Tree Houses, BB Guns and a Horseback Ride to Freedom - The Molly Hale Story

Photo of Molly
Photo of Molly
Molly Hale grew up in Gilroy, Calif., the southernmost city in Santa Clara County, just down Highway 101 from the San Francisco Bay area. Back then, it was a small town with a population of approximately 5,000 residents. Today, somewhere in the neighborhood of 50,000 people call it home. It also has the unique title of “The Garlic Capital of the World.” Consequently, residents have little fear of vampires walking the city’s streets.

For Molly Hale and her three older brothers, it was the perfect place for children of all ages to live and explore and grow. Gardens, orchards and wide open spaces made for a natural playground for the kids of Gilroy to roam in idyllic comfort from sunrise to sunset. They would hop on their bikes, packing BB guns and .22 rifles and regularly head for a rock quarry not far from home. Riddling tin cans with tiny holes or trying to pick-off a vermin or two until the long evening shadows whispered, “It’s time go home,” was heaven on earth for them. Huck Finn would have been jealous.

“There was such freedom growing up in a small town. I’d ride my horse almost everyday. I can remember riding her into town and keeping her in my backyard for several weeks at a time. I doubt if you could do that today,” Hale said.
Lots of large, majestic trees added to the beauty of Gilroy’s landscape. All of them appeared ready, willing and able to shoulder the responsibility of supporting multi-room tree houses. The Hale clan was particularly adept at building such abodes and would seek out the tallest trees in the neighborhood for their construction sites. Hale loved building tree houses with her brothers. She would sit in the lush green grass and carefully watch them cut each board and hammer every nail. When the project was complete, the boys would secure Hale in a wash tub, then using a pulley and rope, they would fly her 30 feet straight-up to the front door of their elaborate tree home. Of course, it was lots of fun, but little did she know she also learned basic construction skills that would, later in life, open doors of opportunity.

Gilroy was a close knit community that took great pride in looking after its own. It was not uncommon for police officers to offer children a ride if they were found walking alone. Often, the officer knew the child’s first name and, more times than not, was a friend of the family. This communal closeness seemed a bit suffocating to Hale at the time, but now, when she looks back, it actually provided a safe and secure haven that gently nurtured self-reliance, independence and an inherent appreciation of freedom.

Sports of all kinds also played a vital role in Hale's life while growing up. White water rafting, hiking, tennis and swimming were just a few of her regular endeavors. But, snow skiing and horseback riding were at the top of her favorites list. In fact, it was those things that led her away from her beloved Northern California and to Southern Colorado State University in Pueblo, Colo. The school offered classes in snow skiing and horseback riding and while there, Hale took full advantage of the school’s alluring curriculum and the majestic Rocky Mountain outdoor life. She also earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology along with a teaching certification, with a specialty in reading.

With diploma in hand, Hale returned to California ready to take a teaching job in Hawaii. Unfortunately, it fell through, but a casual lunch with a friend turned into a job with Bank of America in San Francisco. She had never been a big fan of the corporate world, but as luck would have it; this job was inside an emerging department called Management Science. Today, it would probably be known as Information Technology or the IT department. Nevertheless, it was at a time when most companies, large and small, were rapidly integrating computer technology into every aspect of their operation. It turned out to be an excellent opportunity for Hale to advance her computer skills. What she learned at Bank of America was invaluable, but her desire to start her own business was overwhelming.

Hale’s love of building tree houses with her brothers encouraged her to open her own company. After completing courses in design and subsequence apprenticeships, she opened the doors of Designs for Living. Her work earned her a Solar Design Award from the city of Palo Alto. A number of her projects have been featured in several publications such as Sunset Magazine. Who would have imagined those years of building tree houses with her brothers would be the seed that helped her find success in design and construction?

“It turns out that watching my brothers build those tree houses gave me an innate understanding of structure. It enabled me to design things that contactors like to build. It all came very naturally to me,” Hale said.
At the same time her professional life was flourishing, she became fascinated with the martial art Aikido. It all began with her 7-year-old son. Several days a week she would take him to his Aikido class and one weekend they both attended a workshop.
“I immediately took to it like a duck to water. I was fascinated by the use of swords and other weapons. But what was even more interesting is how Aikido teaches you to get out of the path of those things. How through movement you can remove yourself from harm’s way,” Hale said.

However, in June of 1995, even her Aikido training was unable to remove her from harm’s way. While returning from a week long Aikido retreat with family and friends, Hale fell asleep at the wheel of her car. It flew end-over-end trapping her and the other passengers in the car. It was a single car accident, and her passengers sustained minor injuries; but not Hale. For hours, hanging upside down, secured only by her seatbelt, she teetered on the edge of life and death. First responders frantically worked to keep her alive and remove her from the wreckage. Hale was conscious the entire time and very aware of their efforts to save her life, but something happened in the midst of the chaos she will never forget. It also seemed to foreshadow the journey on which Hale was about to embark.

“One of my most vivid memories of the accident was a true out-of-body moment. It was if I was hovering above the scene of the accident. As ‘clear as a bell,’ I saw the car flipping end-over-end, and then come to a stop. At that moment I heard a voice say, ‘Molly Ruth get back into your body.’ The next thing I remember, I was hanging upside-down in the car,” Hale said.

Hale was finally freed from the car, and then carefully placed on a backboard and carried to a waiting ambulance. Along the way she spoke briefly to her husband, Jeramy, and then lost consciousness. Later that evening in the hospital, she awoke and was told her spinal cord had sustained severe damage resulting in paralysis from her shoulders down. Automatically her competitive spirit was ignited. Her mother’s favorite phrase “can’t never did anything” began to play over and over again in her mind and the quote “address life as it presents itself” her brother Gary had shared years earlier resurfaced. It was as though all her life’s experiences - good and bad - were rallying around her, with swords sharpened and ready for battle.

“I kept remembering things my parents taught us as kids. We were told we have choices as to how we respond to situations. So, I choose not to think, ‘Why did this happen to me?’ Instead, I choose to believe I’d been in training for this accident all my life,” Hale said.

Her entire body, mind and spirit began to focus on reclaiming even a modicum of mobility. After days, weeks, months and years of intense and often painful physical therapy, sensitivity began to slowly creep back to where it once lived in her body. Uncontrollable muscle spasms were welcomed not feared. Warm water exercise, as well as traditional and alternative rehabilitation techniques inched her closer and closer toward a myriad of seemingly unreachable goals. But the real secret to Hale’s revolution was her indomitable grit. Her strength of mind was, without a doubt, going to win back the freedom she so enjoyed as a little girl in Gilroy.

As of today, Hale has movement and function that goes far beyond the expectations of most of her doctors, but not her friends and family. In short order, she returned to Aikido and earned her third degree black belt. She is also a participant in Aikido demonstrations from her wheelchair and the floor. In 2002, she carried the Olympic torch as it passed through California on its way to Salt Lake City. Her list of athletic accomplishments continues to grow. Ironically, that lost trip to teach in Hawaii, in a way, washed ashore. Traveling across the country with Jeramy, telling her story, teaches that hope, love and the mysterious power of the human heart is virtually unstoppable. It is also a tale that gently reminds us of the energy of community and the effect it can have on the lives of its own.

Best of all, Hale is again riding horses, thanks to hippotherapy. Her participation and advocacy of the healing motion of horseback riding has gained her the respect, accolades and admiration of people all across the country.

Now that Hale can ride again, it’s a bit easier for her to make her way back home, to a place where the love of freedom and independence lives forever.

Contact
Molly may be reached at molly@AbilityProduction.org or 650.329.9007

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