Linda McDandel: Sharing Her Strength

By Leslie Moore

Linda McDandel: Sharing Her Strength

When I met Linda McDandel for the first time, I was bowled over when she told me she is 52 years old. Linda, the picture of fitness, blond, beautiful, with a slender, muscled frame, looks years younger. An open, kind person, Linda immediately gave me a hug when we met at Gold’s Gym, where she works as a personal trainer, Certified Wellness Coach and Professional Life Coach. I immediately liked her. Working primarily with women, Linda calls her business, Sweet Strength. Strength is something Linda has in abundance, and as she told me the story of her life, I marveled at her ability to take life’s challenges and turn them into blessings.

For many years, Linda’s life was idyllic and filled with good things. She was married to her soul mate, Mark, who had a successful real estate business, and together they were raising her son, Robert. Led by her strong faith, Linda always felt drawn to help empower women and spent many hours volunteering in her church and the community. She started a non-profit ministry, New Dawn, New Day, dedicated to helping women working in the sex industry who wanted to leave. “I believe we’re all equal,” Linda told me while talking about this work. “Given the right tools and opportunities, everyone can succeed.” Her commitment touched the lives of many women, changing the course of their lives, but it took a toll on Linda, and she left the ministry, exhausted, in 2007, the same year Mark had his first heart attack.

“Mark had decided to build four condominiums in Myrtle Beach and sell them. Unfortunately, the market crashed and only two sold, leaving us with the other two. This was very stressful for both of us. Mark’s health improved, but our finances didn’t.” The economic downturn left Mark and Linda virtually bankrupt; they lost their home and money. The couple still managed to stay upbeat and had faith that things would eventually improve. Still, they struggled that year, and their financial losses were compounded by the loss of Mark’s beloved boxer to cancer. Only six months later, the couple lost their other, 13 year old, dog.

In 2010, Linda was diagnosed with breast cancer. “My tumor was very small; I was fortunate. While I agreed to a lumpectomy, I refused the radiation and drug therapy when I learned about the side effects. Instead, I drastically changed my diet, eliminating dairy and sugar.” Always health conscious, Linda’s dedication to exercise and a healthy diet prevailed against her cancer, but the same year, the family suffered the loss of a favorite uncle, whose wife, had died only two years before. Linda says that all she and Mark went through during those dark years brought them closer and strengthened their marriage.

Gradually, things began to get a little better. “I hadn’t worked since Mark and I married, but I was certified as a personal trainer years ago, so I decided to start my own business – Mark was the one who came up with the name Sweet Strength. Little did he know now much I would need that “sweet strength,” and how that special tie between Mark and that name would keep me going in the years ahead. Soon, I completed the requirements to become a Certified Wellness Coach and wanted to become certified as a Life Coach as well, but I couldn’t afford the training at the time.”

The couple hadn’t taken a vacation in years, and when Robert, who had joined the Navy, graduated with honors from Boot Camp in Chicago, the couple flew up to see him graduate. Money was starting to trickle in slowly, so the couple made another trip to Washington DC that Christmas, again to visit Robert, who was by then stationed in Maryland. These two trips remain precious memories of Linda’s

On a sunny January afternoon in 2012, Mark left for his usual run. His health had been good, and he had an appointment for a routine checkup that Wednesday with his cardiologist. “We always had a special ‘look’ between us, and as Mark went out the door that day, he gave me that look. I was busy working on the computer, but my gut told me to get up and hug him. I didn’t get up, I just told him ’bye as he went out the door.” About 40 minutes later, Linda heard Mark come in and then heard a thud. She rushed to the door to find him on the floor, turning blue. The doctors later told Linda that there was nothing anyone could have done. Mark died instantly. His death was a tragedy, especially for Linda, but also for all who knew and loved this gentle, kind man.

Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet.

Mark was a skilled surfer, competing in and winning many competitions and even a National Championship. Surfers are a close knit group, and have their own special way of saying goodbye to one of their own where they come together for a ceremony on the beach, and paddle out into the ocean as a group, scattering their comrade’s ashes. “Mark always wanted me to learn to surf, but while he was alive I never did. On the day of his Paddle Out, I wondered who would canoe me out to scatter Mark’s ashes, and all of a sudden, I decided I would paddle out myself. A friend loaned me a wet suit and board.” Linda has been surfing ever since. “It’s so healing. I feel close to Mark when I’m on my board in the ocean.”

Soon after Mark’s death, Linda was awarded a scholarship to complete her Life Coach certification and this, she says, got her through the worst of her grief. “This was the beginning of my life without Mark,” Linda began with tears in her eyes. “I knew that I had to make it on my own. I was sure Mark was fine, and I had to have a purpose to move forward.” Linda’s purpose became to inspire other women to find strength, to become stronger mentally, physically and spiritually. “We are what we think we are. If I can help a woman grow stronger, I have fulfilled my purpose. I don’t want Mark’s death to be in vain. If I’m in a slump, I just look at the stack of tee shirts in my office with the name Sweet Strength across the front.”

That year was a dark one for Linda. After losing Mark, her family lost her sister-in-law of 34 years. At Christmas, both parents were in the hospital, and Linda’s father died on New Year’s Eve. To help her deal with the grief of losing Mark and her other family members Linda started blogging about her journey. Her poignant words have inspired many who have friended her on Facebook, where Linda puts her heart and soul into words like these written about an experience she had while surfing in the rain.

…I surrendered to the business of life, the pressures of the journey, the precious pain of living and let the rain wash over me, cleanse me, while the depth of all the ocean and what it holds was beneath me. I cried, I wept, for the place offered to heal, to be with my thoughts…I felt the rain. I wasn’t wet. Do you feel the rain or just get wet?

Today her business is growing and Linda is healing through helping others. Susan Bryant, a regular personal training client of Sweet Strength, says, “Every time I leave Linda, I feel like I’ve not only trained physically, but emotionally and mentally as well. Being around her makes me feel so good about myself.”

“I want to give my clients a place to talk out loud and be heard,” began Linda. “Together we form a vision of their individual goals and brainstorm ways to overcome challenges and barriers to those goals. This is not counseling. I want to help you move forward and to improve upon what’s already working in your life.” One client came to Linda who had not exercised in 40 years. Now she rides a bike and has lost 65 pounds. “I love helping women. My passion is Sweet Strength, and I believe in every person who comes through my door. We can all change our lives, one thought and one choice at a time.

About this writer

  • Leslie Moore Leslie Moore is the editor for Strand Media Group. A 25 year resident of Pawleys Island, she is blessed with a life filled with the love of family and friends and satisfying work to do every day.

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