If you don’t ask, the answer is no.
If you have a chance, take it.
If it changes your life, let it.
That’s the advice Kristen Christy’s mother gave her years ago, and it’s the way she’s lived her life ever since.
It hasn’t been easy. Christy has seen far more than her share of challenges. She had a stroke at 15, and had to learn to walk and talk all over again. Years later, her husband came back from a military deployment a changed man — the marriage disintegrated and in 2008 Don Christy ended up taking his own life in a park in Black Forest, leaving Christy and their two sons to pick up the pieces.
The result of that single decision still echoes throughout all three lives — and Christy now travels the country, telling her family’s story to soldiers and airmen, sailors and Marines. She encourages them to get help for post-traumatic stress, depression and anxiety. She shows them that impulsive decisions leave wrecked lives behind.
“Every person influences 45 other people,” she says. “So saving one life is actually saving 46 lives.”
The story she tells is of her two sons and their difficulties in the aftermath of their father’s death. How she hasn’t seen her oldest son in more than 1,045 days — she actually knows down to the minute the last time she saw Ryan — and the trauma and depression her youngest son went through to get where he is today. He’s a college graduate, working for a defense contractor at Edwards Air Force Base. But the 22-year-old still misses his father, she says.
“I made so many mistakes,” she said. “I’m not perfect. And this isn’t about me, it’s my kids’ stories I’m telling — and hopefully, I’m showing there is a different way.”
She recently returned from a trip to San Antonio, where she spoke about her family’s struggles and triumphs. A service member approached her and told her he was on his way to a counselor. He’d already crafted a suicide plan, but her talk changed his mind. He wanted to get help; he had two sons.
She’s now married to an Air Force reservist, Tech Sgt. Sean Lange, and says her difficulties in the past lead to more appreciation of the good things in life. Christy balances travel with her work at MTSI, a defense contractor. She uses vacation time for speaking engagements, which started when she was named the 2018 Air Force Spouse of the Year. She has been working with the local community, the city council, the county commissioners and the state of Colorado to make March 4 National Survivor’s Day. She is also trying to work with the White House to make it an Executive Order, using connections made when she met with Karen Pence, the vice president’s wife, at the White House last year.
And Christy has another dream: helping create a veterans’ village that includes homes, job training and other assistance — a place for people with similar experiences to meet and learn. She’s created a nonprofit to develop the vision into reality.
“Eventually, we want to have a landing strip to get wounded veterans back in the cockpit,” she said. “So often, being wounded robs people of who they were before. We want to give a piece of that back to them.”
Turning adversity into opportunity is Christy’s trademark. Bringing others along in the process is just part of her style. Facing challenges with hope, courage and optimism is part of who she is.
And despite her past, she never loses that trademark smile.
“Being able to help people, to use my experiences to help, that’s so important,” she said. “That sets my soul on fire.”