The story you’re about to read is not based on a Netflix hit show, but this is the very real-life story of my very good friend Nicol Barrett.
“My name is Nicol, and some people call me Nikki. I’m a cat that’s already lived seven and a half lives.”
Meeting Nicol must be one of the most serendipitous events that could ever happen in someone’s life. It’s not just that she is a fellow dog-lover and the cheerful proud owner of two happy dogs, both rescues by the way, but she’s the kind of person that walks into a room and immediately grabs everyone’s attention, solely by the aura of her presence.
I asked Nicol if she would like to do an interview, and she graciously agreed to remotely sit down with me and share her story. I set out to do a personal profile, or perhaps a mini-biography of her life so far because I was very intrigued by how such a person found such an inexhaustible supply of self-empowerment and personal drive. I edited much of our long conversation for brevity, but even with the entirety of the information I learned, I still feel I haven’t even scratched the surface.
If there’s an overarching theme to Nicol’s life, it is courage. It doesn’t take long to recognize that this person had made a habit in her life to base her actions on a strong foundation of audacity. Here’s a person who doesn’t shy away from ‘taking the shot‘ every single time when she’s got the ball in her hands. That sort of thing does not come naturally to everyone, it’s got to be nurtured and practiced over a long period of time, and that’s why I had to try to put together the puzzle pieces that form her charming personality.
Nicol had anything but a typical upbringing in the American midwest. She was born in a small town in Indiana and since her parents got a divorce, she got used to not entirely settling down in any one place. It was a split-home situation, so there was plenty of moving back and forth between the small town where her father lived and the metropolitan city life she had with her single mother, hauling her all around the United States, settling down for short stints in places like Colorado Springs, and Phoenix, Arizona.
Growing up in this tug of war type of life left a permanent imprint on our Nicol. One part of her personality was an urban inner-city kid with loads of street smarts whose main interests comprise fashion, Latino music, and Mexican Hip-Hop. The second part of her was an active small-town kid who spends her time playing a whole lot of sports, riding dirt bikes, fishing, shooting guns, archery, hunting, learning how to drive at the age of 9, and watching tornadoes in her spare time.
Both environments fueled a life of independence, exploration, and self-reliance. But there’s something else as well that had to grow in the mix: adaptability, the skill, and art of being a social chameleon. It was inevitable, really, always being the outsider dropping in on her circle of friends in both places. Her Latino friends at central Phoenix occasionally and affectionately called her ‘gringa,’ and with her peeps back in Indiana, an all-white community who would immediately take notice and comment on her city clothes and hairstyles.
This need, to be able to adapt, is probably a huge part of how she successfully and effortlessly makes friends in all walks of life. It’s almost the closest thing to being a bilingual person who can understand and think in terms of two separate cultures at the same time.
“I’m a different kind of person, I think that I don’t fit the mold, and it’s because of the way I grew up, moving around so much and having very completely different sides of the spectrum as far as my parents and their parenting style was concerned. I mean, I kind of raised myself, and I’ve had to learn lessons from my own experience, other people’s experiences [especially] was really important, to learn, to live through their own life, you know, so I don’t have to make those mistakes, AKA gang violence, or being in the wrong neighborhood. Being street smart and all of that stuff was kind of built-in. And when I was a teenager, I was already grown.”
There’s a level of maturity, wisdom, and understanding that wraps itself around all of these childhood memories Nikki talked about. Nicol speaks fondly of both of her parents, even though she points out anger management issues in both of them, and it’s obvious that to a degree she still feels let down by them in some form or another, but she gives credit where credit is due when it comes to the positive sides of their individual characters.
Nicol’s mom has always been a very independent, hard-working, and resourceful kind of person, not to mention beautiful, and in all those respects the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Not only did her mom work her way through college as a single mother, but also managed to go to Grad school and finish a Master’s degree in Sociology and Psychology.
Nicol had an amazing time with her mom as a kid, and she’s always had tremendous respect for her because of the way she was able to take control of her life and make something out of it. It was such a challenging time for her trying to make it on her own, she’s always been torn up about it, often talking to her little girl and apologizing for not being able to spend much time with her, juggling all of life’s balls all by herself.
Moving on up after getting a college education, her mom worked for a very long time with adolescent kids, which kind of made her relationship with Nikki a little bit difficult, as an occupational hazard no doubt, because of the way she was very suspicious of the simplest actions of her own daughter, always on the lookout that she’s taking drugs or doing something unwise or harmful. Needless to say, it caused a lot of friction in those teenage years. For the past ten years, Nikki’s mom has been working with soldiers with PTSD all over the world in places like Germany, Qatar, and Japan.
Nikki has lots of nostalgia for those joyful good ol’ days with her mom while she was getting her education. She’s had a lovely vibrant beautiful time, living in lovely adobe houses built in the 40s or 50s with front porches and fireplaces. An early 80’s childhood in central Phoenix, in the hood ‘the barrio,’ with her best friend Erina and Erina’s mother Mama Rosa who were basically, a second family. This is how Nicol carried the seeds of her love for Mexican food, with Mama Rosa teaching her how to cook, with the added bonus of learning how to speak Spanish around the dinner table. Social diversity was one of the features of central Phoenix, with lots of people who had moved there from different parts of the country, mainly for the weather, which was a big contrast from an all-whites Indiana town.
“Part of who I am is because of how I grew up […] living and learning, touching the hot stove and finding out that that hurt, that sort of thing, as an analogy, You sort of had to sort things out for yourself, you know, nobody is around except for Mama Rosa.”
Nicol’s father was an athlete who played multiple sports in high school, mainly basketball, baseball, and track. One of the main things Nicol has in common with her dad is that they’ve both been on the varsity team all four years, a big deal by high school standards.
This translates into playing Sports was a very serious thing growing up, and Nicol got passed down the torch from the old man and she excelled in many of them, playing basketball, baseball, and soccer. But she was especially remarkable in basketball in a way that got her recruited into the high school to play basketball, which eventually set her on the track towards getting a sports scholarship to college.
There was plenty of tough love at her father’s house, who obviously tried his best to toughen up his daughter in a series of trials by fire, which is not that uncommon in any small-town life anywhere in the world. Nikki did not enjoy all of the things her father had her doing when she was at his house, but that tough cookie of a woman sure did learn a thing or two from all that grunt work.
“I see the positives and the negatives of the main influences, who should be the main influences in your life, like your mother and father, and they were just so far away from my upbringing that I can’t really attribute like a couple phrases that they might have given me, like regarding lying. My dad used to drag me out because he was in Indiana and there were tornadoes and storms, and he used to drag me out on the front porch instead of going to grandma’s to the basement. We would go to grandma’s because it’s down the street, but then he would drag me out to sit down on the front porch and watch tornadoes. You’d think I’m joking, this a real person who lives in the world who is like, I have only one daughter and when she’s away I want her to be tough, at least that was what I took from him, I don’t think he meant to be mean.”
“My dad used to take me fishing, I had to put the worm on the hook, had to stick my finger through the gills of the fish, I had to shoot shotguns from a young age, SHOTGUNS! I would fly back on my ass, but he was trying to teach me. He was a hunter, though, I didn’t like that. He made me go hunting with him. And back in the day, he used to even train dogs to hunt raccoons up into a tree, like savages, and I was 5-6-7 years old and he was like ‘Ok, now climb up there and get that raccoon down and throw him down to the dogs.’ And I was like that’s not right, something about that is not right, but my dad was a very large and tough guy. All I remember is he was like, ‘Ok, you’re putting on this glove,’ welding glove, which is really sturdy and it went all the way up to my arm, and I had to go up there and, these raccoons are not a joke, they would scratch the shit out of you and they’re known for being aggressive, they will come after you. He wanted to instill in me fearlessness and maybe share part of his life, I guess. He would do deer hunting and such like that I’m not into, even though I know it’s cool, to hunt and to respect the animal, and that’s what you eat for the winter, you know, that deer meat or whatever, but I was against it from the beginning, and I was like, ‘Yo, this is like torturous, this is not fair, it’s not a game.’ They call them ‘Game,’ they call the animals ‘Game!’ The animal doesn’t know he’s in the game though, and you’ve got a whole weapon, with bullets, that’s not fair.”
So chapter one of Nicol’s life has been the bedrock of her entire life. Fate would have in that the way she was brought up had taught her a whole lot about fearlessness, which was how she’s managed to plow through life’s ups and downs with a go-getter attitude.
When I talk with Nicol, I see something about her that is so common with people who has to negotiate life with lots of trials and errors, self-reliance, and street smarts rather than following the rules and boundaries set by the regular societal institutions like primarily the family home, then the school system. Nicol had to develop while not fully being integrated into these foundations of society, which had a nice fortunate side effect. It is the fierce tendency to question authority and to challenge the status quo. Such is a powerful tool of independent thought, and after a few hours talking with this lady, you know that she’s reasoned herself into all of her very strong opinions, and she is not the least afraid of letting them be known publicly.
“I frankly have lived without fear in my life, for a very long time, and I still don’t allow fear into my life. Well, obviously, you’re instinctually fearful of certain things, but that’s one big lesson that makes me, that differentiates me from other people, is the fact that I’m not afraid to do something, and if I am, I want to be the first person to do it, to get it done, so I’m not living with that [fear]. That really changes the perspective on your life. So, you know, it really does turn you into someone who can’t relate to other people who live with fear, social anxieties, wanting other people’s admiration or attention or fame. Or simply just being afraid of a spider or something in your house is so strange to me.”
But it simply goes beyond living a tough life for Nicol, there’s a seriously introspective side to her character that’s very obvious in the way she paints her own worldview and the windows and filters through which she chooses to see life. It is in no small part rooted in her childhood in Phoenix, the thing that she calls in her own words ‘my own evolution.’ With plenty of desert and warm weather, plenty of people move to Arizona for its sun which made it a rich environment for a person to grow up surrounded by a multitude of cultural diversity.
“I often say to myself, I really feel like I’m quite more evolved than other people, and it’s not so much life, education, or traveling. I think it’s more of respecting yourself, respecting the dignity of others including animals and nature, and being kind of in tune with those sorts of things at a young age. And then you start to get older and you read about different religions, and different philosophies, you know, it just helps you to be a little bit more rounded, and I think that’s the difference between me and most other people who really get their feet from traveling and from formal education. I guess that is probably the thing that differentiates me from other people, like there are so many people that just can’t think outside of themselves, usually, there’s a lot of selfishness than humanity. So, I was definitely born at the wrong time I think. We should be way ahead in the game. I mean I was sure we’d have flying cars as a kid. I was sure that we wouldn’t be dealing with wars based on religions, nationalities, or lines drawn [on a map]. I was sure that we would have all kinds of technology that we don’t have; everything still has wires everywhere, you’ve heard me cry about that, make a storm out of it, but mostly, I think the evolution of man is not where it must be.”
“I tried to treat everybody with dignity, so that surely probably has a lot to do with respect being so important for me, probably growing up the way that I did, and always being new at a lot of places, […] Respect was very key to me. I’m sure has to do with my upbringing, but love and respect are the most important things in the world, they’re the highest of the most high if you ask me.”
If you ask me, there’s some sort of nobility of character right there in these kinds of words that you’d usually hear out of the mouths of battle-hardened war veterans and professional athletes. And if we’re talking sportsmanship and athleticism, we have to understand how big of a deal Basketball was in the life of Nikki-B.
Watch any movie about people who’ve made it in the US and it’s never going past you that if you’re a down-trodden young and upcoming young person in the US of A, your way out of poverty, debt, and all the fun facts that don’t make it to the glamorous movie screens of Hollywood, is to be a successful athlete or a kick-ass rapper. Sports and entertainment, these are the biggest tickets to the high-life, to getting an education, sponsorship deals, big paychecks, cameo appearances in movies and TV shows, and all the trappings of fame and wealth.
With her family background in sports, with a dad who was like a big deal during his brief sports career all through high school, Nicol had a huge advantage in sports as her biggest talent and her biggest passion.
“When you’re good at something you tend to fall in love with it.”
They say that life is a confidence game. The best way to grab that bull by the horns early on in life is to be exceptional at something and do it better than other people. That was more than obvious when Nicol was recognized for her athletic prowess in basketball.
She did well as a student, but she always saw all the flaws she did not appreciate about the school system. She remembers being fascinated by reading the ancient history of old civilizations in places like Egypt and the pharaohs and even taught herself to read the Hieroglyphs.
And playing sports was Nicol Barrett’s entire life. That’s the thing that really lit her fires and the thing she was taking seriously more than anything else. Forget about any regular teenage activities, Nicol was training to become a professional athlete, with proper training, proper nutrition, lifting weights, and the whole nine yards.
And for a young teenager moving around a lot between two homes and many towns and cities, it wouldn’t have been simply about ambition and goals. When one’s really good at something; when they can spend countless hours doing it without ever getting bored or tired of doing it; when time literally flies and flows, that’s the zone. That’s the one and only place they find themselves and where they find their agency, and their freedom.
The really unique thing that you might not know about Nikki’s sports career was that she was a true poly athlete, and this is quite the thing that made her stand out early on. Nicol was very good at baseball and played other sports for fun, but her big two were always football (soccer) and basketball. The only limitations she had working against here were of time, the annoying logistics of actually being able to find a ride to practice, and of course, the usual expenses of gear and equipment.
Nikki was so good at Basketball that she got recruited into high school, rare as it may be for a female athlete or any athlete for that matter. That’s how good of a player she really was at such a young age. And when you get really good at something and you get recognized and celebrated for it, there comes a whole boatload of “You can tell me nothing” confidence and self-assurance that will get to everyone’s heads and help them push through boundaries and walls.
Like father, like daughter, Nicol was on the varsity team of her school all four years mainly on the basketball and football (soccer) teams, and she was well on her way to getting a college scholarship.
Alas, as we’ve all experienced firsthand, life’s never that kind, and there’s never a smooth sailing to wherever you want to go, no matter how hard you work for it, how much you prepare, how much you want it, or how much you love it.
And the hits just kept on coming for our young Nikki.
First of all, there was this huge scandal at school because the big star coach got really riled up during a game and punched a referee smack in the face, and got himself fired. The disastrous consequences for such an event meant that there were no more scouts coming to the school to see young talent because the coach they were there to see doesn’t work there anymore.
The second and bigger blow came a little closer to home. Living the young disciplined athlete’s life, Nicol was training in the morning, after school, in the evening, going to practice, going to the gym, going to tournaments, and so on and so forth, in two sports! So for reasons that all parties can debate endlessly, Nikki’s mom made her daughter just choose and commit only to one sport, and unfortunately, that meant the end of Nicol’s football (soccer) career.
That really broke her heart.
So, with the focus being only on basketball, and no chance of getting picked up by college scouts, Nikki did the one thing possible for her to do which is to ‘walk-on’ and go to college try-outs to get a scholarship, which she did.
But apparently, that wasn’t all that was in store for our young athletic genius, for the third and by far the biggest blow to her efforts to go to college was when her mother decided to kick her out on her 18th birthday.
Seriously now, no one really knows how complicated and volatile a mother-daughter relationship really is, not until you’ve seen it with your own eyes. So, to come home one night and find that your own mother rented out your room and threw you out, that’s the sort of thing that will make a person grow up fast.
At that point, Nicol had no one else to rely on but herself and she had to do everything that she can to make her dreams come true. It meant that not only she had to keep up with her busy training schedule, but she also had to find a job to support herself, and a place to live.
“I trained all summer, and worked all summer, to pay for certain things, because for females they don’t pay for everything like they do to the males. So, I went to work, I came home, and my mother had already rented out my room, as she said I did something. I was out there in the world, 18 on my birthday, took the whole summer seriously. I was able to stay with my boyfriend’s family’s house for the summer. They believed in me, they were my second family, Rosa was my first family. […] They let me stay there and said you can do it, and I did it, and I got a little apartment across the street from the gym, and I did some coaching to make some money. You’re not allowed to have a job while you’re on scholarship, while they don’t pay for your housing, or food. I did some coaching both basketball and football (soccer).”
And things kind of fell into their own rhythm one way or another. For Nicol was doing a whole lot of playing, and a whole lot of coaching all through college. Nikki played basketball in a way that she was playing all positions, and that was the sort of thing that gave her a good mind for coaching. And with her skills, she managed to get a job coaching for the Phoenix Suns evening workshops.
The next obvious step was to play professionally and join the WNBA after college, and that’s exactly where Nikki thought she should be doing. And because of her job with the Suns she was able to score an invitation to try out for the WNBA, which was a lucky break that not many players would be able to get.
Unfortunately, as she was getting closer and closer to making it, she was cut and that effectively devastated her.
And then all hell broke loose, and everything that could ever go wrong started to go wrong, and Nikki’s life started to fall apart in a series of disappointments and tragedies.
After losing her shot for joining the WNBA the next viable option was to go play for the Pro leagues in Europe. With her top physical condition and her pro-level skills, she would be able to almost guarantee a spot on one of the European pro leagues, but she just didn’t have the money to fund the trip to the try-outs and she met resistance when she was trying to get her hands on her game tapes and coaching tapes.
To top it all up, she lost her boyfriend and the love of her life in a motorcycle accident that mercilessly crushed her.
Our girl simply had to get out of town and she was looking for a way out.
So, as luck would have it, right in the midst of all of this madness, Nikki ran into an Army recruiter one night at a little bar. With the walls of her life closing in from all directions, she was gulping every one of those big promises Army recruiters are well known to make to gullible young men and women.
The plan that formulated in Nikki’s head was multifaceted and sort of had the potential of addressing every single one of her problems.
Leaving town: Check. Adios drama. Joining the army would entail moving out of state for training and later on the possibility of being stationed overseas, and who knows, maybe she’d be able to get her chance to try out for one of those European pro leagues.
Playing ball: Check. The recruiter painted a pretty sunny picture of being in the Army with her unit only for two months out of the year and she’d be playing for the Army basketball team. It sounded like a pretty sweet deal, especially since Nikki had played the army team before and met with their coaches and she knew she’d be making that team easily.
Money and benefits: Check. They’d be providing a decent paycheck, and also they would help in paying off her student loans, healthcare cover, and everything else.
Education: Check. She would be getting a special army degree, and that’s not a bad deal at all.
Challenge: Check. With a mind that’s always been accustomed to taking on challenges and beating down obstacles, that recruiter pushed the right button when he mentioned the 82nd Airborne Division, as one of the toughest, most challenging, and most prestigious of places where a woman could prove herself.
“And that was the best I could do.”
When I spoke with Nikki, she asserted how much she values her independence and her freedom of thought and action, and how she sort of looks down on every hierarchical institution that would force people into being worker bees or “ants,” and so it was pretty clear that joining the military wasn’t something that she’d be naturally drawn to, if it weren’t for everything she had going on in her life at the time.
It does seem almost out of character for Nicol to have joined the US Army, an institution that is the absolute antithesis of some of her core personal beliefs, but this is exactly where the story gets very interesting indeed.
For example, it’s because of her strong aversion to taking life that she wasn’t very keen on commanding people into battle situations as an officer. And that’s why she’d enlisted as a private instead completely by choice, even though her education qualified her to be an officer.
“I’ve always been a very thoughtful person, and I don’t mean to be judgmental, but to be fair for not using judgment when you meet people. I mean that’s just half the battle right there, there it goes all your street smarts, for example. Like there’s so many, like, ‘don’t judge a book by its cover!’ honey, sometimes you need to be judging a book by its cover. But not in all circumstances, and I do respect the reference, try to appreciate and respect people, don’t put them in a box, that’s different. But anyway, I always looked at people in the military as ants. They just didn’t have a direction or they wanted to be bossed around and I certainly did not.”
However it all got started, this sure was the marking for the beginning of the next big chapter in Nicol’s life. A life of ‘earning her keep’ in the world as she likes to describe it.
It’s funny how in retrospect everything in a person’s life goes by so fast in their memory, and even faster in the memory of other people who weren’t directly involved. Like when Nikki describes spending an entire year of military education, it takes the length of three paragraphs, and that’s how we can distill such an elaborate memory that was filled with stress, training, studying, discipline and excellence.
“I went to basic training, and then I went to school. Most people who go to the 82nd, are not very well educated. They’re 17-18-year-old young men who couldn’t get a good score on their ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery), the test to see where you fit. […] I had good marks on the ASVAB, and plus I was super physically fit, there were no real questions about that, [and] I went into communications. […] So, I finished school, that was a whole year of schooling, and that was brutal. So, I was in South Carolina for basic training at Fort Jackson, and then I went to [school at] Fort Gordon in Georgia for a whole year.
My school started at 12 midnight, and you had to stay awake until 7 am, and then you were supposed to somehow go and eat breakfast and then go do PT (physical training) after sitting in the classroom all those hours, and then you had to stay up even longer to get mail, for mail call, [even] when you know you don’t have any mail coming your way, but they still make you go. You’re exhausted for a whole year, and you’re so physically f***ed. They have these schedules, but I had the shitty schedule, plus I was older than everyone else because this is after college for me. Most people who usually join the military do so at a very young age, out of high school, and they do that rather than go to college for the financial benefits.
So, once I finished that school I went directly to jump school in Fort Benning, and that’s crazy training.
I got ‘Honor Grad ‘in that training, I was the first female who ever got ‘Honor Grad’ in that training, and they got me ‘Blood Wings,’ so that was cool.”
Nicol explained to me the whole tradition of ‘Blood Wings.’ It’s a rite of passage for all jump school graduates when they get their paratrooper wings pins punched into their skin. It’s quite the honor, sealing the accomplishment of joining a brotherhood of arms with drops of blood.
Following that, of course, was a two-week leave and Nicol went visiting her mom’s ailing parents and paying her respects when 9/11 happened and the world stopped being the same after that.
We know already what a big deal 9/11 was for the world, but for a member of the 82nd Airborne Infantry Division, this had a whole other meaning, because that’s a tip-of-the-spear kind of unit and when serious things start happening in the world and troops get deployed, these guys along with the 101st Airborne and the Marines are the first ship out.
So, it appeared as if things are heading in a direction of actual active duty deployment, but as fate would have it, it never came to be because of a fateful training accident that had very serious long-term consequences.
There is nothing funny about military training accidents, and surely there’s nothing funny about a parachute jumping accident because people get seriously injured and get killed during training exercises that go sideways. I know I’m not going to do a better job than Nicol when she tells this story but I’m going to do my best here.
The 82nd Airborne Division often does mass tactical jumping exercises, ‘Mass-Tac’ for short. This involves simulating real battle drop scenarios twice a month, sometimes four times a month, with lots of fully loaded planes with lots of soldiers jumping off both sides of C-130 planes in full tactical gear in the dead of night at low altitudes.
Carrying the main and reserve parachutes, weapons, ammo, and a full 45 lbs rucksack in between their legs, they waddle like ducks onto the planes. And they’re not using state of the art parachutes either, they’re being dropped in the same equipment they’ve had since 1962, just good old parachutes with holes in them and simple flat ropes that you’ll have to actually do a chin-up on them to be able to ‘steer’ mid-air.
Nikki makes it very clear that she’s not a superstitious person, but with that being said, it’s kind of weird that the accident happened under a full moon on her 13th jump with her unit.
There she was on the plane all suited up, she sees the green light, and she jumps out along with everyone else off into a sky packed full of paratroopers. She expected nothing but a routine tactical jump simulating real battle conditions, maintaining light discipline, being very quiet, doing the countdown to the tree line, all while looking around in all directions making sure she’s in the clear from other soldiers. Then when it’s time, she would jettison the rucksack before hitting the deck, and once that’s done she will have to collect her things and run to the tree line. Simple, organized, run-of-the-mill training night jump.
What happened next, however, was nothing like what’s happened the dozen previous times. As she was looking around in all directions, up down and all around to make sure she’s in the clear, there was this really big guy coming at her very fast. He was close enough that she was actually able to see the white of his eyes, and she could tell that he was really terrified out of his wits by how his eyes were all wide-open, jaws open, and his arms limp at his sides.
They have a name for guys who were just out of jump school and doing their first jump with their unit, they call them cherries. They even have a funny hazing tradition they would do, and that they have them carry cherry pies in their pockets that would usually explode when they land and make a huge mess all over the place. Nicol told me while laughing how she’d flipped the script on her platoon sergeant and ate all the pies before landing the first time. So, when he asked her about the pies in front of the first sergeant, she’d made this big joke about how she thought they were giving her a snack and how she’d eaten them, and she had everyone cracking up over the whole thing.
But that night in the air she wasn’t laughing, because this was a very big deal and a serious matter that could get her and the other guy both killed. So, with a composed calm but firm speaking voice she just said: ‘Private! Slip away.’ But instead of taking hold of his parachute risers and steering clear, he wasn’t doing anything and he kept coming really fast.
She knows exactly what could happen if she did nothing, they’ve studied all of these scenarios in jump school and she knew the drill. So, immediately she took hold of her own parachute and tried to slip away in the other direction. But that had an adverse effect because now he was caught in her slipstream. That meant that he was actually coming with her in the same direction and coming faster exactly the way race cars drivers do it on purpose to get faster behind a leading race car.
But because he was also bigger and heavier he was falling underneath her parachute. And that right there is when another parachute ‘steals the air’ of the parachute right above it. And even though she’d tried to walk on his parachute and did everything she could to stop that from happening but his parachute did steal her air and her chute started to collapse.
Luck would have it that she was already at the tree line level which was like 30-35 meters up. The chute lines did not completely spin and ravel around itself and it was catching enough air to allow her to land without breaking her neck and every single bone in her body. She did not have enough time to release her rucksack, though. She fell down fast, she landed hard, luckily, in one piece, and then passed out.
She couldn’t tell how long she was out, could’ve been a second or it could have been a few minutes, but she came to and she was loudly gasping for air. She immediately started to assess the damage. Thankfully, she wasn’t caught up in the trees. No bones were sticking out of anywhere, which was good news, and she was not outright screaming, also good news, so, by those standards, she was fine.
She saw a Major in gold-leaf uniform who had obviously completed his jump successfully and was walking by with his stuff. He casually said, ‘Hey! I saw what happened? You alright?’ And She just gave him the thumbs up and he kept on walking.
Somehow she was able to pick herself up and start packing her parachute when she sees the guy who almost got them both killed and she walked over to him. She limped the 15 meters distance to where he was and she did the knife-hand thing while giving him a piece of her mind telling him how he almost got her killed and that he needs refresher training because he was putting everybody’s life in danger and all he was able to mutter out was a series of apologies.
Following the jump, there was a grueling 14 Km march through rough terrain back to the barracks, mind you, they were still carrying their full equipment. Whatever damage that was a direct result of that high-speed fall from the sky, it was compounded by the merciless heavy exercise of walking back all that long-distance carrying a heavy load, and she had felt every excruciating bit of it.
By the time she was back at the barracks, she was in a lot of pain. She had a couple of hours before wake-up time and she knew she had to change her socks, and that’s when it happened. The minute she’d gotten her feet out of her boots they were both swelling badly and her back was aching. She wasn’t able to do much else and she went to sleep.
A couple of hours later, it was time for PT, and somehow she was able to put on her sneakers and go outside. And that was it, she was done.
She tried to do the running but she was falling back with the pain and her limping was getting worse by the step. By the time they’ve reached Ardenne’s Road, which is a sacred stretch of land that all troops are forbidden to walk on it except while doing PT, she was falling back so much that her sergeant went back to pull her to the side of the road and dish out the common disciplinary push-ups. But that was her breaking point and she couldn’t do anything at all and requested to go to the hospital.
The doctor sent her to the OR immediately for emergency surgery. And with the screws and cables she had in her bones, that accident effectively put an end to her active duty Army career, and the remaining of her pro-basketball dreams as well.
And that was the beginning of another chapter altogether. With her honorable medical discharge from the Army, she was still a highly trained well-educated Army professional, and that was still extremely valuable in a training capacity. And because of all the wars that were being waged at the time on multiple maps, she was able to start a career in training, security, and communications in Qatar and the UAE.
That’s what’s gotten her to finally settle in Abu Dhabi, she simply fell in love with the place. I am willing to bet big that the main attraction to Nikki was the rich multicultural mix of people that is the hallmark of life as an expatriate in the Middle East. It must resonate a great deal with her early upbringing in central Phoenix which was one of the main cultural melting pots in America, where she was exposed to people from all sorts of backgrounds. As an expat, you do get the chance to meet people from your own country from places you’ve never been to, and meet people from all these other countries and nations, and make friendships that polish your personality and gives you a new pair of eyes that’s different from those you had coming in. I think it’s part of that personal evolution Nicol talks about a lot.
She’s had several career shifts over the period of 15 years. And who’s to know what’s in store next in this chapter she’s still writing to this day.
“So, right, yeah, I’ve had a good run but I’ve had some lows, honey. I’ve been in positions where I’ve been out of work for a long time, more than once, and I’ve been homeless before. There’s a lot of trials and tribulations that people go through, especially when you don’t have family or backup or like a net, in case you fall off the trapeze wire. The stress of being on that trapeze wire all the time is completely overwhelming and also leads to you evolving, but, it’s very stressful.”
Nikki is trying her hand at starting her own small businesses in the food and service industries. She’s currently pursuing several plans to get them off the ground, but she seems to be focused and very passionate about certain versions of an idea that involves really great Mexican food.
I didn’t find that the least surprising since she talked a great deal about her memories with Mama Rosa who taught her how to cook and develop a taste for real authentic Mexican food. Real tasty food comes from a place of love and appreciation. And the thing everyone knows about ethnic food is that once you’ve tasted it from a really good connoisseur chef, you can’t really enjoy it if it was created by someone who never knew what it should taste like, doing it from a recipe.
So, I asked her: why get into business and why Mexican food?
“It’s COVID times. Getting a new job is difficult. […] I’ve been lucky enough to work jobs where I really enjoyed working and had some creative space to incorporate my own ideas and be a human being and not just a number. And at least I would bring that along with me and try to allow others to feel that comfort as we should as human beings in the workplace. As we know most people don’t feel that way. They feel they have to wear the monkey suit and they have to follow all the rules. I’ve been lucky enough to work in fields where I’ve felt happy and content and was making some pretty good money most of the time. Things have gone downhill economically-wise for everybody since 2008 and I think it’s just kind of continued, you know. There are some fat rats that had been able to take advantage of it but then most of us probably didn’t really have a lot of space to spread our wings and do things. So I said, let me start small. So I started to do all my homework on the food trucks. So basically, to answer your question, I love Mexican food, the Mexican food here is disrespectful, Dubai has a place called Maria Bonita, Shout Out to Maria Bonita, please put them in your article. We always want to support people doing the right things. They went into business because they have a joy and a passion for cooking and Mexican food and it shows in their food.”
It’s just wonderful the amount of conviction she puts in her personal ideals, even as she tackles uncertainties and planning and strategizing in several directions at the same time. She clearly knows that getting into the restaurant business right now is murder, because so many of those are going under every day. But she’s looking into several ideas and the top two seem to be about a food truck and a Cafeteria in a key location in the city. Obviously, her main thing will be the superior quality of the food itself since there’s obviously a great void in the Mexican food market. And the most successful business model for any type of food business is working through home deliveries which had soared significantly since all the lockdowns and people significantly cutting down on going to eat in public places where there’s a high probability of catching the pandemic.
But life’s challenges never stop. There are all of those permissions, approvals, permits, licenses, and municipality requirements, contractors, and suppliers, and a whole lot of things to deal with when starting even such a small business venture. Nicol is not just waiting idly, I don’t think she’s even capable of that, she’s put on her thinking cap and she’s already exploring launching a few side-hustles to get the ball rolling financially, all while serving the community. One of her top personal values is to provide value for others and being productive, useful, and helpful.
“Everything that I would like to do, in my life is something that I enjoy doing but also is a benefit to the community, or, you know, something that other people would enjoy. I want that to be a part of it […] because most people who eat Mexican food, I think, are probably, usually pretty cool people. [LOL]. I’m saying I only like cool people and I don’t really meet cool people that often and I was blessed to meet you, I’m so glad and grateful for that, especially that you have some intelligence about you and you’re a helpful person as well. And you’re not selfish with your information, you’ll share information, and that’s beautiful. Coming back to the beginning, that’s when I lived in the barrio and Rosa used to tell me all the time “Each One Teach One.” and that’s the one tattoo I have in old English on my stomach on my side there it says “Each One Teach One.
It’s just an old phrase and it means what it means, you know, and I really like that idea. Don’t try to keep all the information, the intellectual wealth, to yourself. You should share it for a better community. I mean, don’t you want to live in a better place? in a better world? don’t you want to live in a nice neighborhood and people around you know what’s what? And that’s important. So, yeah, I like that “it takes a community to raise a child” thing. I like those places when you see those places that do that and believe in that sort of thing.”
We’ve ended our conversation by talking about life’s purpose and whether she’s ever given it much thought.
“Yeah, of course, I’ve thought about life’s purpose, what comes to mind immediately is gaining love, giving love, gaining respect, and giving respect, those are really the most, the two most important things that I can, that I’ve thought about deeply, and throughout my life, at different times of my life, and I’ve found those are the most righteous, levels that we could reach. And if we can reach that, then we’ll be, we’ll be alright, you know? As individuals and as a whole. For me, those are my two goals in life. I need and want more of both of them in my life.”
“Yeah, I think purpose is different for everybody. For me, I don’t put a lot of pressure on myself about finding a purpose or having a purpose. I think being is most important and realizing that you are always being. So, I try to be the best that I can in all the scopes, and which is recognizing, that I am an enlightened person and we all have a light in us that’s kind of unexplainable, animals have it as well. Everything has a sort of consciousness about it, and just knowing that and being able to get in touch with that is really rewarding. Knowing that I’m not my body and I’m not my eyes, and I’m not Nicol and you know, I’m bigger than that. So, if there’s anything that I can boil it down to that would probably make sense is just being [present in the moment] right now, if that’s not too cliche to say, but it’s important to have that connection, knowing there is that connectedness. I feel it, and so being and knowing and awareness are always so important to me.”
“I can put that on the checklist of purpose in life, to have as little regret in your life as possible, and not live with excuses, and also not lying to people. There was a great quote from Nina Simone or Maya Angelou that she regurgitated from her mother, was something along the lines of, “I don’t have to lie to anybody because I’m not afraid of any of them.”
We can only connect the dots looking backward, and it’s not the best vantage point to tell your own stories, sometimes you’ll have to have someone else look at it for you.
We don’t have to simply celebrate a person’s life after their passing, I believe it’s actually more relevant to examine it and find inspiration in those who share our life and our times on this planet. People who write biographies of people long gone and historical figures, often have their opinions tainted by judgment based on the current politically correct world view, which I think should always be taken with a grain of salt. Everything we read is an opinion, heck, everything we think is an opinion, and opinions are formed by the scope of information we’re exposed to from our times, environment, educations, readings, movies, music, friends, cultures we’re exposed to and our own ideas of what we’re expecting to happen based on all that.
In talking to my friend Nicol, I’ve learned a lot about her, but I’ve also learned a lot about myself as well. I hope you can do the same. I’ve titled this article “a life of jumping through hoops without a parachute” and while this applies a whole lot closer to my friend Nikki’s life, I can also see that it’s also the very same thing we’re all doing in one way or another. We all get to live this life we all have one day at a time, one morning at a time, not always knowing what the world is going to be like when we open our eyes. And learning about how others managed their lives with the ups and downs, gives us perspective, companionship, courage, and hope.
In the end, I would like to thank my friend Nicol Barrett for agreeing to do this article and trusting me with her life story, as well as sharing some of her personal and family photos. This was just an amazing conversation with a person I truly admire as a human being and as a friend.
Thank you for the gift of your time.
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