In this episode of the She Finds Joy podcast, Kim has a conversation with Ashlee Bruggenschmidt, a former teacher turned principal. Ashlee also runs the Play for Kate Foundation in honor of her 11-year-old daughter who tragically passed away in July of 2015 from an ATV accident.
Ashlee and Kim talk in-depth about how we can all overcome hard things and still reach for joy in our lives. Ashlee’s actions show that she continues to choose hope every day, even as she navigated some of the darkest times of her life.
In this interview, Ashlee discusses firsthand what the days following the tragedy were like for her as a mother. She also describes the social support system made up of her family, friends, and community and how this helped her heal. This support was exactly what led her to her mission and the Play for Kate Foundation, which honors her daughter through numerous acts of service. Ashlee’s story is one of courage, faith, resilience, and taking darkness and turning it into passion and purpose. She chooses HOPE each and every day.
Inside This Week’s Episode
In today’s episode, Kim and Ashlee talk about…
- Grief—what it looks like, feels like, and how it continues to show up.
- Why you need a support system to help you navigate through difficult times.
- How to take trauma and turn it into a positive mission.
- Coping strategies Ashlee found helpful during her darkest days.
“…Once I got a purpose, I could start to see the light from the darkness…”
– Ashlee Bruggenschmidt
Check out Play for Kate. This is the foundation that was founded to honor Ashlee’s daughter Kate and all that she embodied. Kate made such a difference in the lives of those who knew her. She was selfless, caring, energetic, and driven. The foundation built a playground in Kate’s memory in Boonville, Indiana, as well as supports student scholarships. The foundation worked to pass HEA 1200—Kate’s softball number was 12—into law, which dictates that all ATV riders younger than 18 must wear a helmet, both on public and private land.
Ashlee is an elementary principal, President of the Play for Kate Foundation, and has received many recognitions including Indiana Elementary Principal of the Year and Healthcare Hero in Evansville, IN. She’s also an activist working to ensure children’s safety and is determined to use her tragedy as a way to celebrate the life of her daughter, Kate.
Kim Strobel is Chief Happiness Officer at Kim Strobel Live Events and Retreats. She is a teacher, consultant, motivational speaker, happiness coach, and a mission-minded person whose passion is helping others overcome their fears and discover their joy!
Kim Strobel 0:01
Welcome to the she finds joy podcast where I teach you how to step into the arena of bigness, all the while creating more joy along the way. That’s right. We are capable of reclaiming our power, our purpose, our boldness and bravery, and putting our bigness into the world. I’m Kim Strobel, your truth-telling Real Talk happiness coach who believes in giving you the tools to create a life you really love. After all, when we’re playing in our arenas of bigness, life gets better as we get older. So buckle up for the no BS zero fluff advice that gives you the small steps for big joy. Today I want to welcome my guests Ashley Bergen Schmidt. Ashley is a principal at Sharon Elementary. She has been the principal there for 10 years and let me just tell you, they have a lot of honors to their school. They are an exemplary school nine times a farce, four-star school three times, and a promising practice school. Ashley also was the Indiana elementary principal of the Year in 2019 2020. And 2019, Indiana district 11. Principle of the year now I crossed paths with Ashley, way back when I was giving a presentation and she and some of her teachers attended my presentation and I immediately just connected with her realness. And so I can’t wait for her just authenticity to show up today. And I’m really happy and honored to have you on the show. Ashley?
Ashlee Bruggenschmidt 1:44
Thank you, Kim for inviting me and I always love anytime I spend with you because I always leave feeling so much better you just your positive energy. It just radiates there you, Oh, thank
Kim Strobel 1:54
you actually, you know, I think one of your teachers and it might be a testimonial that we still use today. But one of your teachers had written like, I love Kim Strobel is contagious enthusiasm for life. And I was like that’s one of the highest compliments I’ve ever gotten.
Unknown Speaker 2:11
Well, it’s true. It is very true.
Kim Strobel 2:13
Yeah. So I, specifically today want to discuss Ashley, the tragedy that has been in your life, you lost your daughter at a very young age, and you have had a lot of trauma and fires to walk through. And I want to talk to you about this very hard topic. Because I want to understand a little bit more about grief and trauma and what that’s done in your life, but also, somehow, you are just really an amazing person who has shown us that as hard as life can get it does go on, and you can learn to smile again and you can learn to create moments of joy. And you’ve just really been an example of that. And one of the things that I’m not going to lie, I’m going to tell you that when I do the happiness research, and it tells us that only 10% of our long term happiness comes from our external circumstances, right? So like, what kind of job do we have? What kind of losses have we endured? And I’ve really struggled with that piece like I, I mean, I’m positive that the dot the death of your daughter eats up way more than 10% of the pie. But when we look at it holistically, and we see all of the other things that you are now doing, that that particular trauma has spurred you to do. I just can’t really wait to pick your brain apart some of this research and Is that really true and how Does that resonate with you? You know, I even worry about that when I’m on stage. And I say, you know, 10% of our long term happiness comes from our external circumstances. And so, in my head, Ashley, I’m thinking like, yes, we can all recover from a divorce. We can all recover from losing our spouse. We can all recover from cancer or these kinds of things. But the one thing that gets stuck in my head really is I don’t understand how I could ever recover from the loss of a child. So I just want to know, what are your thoughts on all of that? And I want you to tell the story about Kate and what happened to her first and then let’s get into your thinking on all of that.
Unknown Speaker 4:44
Sure. Well, Kim, almost five years ago, my 11-year-old daughter Kate was killed in an ATV crash. She had played softball one morning in Jasper and my husband was with her and I was with my other daughter, Emma, and she was playing On Petersburg, so it was kind of a divide and conquer. You know, mom goes one place with one kid, Dad goes with the other. And typically in the softball world, you play a game and then you sit out a game and then you play another game. Well, on this day, both girls won their first game, and they had like a four or five-hour break between games. So, my husband, Eric called me and said, Hey, Kate wants to go with some of her teammates after they won their first game, to one of their houses, they were just going to hang out and he said, we’ll meet him. You know, we’ll meet him back here. What do you think? Well, kind of rewind back to Kate is Kate was very anxious. She had a lot of separation anxiety. She maybe spent the night with three people in her 11 years. She was very much a homebody she always wanted to be with at home, but most importantly, probably with me, she went to elementary school with me. She never really asked to do a lot. So when Erica told me that I was so excited I was like, Yes. I’m so glad she wants to go with her friends with her teammates. She was very social, but she just had that anxiety. She just liked being with us or us being with her. So I told him, I’m so glad she wants to go to a friend’s house, you know? Absolutely. It’s good. So, Eric met Emma and I are at home and we weren’t home, probably an hour, hour and a half. And that phone call came in that they had told us that Kate had been in an accident and that we needed to, to report to the scene which was in Spencer County. And I remember when Eric told me, I thought maybe they were in a car accident, like I just couldn’t process what was going on. And he told me that the girls were riding ATVs and I remember looking at him and saying, What did she do break her arm like she was so scared to do anything. Like she was just fearful of doing anything kind of out. Just she was just anxious, that’s the best word that I could think of.
Kim Strobel 7:03
So your brain, your brain didn’t even go. So when you got that phone call, because like I have a catastrophic sizing brain. So like, my brain immediately goes to the like, I would have been like, Oh my god, you know, yeah, has something terribly happened. But your brain simply went to like, is this a broken arm or what happened here?
Unknown Speaker 7:21
Yes, I could not wrap my head around it. And even as we’re driving to the scene, I could tell by my husband’s response that something was was really wrong. Well, I just started calling I called 911. And I started begging lifeflight to make sure that they were they were going to get there. And I have a few friends that were physicians. And so I’m calling and I’m asking them like, will they be at the hospital like that she’s heard and I just saw I needed people to be there to take care of her. And I remember getting to this when we arrived at the scene. lifeflight was never there and the 911 operator, I still remember if I had Here’s almost a date. Her just telling me that it was going to be okay and still calm and she was, you know, she was just so reassuring even in that moment. I mean, I’m screaming and crying like I’m not saying the helicopter, why is why is it not here? And I still remember remember how just kind this lady on the phone was to me as I’m screaming worrying about what was going on with my child.
Kim Strobel 8:26
And are you are you at the scene right now? No.
Unknown Speaker 8:31
We’re just driving. And I’m so I’m still not knowing like, you know, really how bad this is. And I look up and I never see a cop, you know, a helicopter. When we arrive at the scene. People just started walking toward us. And I remember them telling us that that she had died instantly. That they she was dead whenever they called us and I think
Kim Strobel 8:55
tell your husband that.
Unknown Speaker 8:57
No, I have no idea.
Unknown Speaker 8:59
Yeah. My husband later told me that he was he was worried that she that she had died but they had not said that for sure. And, you know, you talk about string thing encouraged him. I came, I ran down the road miles down the road and laid on the ground and people cars were stopping and asking what was wrong. I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t breathe. I’m physically sick. So, you know, I couldn’t face what happened that day. I couldn’t face what happened for months. You know, you you’re it’s a parent’s worst nightmare. You send your child to a friend’s house to play, and they never come back. You know, we think we’re going to see her back on the softball field and we never saw her again. And I had a six own in the car with me, you know, Emma was with us driving to the scene. And it took a long time for me to take care of her because because I couldn’t. And even even at the scene, you know, my husband saw Kate Four or five times before I ever saw her, because he protected me from that. And I’ve talked to a lot of moms who have had similar experiences whether a car accident or other traumatic events and, and that’s one thing that I’m thankful for. I’m thankful for the phrase in my head of Kate are of the beautiful 11 year old girl that I know. Not the scenes that I had to see at at the accident or at the scene. I was I was protected from those now does your mind Do I have nightmares of what I think that look like? Yes. But in my heart I still remember that that 11 year old girl so I I’m thankful that I don’t have those those, those visions.
Kim Strobel 10:46
So you you arrive on the scene and there’s all of these people. And is there an ambulance there?
Unknown Speaker 10:55
Oh, yeah, there were ambulance, police officers, Conservation Officers. neighbors in you have to think there were four other teammates. So there are four other 11 year old girls who are at the scene and there was a teammate that was on the box with her whenever it happened, she was driving. So Kate was driving and one of her teammates was on the BOC of an adult sized four wheeler and neither one of them were wearing a helmet and two of her other teammates were in a side by side and they were both wearing a helmet.
Kim Strobel 11:29
And so did they go up a hill and flip
Unknown Speaker 11:33
so and I was something that was really hard for me it is because I wanted to know, you know, like what happened and they went from concrete to the grass. And it was a very, like rugged ATV. And the investigating officer said that the tires when it went from like blacktop to grass, that they just tried to like dig in and that the horrible or just it flipped over
Kim Strobel 12:00
So it slipped over in, I guess Did it break her neck? Is that what happened?
Unknown Speaker 12:05
No. That she whenever it flipped over the girl on the back and jumped off, and Kate stayed on and the bob tire hit her in the head. And she died instantly from massive cerebral disruption, blunt force trauma to her her head. All of the trauma was was to her head. She still had her softball chest scarred her heart guard that we would have her where she was, you know, she was still wearing that. But all of the trauma was to her head. And like I said, I was her parents. We didn’t even know she was on a four wheeler. My main concern was they have an in ground pool and that they were going to play a softball game in four hours and I didn’t want her to swim and get tired. And yeah, I tell my parents all the time. I wish they would have went swimming that day.
Kim Strobel 12:49
Yes, yes. And that’s probably, you know, I mean, I imagine that you have thought of a million like Why couldn’t they have had a softball game An hour later, like they always did, like you run through this scenario of all of the but and I’ll just give you an example. And please know I’m not comparing my dog at all to your daughter, but literally George jumped off the back of the truck and herniated a disc, my dog and had to have this spinal surgery and he almost lost his life over it. And I kept saying, Why did I have to go to Dairy Queen that night to get a blizzard? Because if I hadn’t gone to Dairy Queen that night to get a blizzard, he would have never jumped off the back of the truck like he always does when he gets home. Like I kept going through all of that. And so I can imagine that that’s what you did. Like why? Just one little decision changed everything.
Unknown Speaker 13:48
Those what ifs like i would i would have what if myself to death? What if we didn’t let her go to the friend’s house? What if the softball game was an hour? What if this What if we wouldn’t have played in that turn? And I had a good friend who an A police officer and he we were just talking about trauma and he just said, it just is and he would actually just is it justice? And we would I would talk through it I would talk through it because you do you want to what if yourself to death? Yeah,
Kim Strobel 14:19
yeah. But there it’s it’s Do you believe that this was like almost a predestined trajectory? Like Have you been able to surrender to the fact that life just plays out? Exactly. Unfortunately, like it’s already kind of pre determined or what are your thoughts on that?
Unknown Speaker 14:36
You know, can that is a struggle that I that I have, trying to figure out, you know, I always joke and say that God might have a love hate relationship sometime. And that was a huge struggle, because as a mom, you know, and you see all kinds of things as an as an administrator, people who are their kids, people who Don’t take care of and neglect their kids. And you work hard to keep kids safe every day. And in the end, you know, my job every day is to keep 750 kids safe. And I couldn’t keep my own kid safe. Or I work all the time with these people who maybe struggle or neglect their kids or you see, you know, like I said, people who murder their kids, and I don’t do any of those things, and my kids still died. And it was, like I said, God, and I have a love hate relationship sometime. And my husband is the voice of reason. And not a lot of times and you know, people would say, you know, that there was some pre determined that God has some plan.
Kim Strobel 15:44
I don’t like that. God has a plan or a reason. I don’t like that language at all. Don’t tell me there’s I don’t Yeah, I don’t like that.
Unknown Speaker 15:53
So I really just believe that and I don’t think that God creates the accidents. I just think he’s there to tell. welcome them. I’m getting bad things happen.
Kim Strobel 16:02
Yeah, yeah, that’s one of the next But I have to tell myself, right, because I think like, one of the things that really triggers me is when someone says, you know, God has a plan, God has a reason behind. Like, I want to say, Don’t tell me that, you know, I just I don’t even know how to talk it through. But I just know that when somebody says that, I think that’s the last thing you should say this. I just, that’s my own personal feeling, you know,
Unknown Speaker 16:35
right. Like, and it’s easier for someone to say when God’s plan wasn’t taking their 11 year old daughter. Yeah, yeah, that’s exactly right. Yeah, I had this same conversation with priests right after because I needed someone to explain this to me how something like this can happen. And I actually got upset with one of the first priests that we met with because that’s kind of what he was trying to explain to me. And if it wasn’t okay, like I did not. I couldn’t accept that.
Kim Strobel 17:05
Yeah. So then you’re at the scene of the accident and Are you okay with me walking through this with you? Sure. Absolutely. You’re at the scene. Is she still right where she was right after the accident or had they moved her?
Unknown Speaker 17:22
Um, they had not moved her and like I said, I I ran down the road. And so I did not. I never saw Kate at the scene until the coroner got there. And I helped my husband and my family. And they put her in a you know, in a bag and I helped them put them put her in the car to take to the funeral home. So I actually never saw Kate until the showing at the cemetery or at the funeral home, the private one for our family. My husband saw her at the scene. And identified her. And he saw her twice at the funeral home. And he just told me that she wasn’t perfect yet that she had to be perfect. Before I could see her, and I just I respected that and I’m so grateful for for him for doing that. Because she she was perfect when I had the chance to see her and I didn’t have that trauma. So I did not see her at the see actually, the emergency response team told me that they had told him they had her covered up from the waist up. And they told him that they did not want him to lift up the sheet because of the trauma and things like that. And he was he was grateful for for that advice. So he just said he could, you know, see her feet and her legs and rub her belly and things like that. Yeah.
Kim Strobel 19:00
So walk me through so that was the year was that 2015?
Unknown Speaker 19:07
Yes, July 21 2015.
Kim Strobel 19:10
Okay, so you go through the funeral I mean, like walk me through what your life has been like since that day. You know, like walk me through what? What was it like? after this happened? What What were you like Ashley? What emotions did you go through? What was the grief? Like what is it like for you today? Like, just speak to me about this topic of grief and your journey within it and through it?
Unknown Speaker 19:42
You know, can the person I am today is definitely not the person that I was five years ago, before k was killed. I even think the person that I am today is not the same person. I was before your school administrator, your experiences, your life experiences you They change you, you’re never going to be the same person good, bad or indifferent. They they change you. As far as Kate’s funeral, I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t function. My sister, my friends, they, my staff, they helped plan her funeral. I couldn’t even take a shower. They would put me in the shower. They actually, I mean, I remember them, washing my hair. I cannot function I cannot get out of bed. The first night was was awful, because I couldn’t come to terms that it was really true. And I remember trying to go to sleep and waking up and running up to her room. And I’m destroying her room and I know that she’s not there. But I couldn’t come to grips with that she wasn’t there. And I just kept telling my family that I had to take care of her that who was taking care of her right now that that’s my job and she’s not here and how do I know someone’s going to take care of her and he’s taking care of her now. And that was it was rough. Those I mean, the year, two years, three years it is but initially I really believe that your body just shuts down to protect you. And that’s actually had believed that I was able to even function was that your body just shuts down to protect you from all of the pain and the support system that I had. You know, my like I said my sister, my family, my her classmates, our friends her the softball organization and the softball community. They did amazing things for us and I really believe they’re the ones that pulled that pulled me from the ashes. And I started just seeing the the beauty and Kate’s life and you know what I give up, but I rather not have her for any years or 11 years. Well, I would absolutely rather have her for 11 years to never have her at all. And I remember us talking about that. And there’s the difference and the different stories that about Kate during those 11 years. And it just started to make me grateful of the time that I that I had for her. And I really believe that just that community support that’s I do not see how anyone can survive a trauma without a support system. And this community, they they literally are the ones that helped helped me find a purpose. And it was probably two days whenever you know, you have to do your obituary, her obituary, and we had to say, What do you want? What do you want money to go to? What do you want people to donate to? And I was like, I have no idea. I don’t know. I can’t make this decision and some of our friends and what about a playground? You know, out of out of the softball complex Where she practiced? And I was like, Yeah, that sounds great. And another friend said, Well, why don’t we call it play for Kate, and someone else through Angel’s wings. Everything that play for Kate is it wasn’t Ashley Bergen Schmidt’s idea. It was this community and her friends and her classmates. And so, you know, the foundation, the name, the playground, the scholarships, that all came from, from friends and from the community and those relationships with people. That and then that started giving me a purpose to get out of bed in the morning. You know, okay, I have to go pick out. Let’s go look at the playground. We need to look at playgrounds, we need to come up with colors and just play for Kate became my therapy of how I could heal. And as a mom, that’s your job every day, right? I do stuff for my now. 12 year old Emma and you do stuff for your kids every day and play for Kate was my way Continuing to do something for Kate to honor her and her friends and in the community and that was just my way to to heal.
Kim Strobel 24:10
So the community, is it fair to say that the the social support system that you had in place helped you redirect your energy towards the celebration of who Kate was and what she represented for the 11 years that she was here and a part of your life?
Unknown Speaker 24:32
Yes, yes. You know, I want to talk about something else can know when we were talking about those initial those first few days and those those weeks? Of course, you can’t sleep. And so I read every book that I could on trauma and loss, and I would read a book and I and I remember my sister saying, I say why are you Why are you reading these books? So I would read a book radical survivor and it was a very a mom who lost her husband and all of her kids and in an airplane crash. And or I would read choosing hope, you know, the teacher who survived sandy hook and she was like, why are you Why are you doing this to yourself? And I did it because I needed to see that people could survive this hell that I was living in right now. And it validated what was going on in my head. So when I read about this mom who thought she was crazy and had ADHD and could not function, that’s the way that I felt. So when I read that the mom in this book felt this way, then I knew I, maybe I wasn’t crazy. And so those books would validate my feelings of what I was going through. But then also, I could see that they survived, like I needed to know that’s that I could survive this hell, that’s something that people really do, can survive this. Sole survivor. Well, I think that’s hard. Dunn’s book option B and all of those books talked about, you know, grief and loss and how they persevere. And they will talk about how at helping others help them heal. And that’s kind of the same way I just have carried that with me through through play for Cade and whenever I really struggle, when I’m getting really sad or I’m really anxious and I will throw myself into to play for Cade or doing things for a TV safety. Just because it It helps me heal
Kim Strobel 26:36
that yeah, that’s so good. I think what I’d like you to do is email me the top five books if you can pick five because I think a lot of people who are listening to this have endured some type of tragedy or loss and it’s maybe not as severe as you know, for all of us. I mean, I’m not gonna lie Ashley, it’s hard to talk to you because in my brain I’m doing that whole, like, I don’t ever want this to be me. And I don’t ever want to have to lose a child. And it’s like one of the most painful, vulnerable subjects to talk about. And when you talk about it, it starts to make a person kind of like paranoid cuz I’m like, I just I don’t ever want to have to go through this. I see the grief on your face. And But yeah, I know that when we have examples of other people who have endured the worst of the worst, and have somehow made it out the other side, it does give us hope. And so I think this is a really good tool that you just shared with my audience that worked for you that might be helpful to some of them. And I’m relating it like, you know, when I had my relapse of panic disorder, which was just really difficult for me to go through. I too, started reading success stories again, of people who could Don’t walk to their mailbox like I couldn’t, but eventually found their way out. So my brain works like that too, which is, please show me some examples that this is possible to survive and live again. And that might be really helpful to my audience just to have a resource of some books that you might recommend that can help those that are struggling right now.
Unknown Speaker 28:24
Sure, absolutely. And one other thing, Kim that I want to talk about is I had another friend who she asked me to meet someone at Starbucks, and it was like within a week after Kate had been killed, and it was another mother, whose child had been murdered. And I told her that I would well of course, the day came and I didn’t think that I could go and she she came and picked me up. And I still remember her opening the car door and she’s like, walking me in the Newburgh Starbucks to meet this mom. And I couldn’t hold my head up, had my head on the table the whole time. This lady was was talking to me. And now I think how rude and disrespectful that sounds, but I didn’t have the strength to hold my head up, I could listen. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t look at her or hold my head up. And she was talking about me. She was telling me a story about what happened to her daughter and her daughter had been murdered by her ex husband. And she’s talking to me about grief and loss, and forgiveness. And she’s saying the words forgiveness. And I remember looking up at her, I lifted my head up and thought, This lady is an angel. Like, I don’t see how she can even be sitting here talking to me about this. And that, that would that gave me hope also, was to see another mom who, whose daughter had been killed, and that she she could still survive. And I asked her, how she how she got through and what were things that she did. And, and since that day, there’s kind of a group of us that when something tragic happens in our community, or another mom loses a child, that we all reach out to them, and we just, I have moms who I’ve never met face to face, but I’ve exchanged hundreds of one o’clock in the morning text messages with them, because they’re having flashbacks of that night that they found out their child died or they don’t think they can get through and just trying to help each other. So that that goes back to a different type of support system of people that I never even knew existed. But how they they help they help.
Kim Strobel 30:41
Yeah, because their evidence, their evidence that that you I guess can somehow make it it’s amazing to me that you were able to even get yourself to go like how necessary was that for you to go even though probably everything in your body and mind screen You didn’t want to go like you said You almost had to be just dragged in there and, and you didn’t have the energy to even lift your head. But there was something inside of you that heard her, her message to you. And that began to resonate with you.
Unknown Speaker 31:18
And I’m so glad to this day that my friend had made me go. And for her.
Kim Strobel 31:25
Yeah, that’s so see this is really helpful because like I’ve told you, I have someone in my family who has endured a very terrible tragedy. And to be honest, Ashley, I think I even reached out to you a few months ago and asked you for a couple of book recommendations. And I won’t send them because I’m so scared that it’s going to be like, you haven’t lost a child. So don’t be sending me shit that’s going to help me. Like I’m a little worried. That it’s what I don’t even know what The term is but are you saying that? Like, I should send the books and we should ask friends and people who love these people do things that maybe push them a little bit out of their own comfort zone, or you know what I’m saying? Like, I’m scared to send the books because I don’t want it to be like, hey, let me tell you what to do, even though I’ve never lost a child. But I feel like what you’re saying is a little different.
Unknown Speaker 32:27
Sorry, you’re putting out just a little bit but
Unknown Speaker 32:30
I do you know, what is it Bernie Brown, get uncomfortable, get comfortable with being uncomfortable. And several of my teachers came to me and said, I don’t know what to say, I don’t know what to do. Or they would apologize. Like I, I don’t want to say Kate’s name. I don’t want to just the fear of doing the wrong thing of saying the wrong thing. And I remember telling them that I want them to talk about her. I want them to about her, I want them if they have a book to read if they have ideas, I’m not going to forget that she died. I’m never going to forget what happened. And I don’t. I don’t know. I don’t want to I don’t want anyone to forget her. And if they have some idea that they think might help, then absolutely. I want to I want to hear about it. Yeah. I Dr. Schrader at Easter Seals is a dear friend of mine. And he has been amazing at at helping me heal. And has he ever lost a child? No. But a lot of the things that he talks about and he has helped me with just is about just taking care of yourself self care, things that I that I knew that I always stunk at, I’m always terrible at balance. I would always work too much. I’m like, okay, I might be killing it at work, but I’m not being a very good mom right now or I’m being a terrible wife and you know, after Kate was killed I really had to look at how I can be healthy, holistically. You know, he would talk to me about exercise, eating right, getting the right amount of sleep. We talked about journaling. And that was, that was a huge thing. And I still do a gratitude journal to this day. I even do it sometimes with with my staff. And trust me that gratitude journal at the beginning was rough to find anything that you are grateful for. And at the beginning, I would just write letters to Kate. Sometimes they’re real letters to God, you know that. Or I would journal or it would be a song that I heard, or a quote that someone that I saw on a book or something that someone said, and I still do that almost five years later, Kim is I will, whether it’s music or quote, or in that I still journal, just two. It just helps me.
Kim Strobel 34:57
Yeah, that’s actually one of the top that a person can do to both process and to get their you know, brain back to positive or neutral like journaling is one of the really it’s very helpful for anybody who is struggling with any area of their life.
Unknown Speaker 35:17
So your family member, I wouldn’t say that you would give them books to say here this is what you need to do, but to say hey, I know you know of a mom who’s went through a traumatic loss and these books in this journal helped her and you can give her my number my email, I would be glad to talk to her. And even even the moms that we we exchanged messages or chat with now. None of us are telling each other how to grieve. We’re just there listening to each other and offering support and telling them hey, this that Yeah, I do that or I’ve experienced that or this worked for me. And yeah, each other.
Kim Strobel 35:58
I feel like the message That I’m hearing that I want to make sure my audience is hearing is that I have been staying safe because I’ve been worried about but but about making a mistake or. But But what you’re really saying is, like, Yeah, do it in a very delicate way, but like don’t just stay silent and avoid it. And that’s kind of what I’ve been doing. And what you’re saying is step in, and really try to be there for that person, even if you don’t know what to do or even if you’re scared of doing whatever it is that you still need to show up for that person.
Unknown Speaker 36:42
Absolutely 100% because I’m able to show up to work every day. And I was able to help get at a 1200 past and do the scholarships and play for Kate because I had people that showed up every day. And they were it was uncomfortable. No, we had uncomfortable conversations. And I know probably showing up for me on Sundays is hard. Because some days I’m still angry. I’m not very fun to be around sometimes, because I’m pissed that my 11 year old daughter was killed and, and I had no say in anything that happened other than saying that she could go to a friend’s house. And, but they helped me work through it. And they help continue to get me to push through this. And so,
Kim Strobel 37:27
yeah, this is really being present. Yeah, it’s really good because as audience members, if we’re listening to this story, I want you to really think is there someone that you know, or have been thinking about, that you you just play it safe, safe, rather than leaning into that discomfort. And so having these conversations, this helps people know what is needed and it’s really helpful for you to share that with us. Now, I know that everybody He’s grieving timeline if there isn’t even a timeline because I think it, it never ends. I know my own counselor dealing with some of the Greeks that I’ve had he kind of described it as a train. And he said, you know, a train has multiple cars. And you might have seven cars on today’s grief train and, and tomorrow, there’s only two and the next day, there’s 15. Like, it’s not that you ever get to the end of the grief, it will always you’ll revisit it from time to time or a lot of the time. But for you and for anybody who’s listening, Ashley, who maybe has lost a child, who does need a little bit of hope, like in my head, I’m just thinking, Ashley, when could you breathe again? When did you find yourself knowing that you weren’t going to spend the rest of your life completely miserable, because that’s what you would think like, I’m going to spend every waking hour for the rest of my life feeling like I do right now.
Unknown Speaker 39:07
I’m actually glad that you said that Kim because I remember having this conversation, saying that I struggled every day. Especially you know that first month, those first two months, the first six months. So I would get up, and I would fight like hell to get through every day. And I remember looking at my friend saying, just to go to bed, and I’m doing the same thing that there is no into this vicious cycle, that there is no end to this pain that I’m like, Okay, if I survive this minute, I can survive the next five minutes. I can survive the next hour. And I would do it day after day. Just to keep reliving the same thing of what happened. How did this happen? Why did this happen? And I could not. I didn’t feel like it was ever was ever going to end in I would say that that first year, I felt like that pretty much the whole time. I I had a really, really hard time. And to be totally transparent Kim I’ve never taken any medicine for since Kate was killed, nothing for anxiety, nothing for depression. And right after it was over, you know, my family called the physician and was like, she has to have medicine to sleep, she’s got to have medicine, and I, I didn’t I didn’t want to do that. And luckily finding a good therapist, a good counselor, and being able to focus more on like just the holistic things helped. And, and I go back to that support system and and to play for Kate. Once. I we started building the playground and really got into the working towards the law, the helmet law I could start seeing some, some light in the tragedy, and you know, the scholarships and I could start seeing Kate and her and her friends and the way they would continue to honor her. And it just a shift in my my head of instead of feeling about all the what ifs and focusing about all the opportunities that we were given from Kate, from having Kate and from from the community.
Kim Strobel 41:35
Yeah, and I want to I want to talk about that because it’s important to talk about the wins that have come from this tragedy. And so we have the play for Kate foundation in which I want you to speak a little bit about that. Tell us what exactly that is and how it works. I mean, I know what it is, but my audience doesn’t. So tell us about that.
Unknown Speaker 41:57
And play for Kate is the foundation that we started Two days after Kate was killed, and we built a playground in boonville, Indiana, there wasn’t a playground at the softball field. So that was the first thing and it was dedicated on Kate’s birthday. So within around six, seven months from Kate was killed, we were able to raise enough money from this amazing community to build that to build that playground. We are a 501 c three, we’re ran totally by volunteers and no one no one gets paid. We have a softball tournament, a basketball tournament and a golf scramble because Kate was very much about sports. And that’s how we raise our money. volunteers work at all of those things. We have given away 15 scholarships to graduating seniors in the tri state area. Lots of different schools. I don’t think we’ve been up to tell city or Perry County yet so we’ll have to encourage some of them to make sure they apply. We gave one to a senior to come see this year, one at Castle and one at boonville. But we don’t just get them to work. county schools we give them to anyone. And we get around 50 to 70 applicants every year.
Kim Strobel 43:06
And what do you what are you looking for what kind of person receives this this scholarship on behalf of Kate Bergen? SCHMIDT?
Unknown Speaker 43:17
Did you say what do we look for?
Kim Strobel 43:18
Yeah, like what do you look for and what kind of person receives the scholarship?
Unknown Speaker 43:23
Okay, it was very much about helping other people. She was a great classmate, a teammate and great friend. She was always about putting other people before herself. So we really try to look for those characteristics in an applicant. She had a great attitude. She worked hard. It’s not about if you made straight A’s. Typically the essay that people write that’s that’s usually the determining factor of who gets to play for paid scholarship as if they can portray the traits that made Kate who she was.
Kim Strobel 44:00
She, she embodied those traits. And I mean, at such a young age to be that caring and service oriented and empathetic and caring at such a young age. I mean, those are traits that
Unknown Speaker 44:16
sometimes take a really long time to develop. But she embodied that from early on. Is that what you’re telling me? Yes. And I don’t think we realized it near as much as until after she was killed when her teachers, her coaches, other parents, complete strangers would tell us stories that we never knew about her. Yeah. And that that kind of helped us
Kim Strobel 44:40
come up with your write up and close with her. So you don’t say it but everybody else is seeing what she’s doing behind the scenes.
Unknown Speaker 44:47
Kim Strobel 44:48
And for anybody who wants to donate it’s play for kake.com, right?
Unknown Speaker 44:54
Yes, yes, our website is pay for K calm or we have the play for Kate Facebook page. Also. You And then the last thing of course is the helmet law. The ACA 1200. Kate was number 12. She was actually wearing her softball jersey. Number 12 the day she was killed. So the law does carry her number some people call it Kate’s law, but that is mandating that any kid under the age of 18 on both public or private ground in Indiana, must wear a helmet on an ATV.
Kim Strobel 45:26
Gosh, Ashley, so
Unknown Speaker 45:29
and we have only had two deaths since and that’s still too too many. But there were We were having lots of child fatalities in Indiana, and prior to to Kate’s law, and at the time state representative Arnold carried 1200 He is from Crawford County around Perry County area. And the white aren’t on totals, yes, that we would not get it passed. Or that. You know, they tried to discourage me that it’ll take forever. It won’t happen. In less than a year, the bill was passed. And in almost three years we’ve had two child deaths. And I know the day Kate was killed. There were there was another girl killed the same day as Kate on an ATV. And the day before I testified at the house, there was a young boy in Pike County who was killed on an ATV and that was my opening statement to the house. And the day before I testified at the Senate, a five year old girl in Posey County was killed on an ATV. And that was my opening statement to the Senate. So we were having lots of child fatalities. And so the helmet laws has been a huge deterrent and it is saving kids lives but then also we have safety Sam, the ATV safety robot that we’ve built in patents that’s going around and talking to communities about ATV safety. So the law you know, great, good laws and good enforcement definitely will save lives that we know that education is key
Kim Strobel 47:00
salutely Absolutely. And I know too that some of you who are listening may even be thinking like I need to reach out to Ashley and I know how open you are to that and so I’m actually going to spell your name for everybody because what a name you have their Bergen Schmidt if they want to find you on Facebook, is that okay? Ashley?
Unknown Speaker 47:22
Kim Strobel 47:23
So it’s a sh l er can they can just message play for Kate if they want. Oh, okay. There you go. Yeah, there you go. Just message play for Kate on Facebook and then Ashley will get that message.
Unknown Speaker 47:38
Kim Strobel 47:41
Ashley, What’s life like for you today?
Unknown Speaker 47:45
Well, I would say it’s a roller coaster. You know, especially with COVID and whenever you’re home, you know and you’re supposed to be home all the time. And not near as busy because staying busy and like I said, helping others as well as help. Helping me heal. And whenever you have to stay at home and you have a lot of time on your hands, and you see a lot of negativity, it’s, that can get you down. And my daughter, Emma and I talked about that a lot that we’re going to focus on the positive that, you know, when after the death of your 11 year old daughter, a virus doesn’t, it doesn’t scare. It doesn’t scare me. Because I believe that I’ve that that is, if there’s anything worse than during the death of your 11 year old daughter. I don’t ever want to experience that. And that is the most traumatic thing that I know that someone can experience and I would not wish that on my worst enemy. And we call our Angel numbers that we would it’s a club that no one wants to be a part of. But I am so grateful for those relationships for those people and My life that have been able to pull me from the ashes, I would never be able to come back into sharing elementary school if it wasn’t for my staff. Whenever they I was awarded the elementary principal of the year, you know, that award is for them. I remember looking at them, I could not come back into Sharon Elementary. I took the year off as the principal because I couldn’t take care of myself, how could I lead a school? How could I take care of these kids when I couldn’t even take care of myself. And if it wasn’t for them in believing in me, and continuing to to cheer me on and to support what I’m trying to do with play for Cates and in the school Corporation, how many you know how many employers would allow you to do that to continue to advocate for kids to be safe, but also to still be an administrator and support what you’re trying to do? So today, I’m I’m grateful. I’m grateful for
Unknown Speaker 50:01
The time that I had with Kate,
Unknown Speaker 50:04
I know that she made me a better person. I know that she makes a lot of us better. And I’m just grateful for the relationships, my friends, my staff and this community that continues to believe in me, because I’m able to get up every day because of them.
Kim Strobel 50:21
Yeah, I’m interviewing Ashley and she’s in her office and I’m looking right now she has a ceiling tile that I’m assuming it says play for Kate because it looks like a softball field with the play for Kate colors. So that hangs over your head in your office as you’re as you’re going about your day.
Unknown Speaker 50:43
And our teacher read that for me. So just another call out things that your staff does for you. So yeah, my art teacher painted that.
Kim Strobel 50:52
So is it fair to say Ashley that are you happy?
Unknown Speaker 50:58
I am happy Kim. You can find you know, you can find happiness through through the pain through through the trauma.
Unknown Speaker 51:08
Do I am I going to say I’m happy every single day? No, I don’t think any of us can say that. But
Unknown Speaker 51:16
I am happy.
Kim Strobel 51:17
And that in itself Ashley just there is somebody listening to this who needed to hear that because they feel like they will never ever smile again. They will never feel happy ever again and to hear your story and to hear you be able to say those words it it really does plant a pathway of hope for people who just need a teeny tiny.of hope right now.
Unknown Speaker 51:50
So powerful and i and i was like i said i’ve been blessed to have people who have helped me find that hope the Because I had lost hope to.
Kim Strobel 52:03
Yes, yes. So I’m going to end this with a few questions. I like to do these rapid fire questions now at the end that are just kind of fun and light hearted. But before I give you those questions, I want to know I want to know, what do you feel like? And I bet you you could come up with 100 things. But what has has been having been Kate’s mother and the gift that she was to you and your family and that she continues to be today? But what is one of the best gifts that Kay as a human being gave to you as just a person?
Unknown Speaker 52:55
I’m sorry, you cut out just a little bit. What is what is good?
Kim Strobel 52:59
Yeah, well was one of the greatest gifts that have been Kate’s mother.
Unknown Speaker 53:05
I would say in her teaching me to be selfless. She was very, very selfless. And, you know, thinking back to even before her accident I think there were there’s times where we’re all selfish. But she was so giving to others and she put everybody else before her. And it made me even reflect on my leadership and being more of a servant leader, and just making making me better. So I would say her, her heart and her just being so so selfless,
Kim Strobel 53:44
gosh, wow. To be such a little human being and to have that, wow. It says a lot about who she, who she was and who she is and what she represents. So thank you so much. Are you ready for the rapid fire questions. Question number one are you binge watching any show right now?
Unknown Speaker 54:05
I just finished binge watching sweet magnolias and I loved it. Oh, not that to my list. I haven’t.
Kim Strobel 54:15
Okay, question number two, what is a luxury that you have in your life right now?
Unknown Speaker 54:24
Oh, well, I just got back from the beach. So I always think anytime at the beach is a luxury and I’m going back there in another month. So
Unknown Speaker 54:34
beach therapy is my luxury.
Kim Strobel 54:36
Got it? Got it. Number three, what is something that people really don’t know about you?
Unknown Speaker 54:46
Um, that I’m pretty athletic. I don’t know if a lot of people would would know that thinking as a principal and but I I am very athletic. I love all kinds of sports, basketball, volleyball, softball trash. I’m a sports fanatic.
Kim Strobel 55:03
Awesome. Awesome. And number four, your favorite food?
Unknown Speaker 55:08
Kim Strobel 55:10
That’s what the last person saying. Crab legs. I love crab legs.
Unknown Speaker 55:16
My daughter loves crab legs to
Unknown Speaker 55:20
rich dog. She got a few
Kim Strobel 55:23
things about it. And then the last question is, how is Ashley reaching for more joy in her life right now?
Unknown Speaker 55:35
You know, trying to slow down actually and just enjoying the time together. I think before I would, I tried to fill my time to keep my head busy. And through the through the virus and and Dr. Schrader would always talk to me about whenever you’re hiking, and just kind of finding silence and he And solitude. And that that is really helped just trying to slow down and enjoy the time that you have with everyone and just enjoy your time.
Kim Strobel 56:14
I love that it’s it’s actually something that I struggle with very much so I to keep my mind and body very busy. And so I am trying to embrace that a little bit more. I went outside last night at like eight o’clock because it’s really we’ve had some nice evenings in southern Indiana. And I did not take my phone and I just sat in the lawn chair and just felt the breeze for like 10 minutes, you know, and I too am trying to be a little more intentional about that. So I love that.
Unknown Speaker 56:45
Kim Strobel 56:46
Ashley, I tell you, just you sharing your story. The Good, the Bad, the hard, the painful, as well as the fact that you continue to choose Hope, day after day, it’s really just incredible that you took us along for this today. And I’m really honored that you allowed me to ask you some of these hard questions and, and just to share about Kate and who she was as a human being and how she continues to contribute to the world today.
Unknown Speaker 57:23
Well, I appreciate the opportunity can thank you for letting me tell her story. And thank you for what you do, because I love your quotes that you’ll put I’ll be scrolling through Facebook, and I’ll see a Kim Strobel quote, and it will, it will make me smile and I just appreciate all that you do for focusing on habit happiness and self care because it is important. So I appreciate your time. And you’re asking me and I’ll make sure that I send you those books. Yes, you need anything else you let me know.
Kim Strobel 57:53
I shirt. Well, thank you so much. All right.
Unknown Speaker 57:55
Thanks come by.
Kim Strobel 57:58
We did it. Thank you so much for listening in on the she finds joy podcast today. I’m honored to share this space with you and I hope you keep showing up as the real you in this world. As always, this conversation will be continued in our free private Facebook group. You can join that group by going to Kim Strobel comm forward slash she finds joy to connect with other joy seekers just like you