Every month I will be profiling an extraordinary person who lives in our town. If you know someone who is walking to the beat of their own drum, doing selfless and inspiring things or living a life that isn’t ordinary, I want to hear about it. Email me at [email protected]
I hang up the phone after an hour-long interview with Layne Marr and my thoughts are racing. I sit down at the kitchen table and open my laptop.
I rub my temples and frown. This isn’t writer’s block, but I’m not exactly sure what it is. I’m not sure how to start. A movie just unfolded in my mind while the 23-year-old Huntsville native spilled the beans on her life. And she should really win some kind of prestigious award for surviving and maintaining such a sunny disposition through it all because I’m certain not everyone could or would be able to. I do a survey of my emotions. I feel sad, confused, happy and inspired all at the same time. Maybe I’m a bit overwhelmed, too. Layne confessed some pretty serious stuff to me. Her message is loud and clear.
“All of my hardships, they matter,” says Layne. “I want to make everyone feel like they’re not alone. A lot of people who talk to me feel like I understand them. There’s nothing esoteric about me. I’m happy things ended up the way they did. The countryside and privacy [growing up in Huntsville], that was my saviour. I always felt safe when I was outside because nobody wanted to be with me.”
There’s something so admirable about her take on how to turn despair and tragedy into a life lesson. She believes in the power of positive thinking and that things happen for a reason. Without a doubt, Layne has been through so much for a girl her age. What’s got me captivated is that she is determined to make something out of herself. Her resilience and strength are shining through.
I can’t pinpoint the worst of what she told me. I keep going back when she said she thought she wasn’t good enough. Smart enough, pretty enough. For anybody or anything. But I think the petition that was circulated for her to kill herself in Grade 9 is up there. The bullying, she says, didn’t begin there nor did it end. It actually started back when she was in public school. She was considered weird and maybe that made her an easy target. By the time she was in Grade 11 Layne had had enough. She dropped out of Huntsville High School. She had already tossed aside her dream of being an Olympic swimmer (she idolized Michael Phelps). But Layne had made a promise to her grandfather and she wasn’t about to break it.
My dream was to get a gold medal. I spent a lot of time talking to my grandfather about it. It was too late to go back to swimming so I took up kickboxing. That’s about the time I got my passion for UFC. My older brother Charlie would drive me to Orangeville in a car that was literally missing a window. Within a matter of months I was signed with Fitness Kickboxing Canada. I ended up winning gold for my weight division. I gave myself the ultimatum that if I was going into the ring I was either going to die or win gold. And I won. That allowed me to stop being afraid. There was a moment of total clarity.
It wasn’t that long after winning gold that Layne made the decision to move to Montreal. The former Rocky Island Swim Club member had nothing but high hopes in her pocket. She had no living arrangements, no money and she didn’t know how to speak French. She was homeless and desperate and being with the wrong person at the wrong time allowed the unimaginable to happen. Layne almost became a victim of human trafficking. It was an experience that awakened her on a soul level.
When I reflect back on that road, it invokes a haunting dread which is the simple, yet constant reminder that life owes us absolutely nothing if such dark, inconceivable things are possible. I am so thankful to not be where I could have been. Because I am a blessed survivor of this, I believe it is my responsibility to use my privileges and freedoms as an opportunity to elevate those who may find that dreadful path their reality.
Flash forward five years. Layne’s a student at Georgian College aiming to earn a degree as a medical aesthetician. The program will allow her to bridge into nursing as well. In the long run, and if her dreams come true, she aspires to work in the cosmetic industry with plastic surgeons and dermatologists. She knows those professions can be “life changing”.
A big part of Layne’s passion is also nutrition and she’s seen the direct impact the right diet can have on those who are dearest to her. She’s working hard at school all the while building a platform to take part in Miss North Ontario’s Regional Canada Pageant this year. It’s the qualifier for Miss Universe Canada/Miss World Canada pageants.
It was Huntsville’s Ciara Thompson (who was crowned Miss Canada and was vying for the title of Miss Universe Canada last year) who encouraged Layne to get into pageantry. She’s never done anything like it before. It’s given her a whole new focus and a new-found view on her self worth. She’s excited about it. It will give her an opportunity to share her story and give hope to those who may be walking down the same path she once did. She will be representing Georgian Bay in the running, but as part of a component to build her platform she’s holding a fundraiser right here in her hometown in March. The support that she’s already received from the community has taken Layne by surprise. At one point in her young life she thought she didn’t matter here, but it’s become apparent that she does. (She’s raising funds for Northern Ontario Families of Children with Cancer and she’s already reached the minimum goal. Local families impacted by cancer are invited to attend her upcoming event.)
“I want people know that it’s okay. No matter what, it’s okay,” she says. “Life really is just like getting into a ring or jumping out of the plane for skydiving. You’re in it. It’s going to go by fast or slow, depending on how you choose to perceive things. That’s where you get your power. It’s such an incredible thing to be this living organism, on this biological spaceship, orbiting around this giant fire BALL. I don’t see any reason to not think you’re a badass. You’re here and that’s amazing. That very thought has got me through so much.”
At that exact moment, I realize Layne’s definition of “so much” varies greatly from my own.
(A big thanks to Juan Barbosa for suggesting this week’s extraordinary person profile.)
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