March 1983 saw me begin my martial arts training, at the University of Nebraska Jinbukan Dojo in Lincoln. For a high school sophomore who struggled to fit in with her peers, the dojo was my sanctuary.

Lo and behold, a woman about ten years older than me, Linda, started at the same time. We traversed our belt tests and sparring matches and sore muscles and freezing cold winters and brutal humid hot summers together for 3 1/2 years. When I moved away, I felt like I had lost my best friend.

Linda put up with my immaturity (I was 15 1/2 when I began training and barely 19 when I moved), my excitement, my physicality (the poor woman took more punches than I can count), and my constant need of a ride home (the busses quit running at 8 and we got out of class at 8:30).

Without knowing it, Linda guided me simply by being there. She never missed a class, she never hesitated to welcome me, we partnered up constantly, and her quiet steadfast presence never thwarted or ridiculed my rambunctious passion for martial arts. She was unmistakably THERE for me.

I lost track of Linda when I left Lincoln – but I have pictures of her from my photography class my senior year sidekicking one of our senpais (posed, of course). Almost 40 years later, I give thanks for Linda’s counterbalance in my life during high school and the memories of her grounded and unflappable nature I lean on now.