The inspirational story of Stacey Schoneman reminds me of the famous quote from Rocky Balboa:
“The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me or nobody is going to hit you as hard as life.”
Stacey grew up in Lexington and enjoyed working in the family business, C & S Truck and Salvage, and racing (drag, go-carts and motor cross) as a child.
“When I first started racing, I loved it because I loved to go fast,” Stacey said.
She stood out on the race tracks as the only girl among all boy competitors.
After graduating from high school in 2003, Stacey followed her passion for art and studied graphic design at the community college in North Platte.
She admitted that she didn’t take her studies seriously, quit after one year and started working at the family business again. In 2008, she followed a boy to Omaha to start a new life in the city.
That’s when life started to beat her to her knees.
Shortly after moving to Omaha, a routine pap smear came back abnormal. Her doctor diagnosed her with cervical cancer and referred her to a specialist.
“That kind of freaked me out,” Stacey said. “I asked, ‘How did this happen to me?’”
Her cancer required a surgical procedure to remove the abnormal cells. Doctors believed they removed all of the abnormal cells, and she continued quarterly check-ups to be sure.
At about the same time she was diagnosed with cancer, her boyfriend kicked her out. She packed her belongings and lived in her car. She took showers at a truck stop and sought refuge at the Siena Francis homeless shelter.
“I was really stubborn,” Stacey said. “I was bound and determined to stay in the big city. I wasn’t going to let them (my parents) know anything was wrong.”
Eventually, her parents did find out and helped her get back on her feet by renting her a hotel room. She then found a basement apartment to rent.
She found work selling truck parts and then building engines at a Subaru shop.
Stacey said that experiencing homelessness taught her to always be kind.
“When you’re in that dark place of loneliness, despair, and sadness, one kind word from a stranger can turn your world around,” Stacey said. “At the same time, one bitter, spiteful, or just plain mean action or comment can completely break someone.”
At her one-year cancer check-up, her test came back abnormal again. She had surgery again, and doctors told her she likely would never have children due to the cancer.
But, they were wrong.
Unexpected & Complicated Pregnancy
“I spent all of those years thinking I was never going to have a child,” Stacey said. “Then, when it happened, my whole world came crashing down in a scary but exciting way. I knew it was going to be hard, but I was ready to take it on as best I could.”
Without the support of the baby’s father, she leaned closely on her mother, Kim, throughout the pregnancy for emotional and physical support as she built up her courage to face the challenge of being a single mom.
During her third month of pregnancy, doctors performed a quad screen test and determined that her unborn baby had a high probability of Down syndrome and other anomalies and might not even survive the pregnancy.
“At that point, they asked me in a really nice way to have an abortion,” Stacey said. “I couldn’t believe that my doctor said that to me. I said, ‘No!’ I can’t end this little life. This has been a miracle. Up until now, this wasn’t even supposed to happen. How am I able to decide whether to end it now? That’s not fair to him.”
She told the doctors she wouldn’t terminate the pregnancy. They continued to warn her of the dangers and encouraged her to seek genetic counseling. They prepared her for the worst case scenario.
“What the doctors were saying was really depressing me,” Stacey said.
She and her mom did go to genetic counseling and decided that “whatever will be, will be.”
When she was four months along, she and her mom prepared themselves for another doctor visit.
“We sat down that night and prayed,” Stacey said. “We had been praying the whole time, but that night we prayed hard. We just asked God to please give us direction. We asked Him to let us know if we were making the right decision and to let us know if we were being fair to the baby. We said, ‘Please just give us a sign, and let us know.’ I said if he has a heartbeat, we are just going to keep rolling and not worry about anything.”
They went to the doctor the next day for an ultrasound, and “Lo and behold, he had a heartbeat,” Stacey said. “The doctor said, it’s a boy. It’s a strong healthy boy. I could see five hairs on his head, and I could see his ears and his nose and all of his little features. We just lost it. We were crying so hard, and the doctor didn’t quite understand the toll that it had taken on me and my mom because we were so excited for this little miracle baby that just kept fighting.”
At six months, she had an amniocentesis that came back normal. Doctors said the baby still had neuro-tube defects. So, for the last three months of her pregnancy, she saw her OBGYN and a perinatal specialist each week to monitor the pregnancy.
“But, it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!”
Becoming a Mom
Peyton was born three weeks early at 11 p.m. on July 10, 2013.
“As soon as he was born, I didn’t get to see him or hold him or kiss him,” Stacey said. “They whisked him off away right away. He was having problems breathing. His lungs weren’t inflating correctly.”
He was in NICU for a short time, but then he was fine.
“There was nothing wrong with him,” Stacey said. “He was just a normal baby. I couldn’t wait to hold him and tell him thank you for fighting for me and fighting for yourself.”
After Peyton’s birth, Stacey moved back to Lexington to be near her family and raise him in a small town where he could see his grandparents every day.
“Becoming a mom changed me in every single way,” Stacey said. “It made me grow up, drew me closer to God and my faith in Him and made me know the true meaning of patience.”
Stacey said she stopped cursing, stopped listening to vulgar music and stopped watching vulgar or violent horror movies and dressed more modestly.
“I wanted to make myself someone I knew my child would be proud of in the end, someone he knows lived a good life serving God and helping others as best she could,” Stacey said. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m still that weird goofy mom that will probably do things just to embarrass him, but hey, it’s just who I am. I always say having a weird mom builds character!”
Shortly after moving to Lexington, Stacey started getting involved at the Orthman Community YMCA. It was that connection that is now helping her serve and inspire others, especially single moms.
“Now, if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth.”
Stacey rejoined the family business working part-time selling parts and sometimes repairing vehicles. The rest of the time she spent with Peyton and at the Orthman Community YMCA.
“The Y has been really great for our little family,” Stacey said. “I’ve made lifelong friends there.”
She also lost more than 70 pounds over two years at the Y. She went from a size 12 to a size 2, which was close to her pre-pregnancy weight.
Giving Back & Teaching at the YMCA
Stacey began teaching kickboxing at the YMCA. One day, she joked with YMCA Executive Director Riley Gruntorad about teaching a class that would allow her to share her unique automotive experience and talent.
“You know what would be really cool is if you could let me teach a bunch of girls how to work on their cars,” Stacey told him.
A few months later, Riley asked if she was serious and encouraged her to go ahead with her idea. That’s when she organized a class called Let’s Get Greasy: Automotive for Ladies.
“The class is important to me because lots of my friends are single moms or have been single moms,” Stacey said. “When it comes down to it, you are doing a lot of this stuff yourself. It’s you and your baby 24/7, 365. When you’ve got a vehicle and a problem, it’s hard to reach out to other people because you are used to doing everything on your own. I wanted to give them the knowledge to do it themselves because I know they can. They just need to know the steps.”
Stacey has now taught several sessions of the class during the past few years. She also has added some fun new child classes that she and Peyton teach together, including the Superhero Workout where kids do the Spiderman crawl and Thor’s hammer, and a new class this fall called Trick or Treaters in Training that will have kids running from mummies and ghosts.
Stacey said Peyton just celebrated his fifth birthday, and he is a normal active kid.
“He loves to dance,” she said. “We dance at everything. He loves anything with wheels. He is a little gearhead. He loves to hang out in the garage with his papa. He’s a little spitfire. He’s quirky, and he’s funny, and I just love him to death.”
But, most of all, she is proud of how compassionate and empathetic her son is at his young age. Perhaps that comes from the hits that knocked Stacey down but didn’t keep her down.
“I’ve always stressed to him that you never ever know what somebody else is going through or what they’ve been through,” Stacey said. “No matter what, even if they are having a bad day, we should still be nice to them because they might have a sad in their heart.”