Lauren PolivkaI have always been passionate about health and wellness. As a young girl, I was a self-declared health-nut and dreamed of working in sports medicine. I went to college in Florida – 1000 miles away from home – to study Exercise Science, then later earned Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Northwestern University. After graduation, I began my career in elite sports, later transitioning into the world of Pilates and then the chaos of CrossFit.

In 2008, my father was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease; 9 months later, he passed away. In my own grieving process, I decided that I needed to use my skills and talents in a way that would positively impact individuals affected by disease who could not support and provide for themselves. For years, I wondered how and when to turn that thinking into action. At times I grew discouraged, thinking it would be easier to not worry about others and just focus on my own career instead. Something was clearly missing – energy, a spark – and I lacked the inspiration to really move forward with a plan.

Then, in 2012, I traveled to Nicaragua and found just the spark I needed.

My girlfriends and I were sitting outside a Latin bistro in Granada, having traveled to Nicaragua in honor of my “dirty thirty” birthday. Our decision to make the small Central American country our destination was an easy one: we were in search of beaches, bars and boys, and Nicaragua offered all three. It was our very last day – we had enjoyed the sand and surf in San Juan del Sur for six days prior – and we were enjoying lunch and macua, a traditional Nicaraguan cocktail, in the sun.

As we sipped our drinks, local street folk began to approach us – first, a man selling hammocks made from the tags of children’s clothes; then, a young boy. The latter gave me a childish kiss on the cheek and a warm “Hola, mi amiga” before hurrying off. As my gaze followed him down the street, I noticed that he was in shorts far too small for his frame and was barefoot. What struck me most, however, was his clubfoot.

A clubfoot is a developmental orthopedic deformity: as the foot develops, it turns inward, making it impossible to walk “normally”. It is a condition that, medically, can be addressed easily in the United States; however, because of a lack of resources in developing countries, it can often turn into a more debilitating disability and a reason for those in the community to ostracize the individual affected.

“Can I have your leftovers?” he asked in Spanish. I offered him what was left on my plate. In truth, in that moment, I was ready to buy him anything else off the menu, as well.”

My friends and I finished up our meals and just as our dishes were about to be cleared away, the young boy reappeared with a convincing grin. “Can I have your leftovers?” he asked in Spanish. I offered him what was left on my plate. In truth, in that moment, I was ready to buy him anything else off the menu, as well.

After that moment – as my friends and I began to prepare to travel home, and then even when I was back at my job in Atlanta – I often found myself thinking about the boy and wondering about his life and his future: Did he have access to medical care? Would he? Did his family support him? Again, I compared his condition to that of those who suffer similarly in the US; the latter would certainly find help, there would be no question.

And there, in that moment, my perspective – my life-plan – shifted.

“…the root of all healing and happiness lies in finding and pursuing a passionate life.”

Just over one year ago, in May, 2013, I decided to quit my corporate job and start a wellness company, Live With Passion, LLC. Live With Passion allows me to continue my work in the realm of health and wellness while also granting me the freedom to travel to – and support the people of – Nicaragua.

The company offers several ways to blend travel with service: “Passion Projects” are opportunities to deliver medical products, school supplies or health programming to  under-resourced communities – these can be in Nicaragua (in San Juan del Sur and surrounding areas) or in cities around the US. We’re also working on building a Live With Passion sustainable wellness program in schools and communities in order to address preventive healthcare. Lastly, we’ve created NicaFit Retreats, which allow travelers and health and service enthusiasts to journey to a place where they can clear their minds and reset their goals in a healthy environment. Anyone who joins a NicaFit Retreat also engages in an organized Passion Project.

When I embarked on my first journey to Nicaragua in 2012, I was not expecting any of this: I didn’t think I’d fall in love with the country and certainly never imagined that my life, as I knew it then, would be forever changed. And yet, I am so grateful that it did.

As we say at Live With Passion, the root of all healing and happiness lies in finding and pursuing a passionate life.