a term of endearment for the rookie whose last name was often mispronounced. His name and badge number are written across the front of what’s been deemed “Sterling’s truck” under the words, “Gone but not forgotten.”

Sterling’s volunteer work and his great heart that made him relate so well to others made him a great instructor for many people who carry with them the lessons he shared, as a teacher and mentor. His work with others was always colored with his big heart, and he is best remembered as a loyal friend.

“He never liked seeing people sad,” said Erin, a long-time friend of Sterling’s. “He would do anything to cheer a friend up.”

This included anything from being a shoulder to cry on and having an ear to bend at any hour of the day or night, to his famous Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonations and an array of goofball antics that to this day will bring a smile to the faces of those who knew him best. His mother described him as having an old soul.

“He loved to make others laugh,” Sarah said. “He lived more than any of us can dream of living.”

In memorial of Sterling, the Margaret E. Mooney Foundation established the Sterling Lytle Memorial Scholarship Endowment to benefit E.M.T. students and Fire Science programs at P.C.C. This plaque is displayed at the entrance to the E.M.T. lab at P.C.C. East Campus

Spiritual Seasons

Jerry has been a pastor for over 40 years, and he’s lead just three churches. If you know the statistics, that’s impressive. Jerry has a heart for people, always has. He wants to see a cultural change in the modern church. He wants to see pastors grow God’s kingdom, and not their own congregational numbers. I am blessed to interview him and hear his thoughts on how that happens! Soon, I’ll share that story with you!

The Heart of a Warrior

Rudy Avalos was trapped in a guillotine chokehold, his air cut off. He returned to the grappling tournament against the advice of everyone he knew, but Rudy’s journey began many years ago, as an escape from his violent childhood.

“I was 19 years old when I joined the military.” Rudy said, “I joined to get the Montgomery G.I. bill and go to school. I wanted to start fresh, become a man.”

While he created new opportunities for himself, Rudy found working as a machinist’s mate in the Navy to be monotonous. It was during his time ashore that he discovered the M.M.A.

“At that time, my spiritual alignment was very different. I carried a lot of pain and suffering with me from my childhood and I used that as fuel.”

Rudy trained in various martial arts, from kickboxing and Jiu Jitsu to stick and knife combat. He found a natural talent, but all that rage eventually caught up with him.

”I started learning about Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. An instructor put me with this 300 lb guy who put his hands around my head, stuck his elbows in my collar bone, and pulled [my] head up.”

It’s called “the can opener,” a type of pain compliance. Rudy knew the technique, knew that his opponent could not break anything, or cut off his breathing. He resisted. Suddenly, the wrestler pulled back and something tore that sent burning, popping sensations all through Rudy’s neck.

A week later, his injury became a major trauma. While wrestling with a friend, Rudy was put in a schoolyard chokehold. The friend jerked Rudy’s neck backwards. Rudy ended up on the floor, temporarily paralyzed.

“I can’t even explain the pain. The next day, I remember waking up and I couldn’t move; I couldn’t get out of bed. So that’s where it started, that was the beginning of my transformation.”

Even though he was eventually able to move on his own power, Rudy lived in constant, severe pain. He couldn’t work. He had to hold his head down at all times. Due to a long waiting list, it would be months before Rudy could be given an M.R.I. The best he could do until then was get Chiropractic and Massage therapy to reduce the swollen tissue.

“The Chiropractor started adjusting me; I bet he wouldn’t have done that if he saw the M.R.I. The massage therapist would put her fingers around the broken discs. I couldn’t move. I was at her mercy. She could have killed me.”

At the time, nobody knew that Rudy’s neck was broken. That knowledge came after the M.R.I. scan showed several broken discs, some of which were pushing against the sac containing spinal fluid. Doctors told Rudy it was a miracle the sac didn’t rupture. Until he knew the severity of his injury, Rudy could only continue his physical therapy, not knowing the risks.

After months of intense, painful therapy, Rudy was finally able to get an M.R.I. scan. In order to fit into the claustrophobic capsule, a metal plate was pressed against his forehead, forcibly straightening his neck so that he could lie down flat. The pain traumatized his nervous system and he left from the hospital in a wheel chair. Weeks later, he looked at the scan with the naval doctor.

“I’ll never forget the pictures.” Rudy said, “The M.R.I. actually shows the two disc areas in between each vertebra, the spaces between them wide open. The Lieutenant Commander said, ‘Son, you’re never going to be normal again.’”

During this season of suffering, his physical condition seemed permanent. The physical therapy hit a ceiling. Rudy was still living with an extremely limited range of motion and constant pain.

“I went into a really bad depression. I gained 50 pounds. I continued to see the chiropractor and the massage therapist, but it wasn’t getting any better. I started drinking because of the pain. My mom kept telling me, ‘Don’t have the surgery. Don’t do it, son.’”

Rudy’s mother had undergone carpel tunnel surgery which left her wrist permanently damaged. Without known treatment options, Rudy’s suffering lingered on. But something began to change in Rudy’s outlook. After journeying through depression, resignation, and listlessness, he began to recognize how he was blessed.

“Every doctor said, ‘I cannot believe that you’re alive.’ I’m thinking, ‘I got a second chance at life, I need to do something different.’”

Rudy entered a two-year program at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in San Diego, CA. He also completed an intensive Tui Na program at The Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, in Shanghai, China. While attending school, trading out massages with other students and forming professional connections, Rudy was introduced to a specialist in acupuncture.

“I brought [the specialist] my M.R.I. He looked through everything very carefully and said, ‘I’ve done thirty-three cases similar to yours. I believe I can have your neck [restored] to full range of motion in four treatments.’”

The specialist’s acupuncture treatment methods involved threading long needles into Rudy’s neck and connecting them to an electrical stimulator. Rudy was pushed to his pain threshold once again.

“Basically,” Rudy recalled, “he vibrated the discs back in place. After four treatments, I was able to turn my head in every direction. After getting the range of motion back, everything changed.”

Rudy continued his education and graduated college in 2007, and later opened a private practice, called “Healing Under Pressure” in San Diego. His next move was most unexpected and went against the advice of all his friends.

“I decided to do martial arts again. Returning was about confidence that I could help other people come back from their injuries. It wasn’t machismo. The metaphor was huge.”

After four months of hard training, Rudy was not only back in competition, he was fighting a tournament in the same fighting style that should have left him paralyzed or even cost him his life. In the third round, Rudy found himself in another chokehold.

“My opponent got a hold of my neck and I went into a flashback. I was frozen. He was trying to get me into what they call a guillotine choke. I could hear my Jiu Jitsu teacher’s voice, ‘Stay calm. You know what to do. Turn your neck…’”

Rudy was able to maneuver himself out of the chokehold, win the fight and the tournament. For this warrior, it was the victory outside the ring that mattered most.

“I released myself from doubt, from self-pity, from wondering how strong my heart is, my faith. In order to help somebody who’s gone through physical pain, in order to have real compassion, you need to know what it is to suffer. Experiencing the pain, humility and suffering gave me the compassion and love I use to help other people every day.”

Through his M.M.A. training, Rudy met the love of his life, Meighan Kirkpatrick and moved from San Diego to Tucson in 2012. Together, they are launching Evolutionary Body Work and Beyond in 2014.

Rudy is a Licensed Massage Therapist/Asian Body Therapist & Holistic Health Practitioner. He continues to study at Southwest Institute of Healiing Arts, Mesa, AZ for a degree in Occupational Studies in Holistic Health with a concentration in Mind Body Transformational Physchology and Holistic Nutrition.

Meighan is a licensed Massage Therapist & Auricular Acupressure Specialist. She studied at Vitality College of Healing Arts, Carlsbad, CA & ASIS Integrated Massage School, Tucson, AZ.

The Art of Communication

Gianna's book, The Frustration of Dyslexia a Kinetic Experience Book“There’s nothing scarier than a blank canvas or a blank sheet of paper. There’s nothing more exhilarating, there’s nothing more debilitating. Story telling is what I want to do with every fiber of my being and yet it’s the thing I’m most afraid of.” – Gianna Biocca

Gianna sits behind the last buffer between herself and public humiliation: the student reading in front of her. Desperately, she scrolls down the funneling sentences to find her paragraph. Words shift with minute movements in her trembling hands. She can feel the impatience of her classmates and the scorn of her teacher.

She has precious seconds to prepare. The outcome is nearly always the same though. Struggling to interpret shapes on paper and translate them, Gianna’s reading disability is put on full display in the classroom.

Gianna’s mind sees things differently. Instead of seeing letters form words which form thoughts, her mind looks through words to find pictures, real-world associations. Words without pictures, the glue that holds together a sentence, her mind translates into shapes.

In a rigid school system, “different” only equates to failure, stupidity, laziness… excuses. How can a child understand her own learning disorder? How can a developing mind comprehend an end to suffering?

Gianna asks, “How are you supposed to express your differences? You have nothing to compare it to; that is your forever.”

A gifted mind is shunned in a place without vision. Her mind’s inability to process in the standardized method created her daily pattern: word distortion built confusion, which brought frustration, and panic followed. Then the physical effects would begin.

Nausea might have been a side effect of a side effect, the real culprit was likely her migraine; itself caused by trying to process in a way unnatural, trying to fit into a mold created by a severely lacking ability on the part of the teachers to listen with intent.

At recess, she sat alone.

“Why don’t you play with the other children?” she was asked.

“I’m so stupid.” Gianna responds. “I just want to die.”

That was the first grade; this is how her story begins. In fact, Gianna was too young to remember saying that she wanted to die, her mother would hear about it from a teacher after school. Over twenty years later, the pain is still very clear; dyslexia is still a very broad term.

In those ensuing years, Gianna recalls as a blend of likewise stories. “You make a child believe they’re stupid, and it imprints on them. It never leaves you. It is always haunting.”

There’s no cure for dyslexia. That’s the hard truth which sometimes still haunts the authoress. Dyslexia has many forms, not all of them affect reading and writing. Some are kinetic; often it is misdiagnosed as A.D.H.D.

Gianna describes dyslexia’s one common symptom: ”The scariest part is that it gets to a point where you’re not just defending your own worth to someone else; You have to start defending your worth against yourself.”

The only way to diagnose dyslexia is with an I.Q. test, which exposes the discrepancy in students’ learning abilities. After the problem first surfaced, Gianna had many years ahead before she could be diagnosed. In the meantime, she and her mother, Lana would work long nights after school with a scarcity tools.

Lana recalls, “A family member told me, ‘don’t ever let Gianna believe she can’t do things.’” She would read from text books into a tape recorder for her daugher, help her edit papers and tie words to her thoughts. Gianna’s father was not so patient.

He would march her to a bookcase and make her try to read at home after school. She would stare up at rows upon columns of books as thick as the day was long, stuffed with paragraphs packed with shapes bereft of meaning.

Lana knew that her daughter was capable, bright. Communicative. “That woman deserves sainthood.” Gianna says about her mother, “She put up with me just being exhausted, miserable, ornery, hard-headed and not wanting to work anymore, because what I wrote down wasn’t matching what I was saying verbally sometimes. I had to learn how to be a different kind of story-teller young.”

After her daughter was diagnosed, Lana found a book titled, The Gift of Dyslexia. The author is Ron Davis, whose eventual influence finally aligned Gianna’s way of processing with the world around her.

Lana explains, “We call it ‘dyslexia’ like it’s an illness or disease because we only teach one way of processing information. We don’t teach in the way that people with dyslexia learn. Gianna sees patterns. She sees light bulbs where we see obstacles.”

Mother and daughter attended a Ron Davis seminar. Lana remembers the tears streaming down their faces as they listened to the story of another dyslexic. His success in life would help Gianna find hope.

Educational therapists with training based on Davis’s experience helped Gianna understand the way in which her mind naturally processes information. Associating words to pictures helped, as did kinetic interaction with the words themselves. It seems fitting the first word given a picture is “time.”

Gianna explains, “You make the word ‘time’ with clay. You build the whole solar system, the earth rotating around the sun. That’s ‘time.’ Something clicked in my brain over the course of that summer. I did get a lot better. I was not fixed. But I was able to build some adaptations that make life a lot easier.”

With a new set of minute movements, a beautiful pattern began to displace the meaningless shapes. Through looming obstructions, Gianna’s lithe mind found its own way of bridging communicational gaps.

“I wanted to tell stories, so I found a different way.” Gianna explains, “Art just kept popping up in everything I did. Once I got into this book project and began research, I was more and more hopeful because I saw that dyslexics can find what they love and do it.”

Gianna graduated in 2008 from the University of Arizona with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Visual Communications. Currently, she’s working at Ventana Medical Systems, in the Global Marketing Communications Department, where she bridges communicational gaps on a regular basis.

Some imprints remain despite her achievements, but there is a memory that brings tears of joy to Gianna.

She pieced together a manuscript from journals that she kept since childhood. She handed the manuscript to an editor at the University. The editor, visibly shaken, told Gianna, “My son’s going through this right now. He’s eight. We can’t have him tested yet. But this really helps me feel like there’s hope, that we can help him somehow.”

The manuscript is now a completed book. The Frustration of Dyslexia a Kinetic Experience Book shows readers the perspective of a dyslexic, requiring physical interaction with the pages that simulates how a dyslexic needs to manipulate words mentally. More importantly, it’s about the world in which a dyslexic can become isolated.

“I very much want to be the voice for that kid who’s too afraid to talk about it… crying in their room and they don’t know what’s wrong and they’re too afraid to ask for help.”

She also wants teachers and parents to understand that dyslexia can be a gift.

“Stop trying to fit children into molds; thinking differently is a really good thing. It’s invaluable in problem-solving. I don’t have the same strengths as others, but I am built to constantly adapt.”