Aja James

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Why I Admire Aja

Aja is one of my professors at nursing school and she is by far, the most encouraging and motivational professor there. No matter the student, no matter his or her goals in life, she encourages them to excel. Even better than her encouraging words are her own accomplishments proving that any one person can achieve greatness.

Aja is every bit a role model; she is incredibly smart, but eager to learn. She has a plethora of stories, but quick to listen. She is constantly on the go, but is never too busy to sit and chat. She is accomplished, but wants nothing more then to see others succeed.


Growing Years

Aja had anything but a normal childhood. She grew up in Europe where her father was a diplomat and her mother was physically abusive.

When she was 12 years old she was given the opportunity to start running cross-country for her school. She was immediately hooked, but mostly as a means to stay out of the house. “I hated going home because my mom was so abusive.”

“My first year running I won everything, I had an undefeated season.” Aja further explained, “It was an impressionable age. When you see success at that age, it becomes part of your fiber. You have that drive, you want more. It’s not the adoration. When you are doing something successful outwardly, but being beaten up at home, there is a huge dichotomy, so you are going to gravitate to the good.”

Aja did not have role models growing up. Her mom beat her so terribly that Aja learned to be apologetic to the world. She spent her growing years in an inferior state of mind, and due to that state of mind, she started envying other “pretty” girls and other’s successes. That is where the athletic side came out, she had the need to compete and become better than other people.

Though Aja would have much preferred to live without the abuse, she recognizes that the oppression should be used as motivation. Oppression is not an excuse to keep from achieving greatness in life; it is a driving factor to achieve more.

Aja also said of her childhood, “it is easy to see people who are better then you, and to sometimes look back and think where I could be if I had encouraging parents.” But Aja knows that is selfish thinking, she reminds herself of what she has done. She enjoys seeing where she was and where she is now, “I am in a good place, I have overcome life. But I am still striving and will do so until my last breath.”


Athletic Life

After a successful running career in high school, Aja went on to run for her college. From there she qualified for the Olympics trials. Though she qualified for the trials, she did not participate, rather she opted for a nursing job on a cruise ship. She said, “The choice was easy. I think if I had encouraging parents from the start I would have chosen the Olympics. I didn’t have the confidence in myself to compete.”

As Aja’s athletic career advanced, a friend recommended that she begin looking at biking as a means to supplement running to avoid injuries as she ages. Aja explained her experience of biking, “I borrowed a bike from a friend and decided to try a triathlon and of course, I won.” She jumped right into the professional scene of triathlons and she “of course moved to Hawaii, the training mecca” where she would compete for the next 5-6 years. Aja was able to gather some impressive sponsors including Diamond Back Bicycles and Oakley. As a professional triathlete, she placed 1st two years in a row in the Kona Ironman Triathlon.

“As an athlete,” Aja explained, “my nursing career was suffering, I was training all the time. I got tired of the professional life as an athlete; I got burned out. I ended up giving away all my bikes. The only thing I kept was my Iron Man plaque and gave everything else to Special Olympics.” She explained that when you have sponsors, “you become them. When you are being marketed, you have to put on the sponsor’s hat and speak ‘sponsor sponsor sponsor.’ I think I have a lot more humility than what the conversations were about, ‘how fast have you been training? What are your workouts like?’ It was an artificial world for me.”

Aja took a 15-year hiatus from competing and has since returned to the triathlete scene where she is one of the best Master’s Athletes. Aja is never complacent with life; she always strives to achieve more. Currently she is working on being in a body competition. She is working with trainers who are teaching her proper poses and the correct way to walk in a bikini and high heels.

During Aja’s athletic career, there was a time when she suffered from eating disorders. She was anorexic and anemic; she was down to 75 pounds. Her performance suffered, but has long since recovered.


Life as Nurse

Aja has over 25 years of nursing experience. She recently retired from being a flight nurse and is now working as a nursing professor. She holds dual Doctorates in nursing earning her the title of Doctor of Naturopathy and Doctor of Natural health. She chose these degrees as a means of helping people prevent illness instead of being treated for it later down the road. Her plans of working in preventative health have not gone according as planned, but everything works out in the end.

Holding a terminal degree in any field is a significant accomplishment, and usually people who pursue such a path often time have such a strong passion for the field that they would normally say, “it was my calling in life,” but not Aja. “It was because of nothing, absolutely nothing,” she claims. “I had an interest in health and health maintenance. I was an athlete. I ate right. Nursing was just a natural fit, it wasn’t a passion, it’s just what I do and what I do well. My passions are in things like competing.”


Other Professions

While working on her Master’s in Nursing from Syracuse University, she met Eric at a tattoo parlor; they quickly became friends. Upon graduating, Aja and Eric drove eighteen-wheelers for Reba McEntire, Brittany Spears, Barry Manilow, The Goo Goo Dolls, the WWWF as well as others.

During her career as a truck driver she was able to help two people in need of medical care. The first was an occasion in Florida: a woman was walking down the street when a man in a moving vehicle attempted to steal her purse. The lady was not able to release her purse and was consequently dragged by the moving car for a long distance. The woman sustained multiple injuries and Aja was able to quickly respond.

The second event happened while Aja was driving her big-rig down the interstate. She witnessed a man on the side of the road having a heart attack. She was quick to respond.

Due to these events, her friend Eric encouraged her to return to nursing where she could make a greater difference in the world. Aja was happy to have had the opportunity to drive a truck across the country and see so many wonderful things, but knew she had a better future of progression in nursing. Aja and Eric remained close friends since then. Unfortunately, Eric recently passed away.

Aja also has a culinary degree and is now venturing into becoming a Certified Cheese Master where she hopes to open her own artesian cheese shop.

Being A Role Model

Listening to Aja discuss her life lead me to ask, “Aja, abuse is normally a cycle, what was different about your life that allowed you to break out of that nasty cycle. Was it natural or did it take work?“ She answered, “One day, I just got tired of saying I’m sorry. What the hell am I sorry about? One day I woke up and said I’m done.”

She then proceeded to give me some advice, “If you make yourself smile—even if you’re not happy—but if you physically use your hands to make yourself smile, believe it or not, it actually makes your body release the endorphins.”

Because of Aja’s oppression as a child and due to her ability to see how she has been able to rise against it, she is able to recognize when others need help. She finds it her responsibility to empathize with others, to help them succeed in life.

Her attention to others is evident in all her actions. She doesn’t believe in oppression; she believes in enabling. She focuses on enabling others to succeed. She observes individuals while she is teaching to ensure they understand. She guides her students to understand what they are doing, not simply to memorize it. Most importantly, she instills confidence in even the weakest of people that they too can accomplish what they are set out to do.


Conclusion

Aja explained of herself, “I enjoy being a free spirit and being kind to others, I get such an intense reward with being kind to others and caring. There’s something so fulfilling with that. It sounds almost altruistic, but it’s the top of the world.” Aja further said, “Those are all blessings, being able to care for others, maybe I feel closer to God with that. Those are the things that matter to me.” Aja is a delight to be around. She strives to be a positive influence in the lives of those around her. She is a prime example a great role model.

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