Salt Lake Tribune readers share their personal challenges

(Illustration by Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Adopting an older child. Training for a triathlon. Making a midlife career change. Hiking a long-distance trail.

Humans have the ability to take on hard tasks that seem insurmountable. Sometimes we rise to the occasion, other times we fall, get back up and emerge better for at least trying.

In the spirit of the new year, The Salt Lake Tribune asked readers to share a difficult challenge they willingly undertook. Here are some of those responses, edited for space and clarity.

A tough adoption

Adopted an 18-year-old from a psychiatric unit. I had adopted older children before, and even though I knew his diagnosis, it was very difficult. Especially challenging was maintaining family unity with my other nine kids. We would do it again, but, for the first 10 years, it took more physical and emotional energy than I ever imagined. — Suzanne Gardner Stott, Salt Lake City

The great race

Training for an Ironman triathlon. It was grief work originally. I swore I’d never do it again, but after three years, I signed up again. It’s addictive in a way. Controlled punishment. And community. — Mette Harrison, Layton

Union organizing

Directly challenging capitalism at the mode of production is hard. — Natalie Hamilton Kelly, Seattle

Gray matters

Letting my hair go gray. Doesn’t sound too hard, right? Just stop dyeing your hair. Well, it didn’t take long before the negative feedback started! “You’re too young to go gray.” “Mom, it makes you look so old!” One man even asked my husband if I was his mother. Still, I made the goal to see it through. It took me a full year, but I did it. I am sad society puts such restrictions and stereotypes on us. I didn’t let myself go. I finally let myself be myself. I asked my grandkids what they thought. My 3-year-old granddaughter loves it because I have a very white stripe in the front and she calls it “Anna hair.” My 6-year-old grandson also loves it in a Disney kind of way — he thinks it makes me look like a villain, like Ursula or Cruella De Vil. — Shelley Cleveland, Cedar City

Foster parenting

Did this while working and raising my two birth children. — Sandra Clark Jergensen, Sacramento, Calif.

Beating addiction

Checked myself into a hospital to detox from Percocet. I kept telling my doctor I thought I was addicted, and he dismissed it. So I went on my own. It was a personal victory. — Arlene Joyal Ball, Cedar City

Fighting for rights

Organized the movement to get “sexual orientation” added to the University of Utah’s nondiscrimination policy in 1990-91. Opposition initially was strong, but we won people over with our passion and determination. It was an enormous undertaking, getting students, faculty and staff organizations to all agree. The board of trustees was comprised of white, heterosexual Mormon men, most of them former mission presidents. I learned so much about my own tenacity and strength. — Connell O’Donovan, Salt Lake City

Becoming spokes people

Rode a bike in crazy Ho Chi Minh City traffic. I was 70 and my husband was 78. A week after we arrived in our mission in Vietnam, we bought two used bikes for $25. We walked them the mile home from the shop because we were too afraid to ride in the intimidating traffic. We practiced for a week, riding at night on the empty roads behind our apartment after the factories closed. We never got over the feeling that we were taking our lives in our hands with each ride, but it beat paying for taxis and Ubers every day. — Jan Braithwaite, Alpine

Taking this job and loving it

Changing careers in my 60s and convincing younger bosses and hiring managers that I wasn’t looking for some frivolity to pass my time in old age, but instead was indeed seriously pursuing a new profession. — David Conley Nelson, College Station, Texas

Tending to family, finding myself

Looked after my two nephews, ages 8 and 5, when they suddenly lost their father, my elder brother. My finances were not very sound as I was then looking after my aged parents and a younger brother. I decided there was no halfway. The only way was to bring them to our house in Calcutta, India, from Mumbai, and spend my money and all my energy on taking care of them. My unalloyed love for my elder brother and his hapless children propelled me to sacrifice all I had. I was prepared to take the risks, because at that moment I realized I had discovered my true calling, my identity as a human being, which is to bear the maximum pain for love and compassion. And I succeeded. One nephew is now a leather engineer-cum-MBA and another in government service. My reward was the discovery of the beauty of love and my identity. I have become a real human being from that crisis. The pain yielded such wealth of the spirit and the heart that I believe I am richer than the richest on the earth. — Uday Basu, Calcutta, India

Going the extra miles

Hiked the John Muir Trail from Mount Whitney to Yosemite Valley, 200 miles, when I was 16. I grew up in Southern California and from a young age always wanted to hike it. I realized that after high school, it was jobs and college. So I wanted to do it while I had the luxury of time. This was back in 1973 and I could only get my cousin, who was 15, to go. It was hard, but it made me realize I could do just about anything. Just push a little harder, one foot in front of the other. Life-changing experience. — Scott Jenkins, West Bountiful

Teaching in China

Moved to China for two years — in my 60s and single — to teach English through a program sponsored by Brigham Young University. It was both amazingly wonderful and challenging. I learned I could do things outside of my comfort zone, whether it was using the dreaded squatty potties or fixing my own tech problems instead of calling my kids to do it. I learned so much about another culture and way of life, and I grew to love my Chinese students. — Barbara Evans Openshaw, Placentia, Calif.

Always room for cello

Learned to play the cello when I was 50ish. My son with autism wanted to learn how to play, but it didn’t work for him. Instead, I discovered one of the greatest joys of my life. Since that time, I have been in an orchestra and a chamber group. I have made deep friendships with people all over the world, conquered some latent fears of playing music in front of people, and learned how to soldier on when it got arduous. — Maryan Myres Shumway, Tianjin, China

Mastering music

Earned a master’s degree in music composition at age 71. I am writing for church and community and teaching composition. I love what I do. — Esther Megargel, American Fork

Hymns and her

Learned to play the organ at age 52. I had one year of piano lessons when I was 4 and had taught myself to play a few hymns on the piano recently. My kids have played the organ in church for the past few years, but when one was getting ready to leave for college last summer and the next one wasn’t ready for prime time, I realized I should probably start practicing. I started playing in sacrament meeting last August after about six weeks of twice daily practice. Six months later, I’ve learned and played close to 40 hymns. Despite some pretty spectacular disasters, I keep going. The congregation is patient with me, and I love playing. — Luisa Perkins, Sierra Madre, Calif.

Riding high

Trained in hippotherapy and became a therapeutic riding instructor at age 41. When I started, I had never even groomed a horse and knew virtually nothing about them. I had never ridden a horse beyond the occasional trail ride on vacation. I had to learn horse anatomy, different types of saddles, how to teach a riding lesson with up to five disabled riders in the ring at one time, and ride well enough to pass a riding test, which I failed. Twice. After I failed the second time, it took me another year of hard riding lessons, two to three times a week, but I finally passed. Now I do both therapeutic riding as well as hippotherapy and have thighs that can crush a watermelon. — Heather Bennett Oman, Williamsburg, Va.

Hiking’s ups and downs

Hiked an entire northern Utah hiking map (every step) over 350 miles, 100 vertical meters on the ascent and descent, just because, with my friend. It felt like the right thing to do at the time, and so we did. The outcome was incredible for both of us accomplishing a goal, going through fears and gaining a lot by coming through each step mentally and physically. Completely unplanned. Perfectly aligned with what we both needed at the time. It’s a forever unplanned activity and goal that became a life-changing experience. — Jennifer Burns, Eden