Entrepreneurship and Overcoming Adversity with Lawyer, Athlete, and Cancer Survivor Rachel Brenke
Rachel Brenke may not view herself as extraordinary, but those who hear her story beg to differ. Any one of her achievements is applaudable in itself; Put them all together and they paint a picture of grit, grace, and endurance that set an example for anyone struggling to conquer challenges.
Rachel Brenke was just 20 years old when life lobbed its first true test her way.
Home alone with her baby, Rachel distractedly answered the phone. The matter-of-fact voice on the other end announced itself as someone from the military hospital’s scheduling center, calling to schedule removal of Rachel’s malignant tumor. It was the kind of call that slams reality home to anyone who knows they have cancer. For Rachel, though, it was the first she’d heard that she had cancer at all.
“What?” she remembers thinking. “I’m only 20!” The news came as a complete shock. She’d been told her biopsy results were negative for the disease. Her husband was unable to come home from military training. Rachel had to undergo radiation treatments which meant she could not go near her baby. It was a lot to process; a malignant tumor, a baby to care for, a husband who could not come home to support her, and the knowledge that she was in a fight for her life – all before she was old enough to legally drink.
Rachel could have lost herself in stress and fear. Instead, she adopted a mindset of, “Ok then, let’s just take care of this.” The naivety of youth, she says, allowed her to assume it would all be okay. Her parents cared for her baby and supported Rachel through her battle, and her cancer was soon in her rear view.
Rachel barely gives a thought to that time now, brushing it off as just one more thing she experienced in a life so packed with intensity that cancer in her youth is barely a blip in her timeline.
With cancer taken care of, Rachel Brenke and her husband looked forward. They wanted to grow their family. The only hiccup in those plans was the infertility that resulted from Rachel’s cancer treatments. They rode the emotional rollercoaster of fertility treatments for a few years with no success. Finally, the couple admitted defeat. They sold everything they had and Rachel started law school. Her husband got new deployment orders – and Rachel discovered she was pregnant.
She had two more children while she was in law school. In between babies and college semesters, her husband was medically retired from the military and Rachel launched multiple businesses. Although cancer was behind her, its ripple effects continued to hit her, and weight gain became an issue. c snuck up on Rachel and challenged her further. She gained about 100 lbs as she fought to restore her positive mindset. That’s when she turned to running. Babies 4 and 5 came along, and the days blurred together even more.
Finally, Rachel Brenke realized she had to take control of her health.
The realization hit her hard one day, as she looked hard at herself. “I realized I hadn’t changed my clothes in three days.” She had fresh baby spit-up on her shirt and she hadn’t left her home in at least as many days as it had been since she’d showered. She was burnt out and didn’t know how to communicate that to anyone.
Rachel was raised in a military family. Her entire life centered on being strong and handling adversity. She was disciplined and self-reliant, and not used to asking for help. Even then, as she had that moment of clarity, she remained determined to handle her situation herself. “I wanted to do it in my own way,” she says, “hardheaded.”
Running became her outlet for stress and her conduit to fitness. Rachel isn’t a half-in kind of person, so what began as running for the sake of it evolved into competitive running. She ran herself right into the Ironman World Championships, and will never forget the moment her husband and children greeted her at the finish line.
“I am multifaceted,” is how she describes herself. That seems like an understatement, but that’s how she rolls. Rachel accomplishes so much and overcomes obstacles others do not in part because she doesn’t view trauma or struggle or goals as things she “might” conquer. She doesn’t sit back, look around her world, and think, “Wow I should do less with my life.”
Conquering cancer, being a mom of five, launching one business, and then another, and another, competing at the World Championship level of the Ironman – none of that seems out of the ordinary to her. It’s just who she is and how she lives, with an all-in mindset.
If there is one event that most swept Rachel off her feet with its might, it is the shocking attack on her beloved dog, Archer.
Archer was the Brenke family pet and Rachel’s running buddy. The bond between them was strong. Archer loved to be around his family and it was not unusual for him to be in the yard with the kids. No one was prepared for this routine to be shattered in such a violent way that March day in 2018.
Rachel may never have all the details on what happened that day. She has the memories, though, and they haunt her. The story made the news and Rachel fought tears as she answered reporters’ questions. She shares how she heard her children scream, how she tracked Archer’s blood to find him dying, and how she held him as he died. She talks about the shock and the grief and the sense of security that was ripped from her family that day, knowing such violence could be brought upon them with no warning.
She’s apologetic as she gets emotional, as if she is not entitled to grieve for the dog that a stranger stabbed to death for reasons she may never know. Rachel centers her life on strength and has little patience for herself when she feels overwhelmed by anything. When she does run up against something that challenges her, she finds a way to use the power of that challenge as an ally for achievement. In Archer’s case, Rachel launched Archer’s Advocates, an organization dedicated to supporting pet owners who suffer similar losses, raising awareness of these cases and establishing legal guidelines to prosecute these cases.
Archer’s Advocates is something she would not have been able to create without the years of legal expertise she’s acquired. For decades, Rachel has been supporting small business owners with legal advice. She’s worked with others and launched her own company. She hosts the Business Bites Podcast, offering free legal guidance to listeners. She speaks on stages across the country, and she consults on demand. She’s invested in helping entrepreneurs minimize legal headaches and teaching moms like her how to manage it all. She’s written several books on her various areas of expertise and she fills her social media with straight-up nuggets of personal and professional wisdom gleaned from her own life.
Rachel Brenke is not a celebrity.
You won’t read about her in tabloids and she flies under the radar of the “Top Influencers” in the country. But make no mistake about it – she is a force in her own right and impacts thousands of people in countless ways. She doesn’t need accolades and she doesn’t work for them. She works because she loves it and she is driven to do so. She connects with people because she knows she can help them and it is her calling to do so. She is representative of the true American mom, wife, and woman, and the potential within us all.
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