A double award winner: 2012 Silver eLit Awards winner in the Aging/Death/Dying Category, 2013 Next Generation Indie Book Awards Finalist in the Inspirational Category, and 2013 Bronze Medal Living Now Book Awards winner in Grieving/Death/Dying!
For what seemed like a lifetime and probably was, Elena Stowell wandered aimlessly in a personal prison of self-doubt and lack of purpose after her fifteen-year-old daughter Carly died suddenly before her eyes. By some combination of miracle and necessity, she walked into a Seattle area Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gym and rolled for the first time in her life. Through that experience and others that followed, Elena discovered the tenets of the martial art form and healing were the same. With a ripping raw honesty and refreshing balance of humor and introspection, Elena’s story reminds us to never stop panning for the gold within ourselves.
Elena Stowell grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, California, in a very close and active family of five. She spent most of her school vacation time camping in national parks throughout the American southwest and backpacking in the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Elena went to Washington State University to play volleyball and graduated with a degree in biology. By an unusual turn of events, she ended up staying at WSU to pursue her master’s degree in animal science. She was the first graduate student of a young and ambitious professor who was a molecular biologist who worked with beef cattle.
Within three months of research, she discovered a new ruminal fungus: Neocallimastix frontalis EB188. It became the focus of the lab’s further research due to its exceptional cellulolytic capabilities. When offered the chance to continue study toward her PhD, she decided she needed to get out of the lab. While finishing up and writing her thesis, she earned a teaching credential.
Assuming she’d return to California, Elena then met her husband Chuck, a music teacher and performer, while completing her student teaching in Kent, Washington. They remain in Kent today teaching at different high schools in the same district. Elena teaches biology and AP biology, and is a National Board Certified Teacher. She is also part of a small collaborative group of teachers who facilitate workshops and symposia about food safety and nutrition for a week during the summer each year in Washington, DC, for the US Food and Drug Administration. In addition to professional science publications that no one will ever see, Elena wrote A is for Alpaca with her friend Kelly Jarvis in 2005.
Elena and Chuck had three kids, Carly, Eason, and Carson, and they grew up participating in both sports and music. The family sport became basketball, and soon all three were playing basketball year-round. One of her fondest memories from their last year together is at night when the kids would climb on their parents’ bed and read a chapter from a book written by Mike Krzyzewski called Beyond Basketball. Each chapter was a word that reflected a life skill or value, such as “compassion” or “honesty,” that Coach Krzyzewski related to something he learned through basketball. The family would discuss what they read together and how it applied to their lives. It was truly special family time (when Carly died, Elena gave a copy to each family from Carly’s team with a description of how they read it together).
Carly suddenly died in April of 2007 (a week from her fifteenth birthday), and Elena was devastated as any mother would be.
The rest of her life became about surviving the grief. With the support and encouragement of her family and friends, she took a first step off of the couch and back into life. She realized that if she was going to move forward, she needed an outlet for the suffocating turmoil of emotions that losing a child causes.
Through a little luck and Internet searching, Elena found Foster Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. She didn’t know what Jiu-Jitsu was, but the gym offered a striking class, and punching something seemed like just the thing she needed to do. She would eventually be persuaded to try the martial art. She became bruised and sore, but her intrigue awoke a dormant competitiveness and she kept going back. Without even knowing it, she learned more than just how to “roll.” She learned that, like many martial arts, Jiu-Jitsu had a spiritual aspect and because of the context she was currently operating in, would provide the guidance she needed to work through her grief. Her coach, James Foster, sometimes without even knowing it, made statements that she took deeply to heart. Elena reflected on and used these statements as tools for managing her stress and for finding the strength to stay engaged with life.
Flowing with the Go wasn’t meant to be a published book.
It was a product of a suggestion from her naturopathic physician: the suggestion was to write her stories down so she could focus on her feelings and “see” her progress. Elena ignored the therapist for a while, but then one day she felt compelled to write. Once she got in “the zone,” she couldn’t stop. As Elena puts it,
Before I knew it, my journal doodles, workout logs, and quotes I’d scribbled on envelope backs looked like a book. And along the way it felt as if every page I wrote let some of the hurt out. I felt lighter and happier. My writing put my honest feelings in front of me. It gave me a way to admit to myself that my life would never be the same, but that every time I chose to stay in it I could honor my daughter. My writing left many tears upon my keyboard, but at times it made me smile and many times it made me laugh.
There are many audiences for this book: parents, grieving people, and Jiu-Jitsu fans, coaches, and team members. Elena hopes that each reader can find what she found: inspiration, honesty, support, and strength.