I first met Cindy Carpenter about five years ago at a Toastmasters event. I was the contest chair for the International Speech contest and she was a contestant. All I remember at the time was asking her name and for the correct title of her speech.
That day, after I introduced her on stage, something really awful happened.
Halfway through her speech, she froze. For almost a minute she stood in front of 300 people in a ballroom in silence. Everyone felt awkward. We all held our breath praying that she would say something. From the side of the stage I wasn’t sure what to do, and whether I should go on stage to save her.
But suddenly out of nowhere, she continued her speech. We all breathed out, and she made it all the way to the end. The crowd clapped at the end, and as soon as the entire contest was over, Cindy left the building. She didn’t stay for the trophies, she was gone.
It wasn’t until years later that she told me the full story of what happened next.
She said that she was so embarrassed that she just left the contest. But as she left, she turned to her husband David and said “Tomorrow night, I am going to do a speech. I don’t care where, but I am need to speak again, or I’m never going to do this again.”
Of course, she never told anybody else that story, she just went and did it. Years later she mentioned it to me over dinner. I said to her that it showed incredible grit to get back up the day after a big setback. She just shrugged it off as something she normally did. That was Cindy through and through.
During the next few years, Cindy and I became close friends. Through luck and hard work, we both had the chance to compete in the Semi-Finals. We travelled to Malaysia together, convinced that one of us would win the World Championship that year. Of course, neither of us did. We both placed third in our contests and despite falling short of our goals, delighted in the fact we got to do something so cool together.
Again the next year in Las Vegas we competed in the Semis together, with both of us failing (again) to reach the Finals. After that second year I was dejected, defeated. Ready to give up.
Not Cindy. She was only more motivated. She told me immediately after the contest “I don’t care how long it takes, I am going to make it to that final stage and I am going to share my message.”
Let me just share that it’s rare for two people from different continents, different ages, different backgrounds to connect like Cindy and I did. She was a married woman and I was a man with a committed girlfriend. But we were best buddies. Every few months she would call me up with a different idea for a speech, a workshop or a new plan to grow her speaking experience. There was always some crazy element to it, outlandish props, food, music, something that would delight the crowd and let her show her creative flair.
After our workshops she would call me up and read out all the evaluations over the phone. “Listen to this one buddy, best workshop I’ve ever been to!” She delighted in the fact we always got 10 out of 10.
That was Cindy. Always reinventing, always wowing those she spoke in front of.
She even had her own self-appointed brand name. ‘The Creative Fireball’.
It was perfect for her.
She didn’t just do a good job, she did an incredible job. She burned so bright that she set rooms on fire. Her audience would be in hysterics one minute, and tears the next. There wasn’t anything possible except a 10 out of 10 for Cindy. Fireballs don’t burn dimly.
Then, about a year and a half ago she vanished. No calls, emails, I didn’t see her at any Toastmaster events. There were whispers that she was sick, but nobody knew what was happening.
Finally she returned, not meekly, but trumphiantly. She told me she had cancer and had gone through two gruelling bouts of treatment. She didn’t want to make it public, but she had overcome the worst of it. She said two was enough and all she wanted to do now was live life to the fullest. She said anything that wasn’t a 10 out of 10 wasn’t worth doing for her.
For the next few months she was back, burning brighter than ever. She wrote a book, won a district contest, toured around California speaking. In early July, she gave an incredible training to a packed house on leadership. At the end she received a standing ovation.
I only saw her once after that, when we both spoke at an event back to back. She was the ultimate optimist as always. She told the audience at the beginning. “In the next 45 minutes you are going to get so many ideas that it will be impossible for you not to do better than you have before!”
And of course, she gave them everything.
Then, she was gone. Less than a month later, with her condition worsening, she withdrew from the world, to rest, to be with her precious family. As much as Cindy loved to create, she loved her son Hunter and husband David more than anything else. She spent her last days together with them, leaving the rest of the world dimmer without her presence.
Today I heard the news that Cindy had passed on. She messaged me only a few weeks ago telling me that she loved me and was grateful for our friendship. She told me that the doctors gave her less than a few months and to pray for a miracle.
I told her that she WAS the miracle. She had touched so many people’s lives that the world was indelibly changed because of her.
There is a pain in so many hearts that will last for years to come. Tears of sadness mixed with tears of joy. We will miss our inspiration. We will miss our dear friend. We will miss our creative fireball.
She was brave, she was triumphant. She was one of a kind.
She burned so bright that we’ll keep her flame in our hearts forever.
We love you Cindy, and we will carry your flame for you.