Rutherford Countians’ journeys over past decade
A lot can change in 10 years.
As the new year rolls around, residents of Rutherford County and beyond are reflecting on the last decade through the #10-year challenge on Facebook and other social platforms.
Participation is simple. Pick a photo of yourself 10 years ago and a photo now. Post side-by-side and share a little bit about your journey.
For some, their journeys are focused on healthy. Others spotlight happy, sublime, even silly moments over the last decade.
Here is a collection of Rutherford County residents sharing their transformations over the last 10 years.
Jennifer Edwards, 40
Being a single mom isn’t easy. But Jennifer Edwards has powered through the last 10 years, earning a college degree and changing careers. She gave birth to a son and watched her oldest son leave for college. She also ran for political office.
But the biggest change in Edwards occurred on the inside: “The difference a decade made was finding myself and unapologetically loving who I am. You see it in my eyes now because I’m happy inside.”
Steve Sullivan, 50
Steve Sullivan first joined Smyrna’s town leadership 10 years ago as a member of the Board of Zoning Appeals. He recently finished his fifth year on Smyrna Town Council. But Sullivan has experienced the most changes over the past 10 years in his family.
His daughter, Stephanie, married Kaleb Gonyea. Both graduated from MTSU and are well established in their careers. His son, Kevin, completed his fourth year in the U.S. Marine Corps and has a job with Lee Company when he discharges.
“Lastly my wife, Pam, is the same today as she was 10 years ago,” Steve Sullivan said. “Some things never change. After 29 years of marriage (she’s) still the steady rock that holds our family together and is still the anchor we are all tied to.”
Mariah Phillips, 45
In 2012, Mariah Phillips of Murfreesboro was a full-time manager of a busy Starbucks store and mom to four even busier children who were in sports and school activities.
Phillips dropped out of college when her first child was born, but returned and graduated magna cum laude from MTSU with a degree in U.S. government. Within the 10-year time frame, she also earned a master’s degree in leadership, taught high school, adopted another son and watched four out of five children attend college.
“I even ran for U.S. Congress and State Legislature, trying to put my college education to good use,” Phillips said.
Maria West, 30
Growing up in Murfreesboro, Maria West honed her artistic talents over the years. A self-avowed anima aficionado, West transformed her passion for the art form into a modeling career, even appearing on magazine covers.
“I’ve learned that it’s OK to like anime, KPop and dress up. It’s OK to be yourself,” West said.
Ozzy Nelson, 56
By day, Ozzy Nelson is a suit-wearing accountant at a major healthcare company. Off the corporate clock, Nelson can be found at Mayday Brewery in Murfreesboro. In 2012, he transformed his home-brewing operation into a full-fledged brewery. The business has grown from a handful of brews to a rotating menu of more than 20 beers.
Nelson also changed his eating habits, giving up dairy and meat. “That’s a recipe for success,” Nelson joked.
Jason Gulley, 40
Once he discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps, Jason Gulley went into real estate. By 2011, he became an entrepreneur, inventor of The Gulley Grip exercise tool and an award-winning arm wrestler. He also married Courtney Gulley; they had two children.
Gulley also established neverbeenbeat.com in conjunction with his arm wrestling persona. He’s now working with TackleBox Films on a pilot for a show of the same name that spotlights local heroes.
Gladys Higgins, 39
The biggest change for Gladys Higgins? Four years ago, she became a divorcee — after 20 years. Since then, she’s remarried the love of her life, bought a home and changed careers.
She left the legal field and now works as a Spanish educational assistant at Stewarts Creek High School.
“I’m happier. My home life is stable. I quit drinking,” Higgins said. “I’m also more confident. I’m very proud of what I was able to accomplish.
“Don’t wake up in 10 years in the life you settled for,” Higgins said. “I settled for that life a long time. I know I deserved better.”
Gerry Short, 60
In 2018, Gerry Short retired from a company after 40 years of service.
“At that point I had no other plans but to enjoy retirement,” Short said. But a few months later, he joined the Smyrna Town Council, a position he’s loved from day one.
Ariana Vandenburgh, 36
As the mother of two teenagers, living a healthy lifestyle was the furthest thing from Ariana Vandenburgh’s mind 10 years ago. But over the last 10 years, she’s focused on her mental and physical health in hopes of being a role model for her kids.
“I find myself engaged deep in a holistic approach by spending my mornings at Magnolia Medical Center sharing healthier lifestyles in the community,” Vandenburgh said.
But at night, “it’s the fun zone” — fun in responsible ways. You can find her helping behind the bar at Mayday Brewery on many nights — while enjoying the beer in moderation.
“I always say to start small,” Vandenburgh said. “One more cup of water, one more yoga, one mile to run, one less dessert. It all adds up to make a huge difference after all.”
She also follows a plant-based diet and buys organic products including makeup, lotion, deodorant and laundry detergent. Her kids think she’s gone overboard. She counters that she’s challenging herself.
Said Vandenburgh: “You are the only person you should compare yourself to, so be a better you tomorrow than you were today.”