“I’m a big believer that life changes as much as you want it to.” – Martin Freeman
Zhanique Lovett has overcome and changed her life in a way that many in her circumstance have not been able to do. It’s not because she did something crazy dramatic or did not error in her ways, but it was because she able to exercise independence from her current lifestyle. Her childhood wasn’t too uncommon, unfortunately. Kids and teens all over America experience a very similar childhood. Moving from home to home, a parent who doesn’t give curfews, isn’t responsible and makes horrible choices despite having children at home. It isn’t uncommon for that child to find themselves caught up in that same lifestyle either because that is all they know. At 17 years of age she found herself pregnant and it was a random decision that would forever change her life. She decided to put her daughter into a stroller and go to church.
Sam: What intrigued me the most about your story was when you made the statement about how happy you are because your kids have a better life than you ever had as a kid. The smile on your face when you said that was so sincere. I am a teacher and I know so may teens experience what you went through, but sometimes it’s hard to find a strong example of someone who lives that better life.
Zhanique: It is possible to make a change. They didn’t play it in the video but I was talking to someone else and she asked me if I knew if I was dyslexic and if that was why I had problems in school. I do have dyslexia. She is a teacher and she feels more people should know I have a learning disability and not just know about the backstory.
Sam: Learning disabilities are also very common amongst kids who experience the life that you had as a kid, which in turn makes the challenges kids face in school so much more difficult.
Zhanique: Moving around, I think that adds to learning disabilities. Makes it worse.
Sam: What also happens with a home life like that, the parents don’t go shopping at Barnes and Noble and buy books for their kids. The money isn’t available or they just don’t spend money on books to help assist with that problem.
Zhanique: Exactly. The best thing that these kids can do is to pray. Most of these kids don’t know about God or go to church. God is what changed my life from where it was and where it’s going to and where I am now. So, God is the ultimate factor. God used my husband to reach out to me and help me realize a lot of things. Counseling also helped. For a kids who doesn’t have a good example, the best thing these kids can do is keep themselves busy with something that is productive and has to do with learning. Just anything that won’t let them fall into something negative.
Sam: When you were younger did you find your focus then or did you find yourself falling into the negative environment that you were living in?
Zhanique: Honestly, it was both. I did find myself using pot and stuff like that. When I was really young, around 3rd or 4th grade, I did focus on better things. It was around 6th or 7th grade that I was surrounded by so much drugs and violence. I was hanging out with drug dealers and drug dealers that were selling at a young age. I just started getting swallowed up into that. I started to experiment because I didn’t have guidance, rules or boundaries. My mom didn’t give me that. I was free to do whatever I wanted and when you don’t have that guidance it’s hard not to do things that are bad. It’s like it was normal and it wasn’t uncommon for me to do that stuff.
Sam: I see it all the time. It is common. Way too common.
Zhanique: That’s the hard part when you don’t have that guidance. I mean, where do you go? For me, I had to go to God.
Sam: At what age did you find yourself seeking out that new path and looking to make your life different from what you had always known?
Zhanique: After I had my daughter, I was 18 years old. Her dad was in her life for a few months. I felt this internal calling that I needed something more. There was more out there for me than what was going on….even though I was a new mom and still a teenager. I felt a calling to attend church. As young as I was and as lost as I was, there was a church right down the street from my apartment. One day I invited my daughter’s dad to go to church with us and he said, “no”. I decided to put my daughter in her stroller and walk over there on my own. It was literally down the street. That’s when I noticed there was something missing in my life. That wasn’t the day I gave myself over to the lord, but that’s when I knew that this is what was missing in my life.
I was intermittent about attending and I would invite her dad to go and sometimes he would go. I felt welcome at that church but I didn’t feel a huge connection there. I eventually stopped going to that church. I was still searching.
Sam: You said that her dad was only in your daughter’s life for a few months. What happened?
Zhanique: When I was pregnant I started attending college and I kept at it until I graduated, this past May. During college, after my daughter’s dad left me for another woman, I really went down south. I felt depressed, ugly, unappreciated and I started drinking more. I would leave my daughter with my mom sometimes or a babysitter on the weekends. I just started partying and felt like my life was over. It was just a downward spiral.
I continued college, working to provide for my daughter, and then two years later I met my future husband in an English class in college. We were friends for a year and really got to know each other.
Sam: Was it hard dating at that age?
Zhanique: I really didn’t want to be in a relationship. I was scared to let another man into my life at that time. After a year, I said, “Let’s try to date. Let’s become boyfriend and girlfriend and see how it works.” He invited me to church and he would talk to me about God and how God had changed his life. Eventually after a couple months I gave my life over to the lord. We then talked to the pastor about premarital counseling because we wanted to do everything the right way. Four months after that we were married! We really felt that there was a connection and he really loved my daughter. He knew she was tied to me and he really wanted to have that relationship with her. Even when we were just friends he wanted a relationship with her. My husband completely changed my life.
When it comes to kids and them trying to get out of that life I had. I know it’s hard for them to see any hope. I know it’s hard, but having a mentor or having someone to look up to helps. Or even having someone to talk to about that, helps.
Sam: I am so happy you found him! I guess that brings us to the present. Let’s talk about the show! You were the only woman that night to make it into the top 30 with all of those men. That is hard to accomplish and rarely happens. I think Akbar called you Zhanique Magnifique. I can’t even say it once let alone three times.
Zhanique: I am still blown away at how well I did. I had only been training for eight months before I did the qualifier in March. I try to be humble but I think that was a wonderful run! It’s normal to think that there is always someone better than you and stay humble, but I am still blown away at how well I did. When I watch it, I get teary eyed. Hearing what they are saying and hearing my family cheer for me. I just get teary eyed because I can’t believe that’s me and this is where God has placed me.
Sam: Have you always watched the show? Is this a dream fulfilled?
Zhanique: I used to watch the show when I was 18 and loved the show. I just loved how you have to use your strength and just grab on stuff. I just loved everything about it. It was something I had always wanted to do. So, once we had a gym open up out here in Visalia in Aug. of 2015. I went there and that was the first time I had ever been on obstacles aside from doing one Spartan Race. As soon as they opened I tried to do the obstacles there. The gym had SGX, Spartan Training, and Ninja Warrior training and I would go back and forth using both. After SGX class I would play on the obstacles. In November they told me to apply for Ninja Warrior and I thought there was no way I was ready. It took me two months to do the video. It was a really long application. I hired a video editor guy because I wanted the application to be perfect.
After I got the call in February to be on the show I started adding rock climbing to my training. Then in March was when they filmed the city qualifier.
Sam: Lastly, I have to talk about how cute you looked! Most girls just wear a sports bra and pull their hair back in a ponytail. Not you. I loved your outfit and hair. You are most definitely not your typical tomboy.
Zhanique: My outfit took a good month because I wanted to do the zebra thing because of my name. I ordered the shirt and had someone crop it the way I wanted it and put the bling on there. I had a seamstress do all the work. So a month for the shirt and the shorts wasn’t too bad. My hair literally took two hours. It was bad because we were going to do a Z with the braids and the lady kept messing up and she said it would look like an “N”, so my idea didn’t work. She only did two braids and I wanted three. I was running late to leave for LA. I think it came out wonderful. I just like to be unique and different.
It was so wonderful chatting with Zhanique. When I heard her story on the show I felt a connection with her because so many of my students have or do live the life she led as a teenager. Not growing up in a situation similar to hers, I sometimes have a hard time connecting with my students. I knew if I reached out to her and was able to share her story maybe a few of my students might read this and know that there is a better future out there despite it being so hard to visualize anything different from what they currently know. She is truly an example of someone devoted to change and a better life….and she is very exciting to watch on the course. I can tell that Zhanique is so happy and proud of her current life. The best part, she was the one who took the initiative to help her own self. That, in and of itself, makes her unique. Not too many people can take that initial step to do it on their own, but she did.
Obstacle racer since 2012. Mother of two beautiful daughters in Peoria, AZ. WOR Pro Team athlete for 3 years strong. FitVine Wine and ORAL I.V. ambassador.