Loss Motivates English Professor to Face Fears and Lead Healthy Lifestyle


She stood in front of her English class lecturing, feeling strangely irritated. She couldn’t make sense of it. Nothing seemed right.

When she got home late that Tuesday night, a waterfall of tears drenched her face. She tried to eat a spoonful of pudding, but she couldn’t stomach it. She couldn’t eat anything.

The phone rang. It was her sister. She called to say their parents and brother went to Laughlin for vacation early that morning.

The thought filled her with angst. She decided to call their hotel, but they never checked in. Her stomach turned as she frantically called nearby police stations and hospitals.

Her anxiousness all day started to make sense.

Hours later she received the call.

Her family was involved in a head-on collision with a semi-truck. At first, she was led to believe that her family had survived and she felt momentary relief.

However, it turned out only the driver of the truck survived. Her mother, father and twin brother all died in the crash. She cried her eyes out. There was no denying what happened. Her heart had shattered.

The accident that forever changed her life was nearly 12 years ago, the loss  still seems fresh from time to time. Despite the incredible loss, Mt. SAC English Professor, Michelle Dougherty, 39, learned to push through. She created a fulfilling life, inspiring others with her journey.

Dougherty never considered therapy. She just wanted her life to go back to normal. Looking back, she said therapy could have helped.

Taking two weeks off wasn’t much time to heal and manage emotions, but she continued teaching and persevered with a positive attitude.

She focused on her health. She started Weight Watchers. Losing 75 pounds helped boost her confidence.

Almost at her goal weight, she wanted to lose 10 more pounds, so she hired a personal trainer. She never felt better after achieving her accomplishment.

Coping with the loss of her family by focusing on her health, she also tied other outdoor activities such as horseback riding and rock climbing.

Wakan, her large, sassy black horse with white marks is the great spirit in her life. After having him for 10 years, Dougherty gleams when thinking of throwing Wakan a birthday party. The idea may fall through, but Wakan would still receive a full body massage.

Dougherty described her beautiful horse as alert, feisty and smart. His ears would perk up and he would be aware of his surroundings. Wakan did not try to charm the inexperienced equestrian.

Riding Wakan was like riding a roller coaster. Fearful, he would spin Dougherty around so fast she would fall hard to the ground. Luckily it was only sand, but her mid-calf boots and pants would be filled with with the stuff.

Dougherty endured scrapes and bruises, but she never gave up riding Wakan. Learning how to get over her fear, she just had to trust him. Riding him five feet at a time, griping fearfully to Wakan, she learned to get over her fears. Every moment riding Wakan is unique.

Riding Wakan wasn’t the only fearful situation Dougherty put herself in. Rock-climbing at Joshua tree for the first time was nerve-racking. Heart pounding and dripping sweat, Dougherty climbed, feeling disorientated and messy as she summoned all her strength to pull herself up.

The climb was difficult because it was all about leg strength and the positioning of the body.

“Learn to be afraid, but do it anyways,” Dougherty said, as she learned to take on horseback riding and rock climbing. Each time Dougherty does her activities she strives for the best she can do.

One day, at the rock climbing gym Dougherty met her boyfriend Cris. He had the same passion for rock climbing that she did. He may be fearless when climbing, but he would not ride Wakan.

Even though he doesn’t ride horses, he will give Wakan peppermints as a treat from time to time. Dougherty’s caring personality and outgoing nature had been inspiring to him.

Eyes locked on Dougherty. Her transformation inspired others to reach out to her for information about her nutrition and exercise routine. Dougherty created an Instagram page, to share her journey with those intrigued by her outgoing nature.

Her account shows people that they don’t need to be extreme about their diet, and that it’s okay to splurge on yourself every once in a while.

She said it’s all about food portion control and its fine to splurge on yourself ever so often. Eat in moderation but don’t be psycho about it. Don’t be extreme.

“It is important to focus on what you do want to eat verses what you do not want to eat,” Dougherty said.

After climbing for a few hours, once a week she would treat herself to In-N-Out.

“I actually eat In-N-Out normally a lot. Like a double-double with no bun, but a splurge for me would be a bun,” Dougherty said.

She treats herself to whatever she wants but does so in moderation. One of her favorite healthy snacks are crispy, roasted cauliflower nachos. She sits back and relaxes and munches on her nachos, which are like a pot of gold for her stomach. An easily made recipe, Dougherty would rather cook than waste time ordering out.

Mt. SAC history professor, April Tellez, has known Dougherty since 2008. They first met in the restroom where the both exchanged compliments to one another. Meeting each other for the first time Tellez was in awe of Dougherty kindness.

“She is a gregarious, happy person and very friendly,” Tellez said. “And I really liked her spirit.”

While they’ve known each other for 10 years, they didn’t become close until a year and a half ago. Working on different floors in the English building, it was hard to really get to know each other.

Today, Tellez considers Dougherty family. When Tellez had surgery, Dougherty came to the rescue. She helped her with recovery and significantly with her children. Tellez said her kids adore Dougherty because of her kind and compassionate nature.

“She has a spirit that illuminates my world,” Tellez said.

Dougherty pushes past the obstacles that come her way, taking it all on with a positive attitude. Tellez even described Dougherty as persistent and dedicated, never taking no for an answer.

“She is real and relatable,” Tellez said.

This August will mark the twelfth anniversary of the accident. Dougherty is still dealing with the loss. From time to time, it hits her that her parents and brother are really gone. Despite the difficulties, she’s still outgoing and acts as a role model for those looking for a healthier lifestyle.

She uses her love of nature and the outdoors as her main outlet for her active life. She plans to continue perfecting her horseback riding and rock-climbing skills, leading the healthiest happiest life she can.

Her caring and compassionate nature combined with her determination are her characteristic trademark with those who know Dougherty are left with a lasting impression.