“There is realistic hope for everyone living with pain that things will change, that life can get bigger and better. There is a way forward for each of us to meaningful living and purposeful lives.”

The women who lead with these words are Jo Belton and Beth Requist. Starting as co-chronic pain survivors, these women are now co-founders of the Endless Possibilities Initiative. EPI is a non-profit organization with the mission to empower people living with pain to live well.

I was amazed to learn Jo’s story in a recent interview with her. Jo was a firefighter paramedic in Orange County – a first responder, a life saver. That was her passion and purpose, her life. Then one day, Jo injured her hip on a routine call. She brushed off the injury at first, but time and pain worked in tandem against Jo, and as the days passed, the pain worsened. And worsened. And worsened to the point of forced retirement from the job that defined her life.

“I was so lost when I stopped being a firefighter,” Jo told me. “I didn’t know who I was. I’d lost my sense of purpose, self-worth and so much more. I lost my financial security, my friends, my future. And there seemed to be no solution for my pain.” Jo tried every possible therapy and surgery, but nothing was working. With no availing diagnosis or treatment for her pain, Jo decided darkness was not a place to linger, and she left to find answers herself. Jo went back to graduate school and earned her MS in Human Movement, with an emphasis in Sport and Exercise Psychology and Pain Science as her research focus.

“I was determined to figure out my pain and find a different path forward than the one I was on,” Jo told me. “I began to understand that pain is not just a damage meter. I began to understand that pain is a complex, biopsychosocial, multi-system experience with many contributing factors.” So the more Jo learned about pain, the more she learned change was possible. She was validated by the science and empowered to take a different path forward, learning to respect pain without fearing it.

Whew, I can relate to that one. We both agree that pain has been our greatest teacher. The thing about pain at its worst is that it sucks up all your energy, your time, your resources. Jo shared how she came to understand what truly mattered to her. “Which people, places and experiences I wanted to make room for in that little bit of space that I had that wasn’t pain.” And once she discovered this, she was able to start spending more of her resources on them. “By doing so I was able to get my life back, bit by bit. A meaningful life, a life that I love.” Jo learned that she didn’t have to wait for the pain to be gone to get back to being herself. With the combination of her new education and more meaningful way of living, she rediscovered her own self-worth and purpose.

Jo’s purpose has always been to help others; she just had to learn to do it in a new way than she once did as a paramedic. Now Jo uses her experience and her scientific education to empower others with pain to live well.

“In 2016 I co-founded the Endless Possibilities Initiative with my friend Beth, who also lives with chronic pain after becoming paraplegic. When I shared with her all I’d learned she kept asking ‘why hasn’t anyone told me any of this before?’.” Jo said this was the same question she had been asking all through graduate school, so they started their nonprofit to share with others what they learned and how it helps.

One way Jo and Beth share this knowledge and empowerment is through their extraordinary retreats. At the retreats, pain is discussed and made sense of through a combination of science and lived experience. Jo shared that “understanding the science of pain helps us to make sense of our unique experiences and gives us the ability to craft an informed path forward to meaningful and active futures. Empowered with new knowledge, we then share, discuss, and practice living well strategies. We learn to be more mindful, to move with ease, to be creative and express ourselves – our entire selves, pain and all, and to reconnect with the world and the people and the experiences around us that matter to us.”

Amazing, right? She said there is also plenty of time for socializing, relaxing, and exploring. Exploring is what I can’t wait to do, as the home-base is in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Since my accident, nature has been my biggest healer, and I love what Jo has to say about the setting of her retreat: “Nature doesn’t judge, it welcomes us all, no matter our pain, no matter our limitations. It is expansive, it gives us space to breathe, feel and reflect. It gives us space to grow and the courage to move forward.” Moving forward is what these retreats are all about. Jo said that anyone who attends leaves empowered to live well, to cope with adversity, and to truly live out their definition of success.

It is hard to figure out what really matters to you, and not what you feel like should matter to you based on what other people think, or what society expects. It is hard to redefine success on your own terms, within your new parameters, your new normal. But is such a worthwhile effort.”             – JO BELTON

Thank you to Jo and Beth for creating a place of endless possibilities. How true it is that “a journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” What journey are you taking? Where is your road leading?

Me? Well, I’m taking the road that Jo and Beth are on. Learning from pain, growing, sharing, connecting, and living truly alive. I’m taking my steps on a journey of endless possibilities, and I can’t wait to see you there.