Santa Cruz difference-makers gear up to speak at the first annual Bonfire Heights event in Monterey
Ten years ago, at age 31, Heidi Boynton was the picture of health and happiness. She was a busy stay-at- home mom with two boys, ages 6 and 9, who was involved in the community, helped organize service trips to Mexico, and camped, biked and jogged regularly.
Today, Boynton is still doing all of those things—and much more—but all whilst living with an incurable, rare “Molotov cocktail” of blood disorders. She was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) and aplastic anemia in 2002, when she was 31, and then with paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH) in 2008. “I used to think that you’d get this one thing, and then you’d be done,” says Boynton. “But it doesn’t seem to be the case—and that’s all right.” On top of these blood disorders, she also had skin cancer twice and ovarian cancer during the last 10 years.
And while this combination of illnesses packed into one decade could understandably diminish anyone’s zest for life, it did quite the opposite for Boynton. “I can’t control anything around me, I can only control my response to it,” she says. Since her first diagnosis, Boynton took up triathlons, competed in two Iron Mans, continues to race several times a year, founded a nonprofit, and started 18 free running clubs for girls in the Santa Cruz and Bay area. Her nonprofit, Finding Sophia, takes groups of 15 women to Mexico to build homes for single mothers.
Boyton’s calendar is as busy as it sounds: she sat down with Good Times on Friday, Sept. 9, just a few hours before going in for one of her blood infusion treatments. Three days later she left for San Diego to launch yet another Mini Mermaid Running Club (the free running club for first through sixth graders). Two days in San Diego were followed by four in Mexico on a Finding Sophia trip. The month will cap off when Boynton hosts an all-women triathlon and duathlon in Santa Cruz on Sept. 25 (an event held by Mermaid Series, which Boynton has been working with for five years as a coach and organizer), and speaking at an event in Monterey called Bonfire Heights.
Bonfire Heights is a three-day gathering planned for Friday, Sept. 23 through Sunday, Sept. 25 at Asilomar Conference Grounds in Pacific Grove. The event will combine more than 15 speakers and an expected 150 guests for a weekend of lectures, workshops, panel discussions, social events and entertainment aimed at inspiring people to find their calling—whatever it may be. Boynton will speak on Friday night, which appropriately has a theme of “overcoming obstacles.” Her message will be about how to “find your happy pace in the middle of the race.”
“It is now that we need to find the peace and happiness and joy and passion, because life is always going to be difficult,” explains Boynton. “It doesn’t matter what it is, something is going to come—life is just hard. So how do you know life is going to be hard but still rise above it and enjoy it?”
Bonfire Heights founder and host Darius Seddiqui was inspired to organize the event after quitting his job in 2010. “I realized that to be true to myself and my calling I need to get out of my comfort zone and see what happens,” he says. Part of that calling was creating the first Bonfire Heights, of which he hopes there will be many.
“The line-up of speakers who agreed is 10 times greater than I thought it would be,” Seddiqui says. “Now I feel it will be beyond me. I hope it takes its own course after this.”
Three other Santa Cruzans grace the lineup of “ordinary people doing extraordinary things” who will speak. David Blume, permaculture teacher and author of “Alcohol Can Be a Gas,” will speak on Saturday, Sept. 24, and local father and son duo John and Ocean Robbins will deliver a talk about “purpose and passion” on Sunday, Sept. 25.
“You don’t have to be a Class A world changer to care and make a difference,” says Ocean. “This conference is for people who want to make a difference—whether it’s a small little thing or a great big thing.”
Ocean and his father know a thing or two about taking action: Ocean founded the social change nonprofit YES! as a teenager and is now a speaker, author and organizer. John is the bestselling author of “Diet for a New America” and “The Food Revolution,” among others, and a renowned expert on the links between diet, health and the environment.
“There is something extraordinary in all of us,” John says, explaining what he thinks the event can accomplish. “Each of us has a brilliance, a unique set of talents and skills and values, and when those are energized, extraordinary things happen.”
Bonfire Heights will take place at Asilomar Conference Grounds, 800 Asilomar Ave., Pacific Grove, from Friday, Sept. 23 through Sunday, Sept. 25. Registration is $380 general, $320 student rate, and $150 for Sunday only. Use the promotion code “Ocean” and receive a student ticket for $95 and general ticket for $145. Ticket price includes snacks, workshops, lectures, a bonfire social, s’mores, wine and other entertainment. To register or to learn more, visit bonfireheights.com, or contact Darius Seddiqui at (650) 776-6205 or [email protected]
Photo Courtesy of Lara Ward