Cindy Kolbe and I haven’t known each other long; she contacted me about a week after my mother passed in October, inquiring about an author interview slot. As I opened her email, I knew that my interview calendar was already full for this year (and next! Thank you, friends!). But when I reached the end of her email, where she listed one of her websites as (www.strugglingwithserendipity.com) I knew I had to do something to feature her earlier. Serendipity was one of my mother’s favorite words, and so, I took this as a sign. Of course, before I could respond to Cindy, a slot opened up on the schedule—how serendipitous!—and I offered it to her. Little connections like this make me smile, and I’m so glad we could have Cindy and her memoir, Just Keep Swimming: a crash, a quest, and waves of hope, here. Terry McGuire, Founder of Giving Voice to Depression, wrote of the first edition, “Cindy and Beth’s story reminds us that no matter the circumstances or diagnosis, with hope and love, joy is possible and life is worth living. I am simultaneously challenged and inspired by their shared journey.” Mom was all about the inspiring story, and I’d like to think she’s happy to know that we could squeeze this interview in this year. Many thanks to Cindy for her quick turnaround!
Christina: For those of our readers who aren’t yet familiar with your memoir, Just Keep Swimming: a crash, a quest, and waves of hope, can you give us a brief introduction to it?
Cindy: The book tells the story of my crisis, my daughter’s paralysis, and extraordinary travels that carried us from a small town in Ohio to Seattle, Harvard, Capitol Hill, and around the world.
After an accident, I battle depression and guilt while my shy but determined teenager fights the harsh physical challenges of quadriplegia. Fourteen-year-old Beth believes everything will be okay. I feel sure that nothing will ever be okay again.
Just Keep Swimming explores the power of connection while navigating unknown waters. I begin to reinvent myself as I struggle to manage my mental illness. Beth sets impossible goals as she tries to swim with legs that don’t work and hands that can’t cup the water.
Together we create a new normal, finding joy in unlikely adventures. Waves of serendipity follow, including Beth’s invitation to join the Harvard Women’s Swimming and Diving Team, the first member with a visible disability.
The memoir us on an incredible journey to the end of an era that leaves us transformed. Everything really is okay. And if you never give up? Hope wins.
Christina: In our email exchange, you wrote that you’re “on a mission to share the power of hope and connection with those who are struggling, and to remind them that they are not alone.” Was that the purpose in choosing to write a book? Did the idea ever seem daunting?
Cindy: Ten years after Beth’s injury, I suddenly felt compelled to write this book, but it was still daunting and difficult. To tell my story in an honest way, I needed to share my clinical depression with my family and the world. I hoped to help others who were still struggling.
Christina: All writing can be challenging, but with memoir, you have to get the story just right and recount events and conversations accurately. What did you do to help you remember the events of the story? Did you journal? Blog? What was your writing and revision process like?
Cindy: I spent months researching details as well as organizing newspaper articles, travel memorabilia, and swim records. I shared most of our adventures with Beth or others in my family, so they were helpful in recalling events, also. After I had a first draft, I worked to “show not tell” as well as making other revisions. I worked on my memoir about eight years.
Christina: The book, formerly titled Struggling with Serendipity, was originally released in 2019. Why did you decide to republish it now? How did the new title come about?
Cindy: My first publisher went out of business soon after my memoir was published in 2019. In 2022, I was offered a contract with Armin Lear Press for a second edition. The publisher suggested a title, then I came up with a different title that we agreed on, Just Keep Swimming: a crash, a quest, and waves of hope. It launches December 15, and preorders will be available December 1 wherever books are sold.
Christina: Danni Starr, author of Empathy and Eyebrows: A Survivalist’s Stories on Reviving Your Spirit After Soul-Crushing Sh*tstorms wrote of the book, “As a mother, I imagine there’s nothing stronger than a mother’s love except, perhaps, a mother’s guilt.” That is a powerful, and true, statement. Does guilt still plague you? Do you have tips for those of us who still seem to carry more guilt than we should?
Cindy: Guilt is debilitating, a form of grief. It increased my feelings of being worthless that were triggered by my depression. Thankfully, I was able to gradually find perspective through counseling a few years after Beth’s injury. Guilt no longer defines me. For those still struggling with guilt, I highly recommend counseling. Many of us can’t get past it alone.
Christina: Let’s talk about the possibility of a movie. How excited are you? Do you have any reservations at all? If you had the ability to set the cast list, who would be on it?
Cindy: A movie producer heard about my book from her best friend (serendipity!) and bought the movie rights for my memoir. She wrote a screenplay and is shopping it to movie studios. Yes, I have reservations, but I also like the idea of reaching a wider audience with the positive message of my book. My only thoughts on casting would be to cast an actress with paralysis in the role of Beth.
Christina: It sounds like you’ve learned a lot of lessons from your daughter. What would be the greatest lesson Beth has taught you? What do you think she’s learned from you?
Cindy: Yes, I learned so much from Beth. She has a rare world view that enables her to see possibilities instead of obstacles. She showed me how to fail, along with the power of persistence and how to achieve your goals, again and again, over and over. I hope she’s learned from me that family is always there for you when you need them.
Christina: I’d love to ask you about your Serendipity Newsletter. As you know, the word serendipity has a special meaning to me. What does that word mean to you? Does the newsletter still exist? How can people sign up?
Cindy: Serendipity is my favorite word, as it was for your mom too. I’m so sorry for your loss, Christina. I believe that those who are open to serendipity, who are paying attention, are more likely to find it. Some attract serendipity, too, like my daughter Beth.
I had a monthly Serendipity Newsletter after my first memoir was published. This month, in November of 2022, I started a once-a-month Just Keep Swimming! Newsletter. Each month I will share a giveaway, news, motivation, an app you’ll love, and mental health resources. Easy signup at bit.ly/SignupJKS.
Cindy can be found in multiple places!
Thanks to Cindy for agreeing to this interview! If you know of an artist, author, or podcaster who’d like to be featured in an interview (or you are an author who would like to be featured), feel free to leave a comment or email me via my contact page.