For one Excelsior couple, efforts to gain a new life began with literally one step.
After deciding to create a better, cleaner life, Sharla and Ricky Bradford embarked on an 850-mile journey - on foot.
The couple, however, said they don’t want anyone to think they’ve achieved anything unattainable. Anyone could do the same, if only they reach out for help and never give up.
“If anyone that reads this article ever feels like they can’t do it anymore, whether they’re an addict and they want to go get high, whether they’re in a domestic violence relationship, whether they’re experiencing severe depression or whether they feel like they don’t have anyone on their side, they always do,” she said. “Just reach out.”
The couple met after Sharla moved to the small, Texas town in which Ricky lived. Ricky said he admits he made poor decisions in his past. He served three drug-related prison sentences and said he probably would have gone back behind bars if he would not have left.
Sharla said she relapsed after living five clean years.
The community of the small town did not want to forgive the past, they said. They would not give Ricky the break he needed to get a real job. Dealing drugs was all he knew. Then the couple reached the point where they no longer wanted the lives they led.
“We were both using and we didn’t want to live that way anymore,” she said. “We knew we didn’t have a future.”
A friend told them she would help them get clean if they could get to her. When Ricky and Sharla said they didn’t have a way to get there, the friend said if they wanted to get clean badly enough, they would walk. So, the week after Easter, they started walking.
The first day began with them making it to the next little town. They slept in the rain at a park. The couple said they then got up and walked some more, averaging about 20 miles per day.
Some people tried to help the Bradfords on the journey. They stayed in motels when they could. They ate hot meals when someone helped them out.
Sharla said she walked into Hebrews 12:2 Coffee Shop in Arcadia, Oklahoma, asking if they employees would pray for the couple. There, they found an assistant pastor whose church not only prayed for the couple, but fed them and paid for a few nights stay in a motel three towns down the road.
She said God provided that experience at just the right time. While looking for Route 66, Sharla stopped just a few miles away. She was just so tired, she said, she didn’t think she could go any farther.
“I was so tired, I just laid down in the coldest, hardest rain I had ever felt in my life,” she said. “It was thundering, lightning. I was scared.”
Ricky laid on top of her trying to shield her from the rain. He just kept telling Sharla to have faith God would take care of them.
That faith kept them going in the bad times. Someone almost mugged them in Oklahoma City. A charitable organization turned them away due to her service dog.
The couple reached a place where Ricky said he didn’t believe they could not get any lower. With God’s help, however, he said they rose above it.
In Bristow, Oklahoma, they stopped and helped a woman with farm work in exchange for room and board for a few weeks. After they decided to move on, the couple thought Sharla had a heart attack and she was transported to Tulsa by ambulance. Ricky had to walk from Bristow to Tulsa to catch up with her.
It was there that Sharla spoke with a friend in Excelsior Springs, who said she would come get them and help them start their new life.
THEIR NEW LIFE
At first, the couple thought they would rest for a few days and then continue their journey. Then the staff of the Good Samaritan Center encouraged the Bradfords to attend ES First’s Dinner at the Park, where GSC’s Executive Director Sara Noblet decided to sit down and talk with them. The couple said they also met Kelly Anderson and Melody Donovan there. Without these ladies, without their new church home, the couple said they would not have been able to begin their new life.
The Good Samaritan Center provided the clothing the couple used to apply for jobs. Sharla said Cheri McCullough at Wabash hired her on the spot. Price Chopper then immediately hired Ricky.
Since then, everything seemed to fall into place for the couple in their new home. They found a landlord who would take a chance on a couple without a rental history. Christy Dimes, they said, let them move in with only the deposit and trusted the couple to pay the rent. Now, they’re talking about buying a home in the future. It may take them 10 years, Sharla said, but they will do it.
They’re setting and achieving goals. The couple said they simply used the hand up provided by GSC, their employers and their landlord.
They’re still dreaming. Their dreams include Ricky opening up a donut shop and Sharla becoming a caseworker at GSC.
This new life, they said, began when they found someone who would give them a chance. Now, they want to help give that chance to others.
They volunteer when they can. They were able to help donate to the Dinner in the Park ministry. Sharla volunteered at GSC’s recent Community Connect event.
They try to do the little things that mean so much to someone in need.
Ricky said although the couple is proud of their accomplishments, they don’t think they’re better than anyone else. Sharla said she understands she is one bad decision from a disaster.
However, if they can do it, anyone can, Ricky said.
There are people who can help. There are people who won’t turn their backs on people in need. Just never give up.
Those who simply fall down don’t become failures, Ricky said, those who stay down do.
“I know we got there and I know somebody else can too if they want it bad enough,” he said.