We had the good fortune of connecting with Sarah Lee and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Sarah, what role has risk played in your life or career?
Risk is an exceptionally important part of life. It’s consistent and reliable, as it always yields either a reward or lesson. I don’t believe its purpose is to intimidate, but rather to serve as a powerful tool in gaining perspective and toward personal growth.

I joined the Army National Guard at age 17, right out of high school. The Army’s Basic Combat Training is tailored toward doing dangerous things carefully and with precision. My drill sergeants introduced us to skill sets and mindsets that set the tone for how we view and manage risk. Military training pushes your mind and body to places that make you not only redefine your own perceived limitations, but question whether or not they ever existed.

At age 20, I deployed to Iraq for 12 months with the 216th Combat Engineers under the 1st Infantry Division. We had no choice but to adjust to the unique risk levels and new norm that only a war zone can deliver. Coming back from deployment, or after any extreme experience really, the element of risk and intensity feels like a necessary in order to achieve that same level of purpose and fulfillment.

Shortly after exiting the military, I moved from my small hometown in Ohio to Nashville, TN and started Sarah Lee Photography. The risks involved with starting your own business revolved more around income and self-motivation. Some months were slow for business and it got scary several times over the past 16 years. I feel so grateful for the lessons learned as an Entrepreneur, and serving my clients then and now has meant the world!

In 2016, I came very close to taking my own life. It was a slow build of hopelessness and guilt, stemming from daily pain from injuries during service, losing friends during our Iraq deployment, lack of purpose, and a dangerous amount of isolation. I knew I wouldn’t survive another night like the one that almost took me. The next morning, I purchased a bicycle and left on a hail Mary 4,010 mile coast to coast cycling journey of healing. This was a self-supported tour, all of my gear strapped to my bike, roadside tent camping, submerged in the beautiful landscapes and diversities of America.

The risks involved with this undertaking were truly immeasurable. This journey awakened so many parts of me that were lying dormant, it justified my hypervigilance and required every single part of me in order to succeed and in many cases, survive; just like the military did. Only it was the opposite of training or deployment. Combining mental and physical intensity with the peace and beauty of nature delivered a healing and clarity that saved my life. I knew I needed to facilitate similar environments and experiences for my fellow veterans. I became adamant about uniting our community, honoring our fallen, and being vocal about our struggles.

Upon completion of my journey, A Vicious Cycle, I founded Waypoint Vets. We are a 501(c)(3) with the mission of Uniting and Empowering Veterans through Activities and Adventure. Waypoint Vets is actively combating post traumatic stress, military sexual trauma, and our staggering veteran suicide rate of 22 per day. Risk has the ability to heal and empower in healthy and permanent ways. There is deep and lasting healing that is achieved through intense challenges. By taking complete control of potentially life threatening situations, veterans can rediscover or redefine pieces of themselves that were fractured or forgotten.

Human beings were designed to take on risks. From our very first steps, with each relationship we entertain, in pursuing careers or degrees, by changing paths or starting a brand new chapter. It’s how we develop as individuals and why we’ve thrived as a society and race. Risk is humbling and rewarding; it builds and leaves behind legacies.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Phoenix is a truly eclectic city with offerings for every single interest and demographic! We would begin the day with brunch at Breakfast B*tch, because every friend I have would insist on it based on the name alone, haha. There are many amazing Veteran Memorials throughout the city, but visiting the Anthem Veterans Memorial on Veteran’s Day would be the ultimate. The 9/11 Memorial and Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza would also be very meaningful.

“From The Rooftop” Restaurant Bar & Lounge would be a great way to end an evening, overlooking the beautiful Phoenix skyline. And a day trip to Horseshoe Bend and Lake Powell would be a must. The Scottsdale area has a stunning river walk called the Arizona Canal, which stretches nearly 39 miles from east of Scottsdale through Phoenix and into Peoria. It would be a very active and scenic visit for sure! There are endless things to do in this beautiful city…

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I would love to extend a heartfelt shoutout to my amazing family, spouse, mentors, friends, who have encouraged and inspired me to keep fighting the war inside and to continue choosing life and to live FULLY.

Shoutout to the military leadership during my time in service who pushed me to grow and maximize myself in preparation for the coming chapters. I’d like to recognize the Veteran Organizations and Associations who have supported my mission and given so many pieces of me a place to settle and feel at home: The VFW, American Legion, AMVETS, the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association, Rolling Thunder Inc, Kendra & Brian Ward of 4WARD Project, and Veterans Adventure Group.

I’d like to extend my deepest appreciation for our growing Waypoint Vets team and the many ways in which they are elevating our organization. Lastly, the sponsors, donors, and supporters who share our passion for veterans and hearts for humanity.

All in all, the truth is: People are nothing without each other, and we are NOT as divided as we may think!

Website: www.WaypointVets.org

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/waypointvets/

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/waypointvets/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/waypointvets

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/waypointvets

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCiFlGc7XG66qXSGaxoI2D1Q

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