by Jane Kendall
Photography by Christian Lee
Success is often synonymous with fame, wealth and status and defined by an individual’s accumulation of money and material possessions. Let me introduce you to one of the most successful women I have ever met. Her story redefines the meaning of success.
Donna Hudson has been a beloved elementary school teacher in Jasper County for 38 years. In 1956 Donna moved to Hardeeville, with her parents, where she attended school from first grade on. From an early age, she knew her deepest desire was to work with kids. Upon graduation from high school she attended the University of South Carolina in Columbia and received her bachelor’s Degree. Her first position was teaching second grade in Ridgeland. After a year and a half she transferred to Hardeeville Elementary School. She enrolled in night courses at USCB and obtained her master’s degree over a five-year period. After a brief assignment teaching second grade, Donna reluctantly accepted a transfer to first grade. It was there that she found her true passion and purpose. For the next 36 years she devoted her time and talents to each of the children who passed through her doors.
Donna enthusiastically described the beauty and innocence of her students. She has taught almost every child in the small town of Hardeeville, as well as their parents. Everywhere she goes someone will shout out “Hi Miss Hudson!” with great love and respect in their voice. Donna’s eyes filled with tears when she shared stories of how the children would light up when they discovered they could actually read and perform other new skills. Many of her former students keep in touch with her and remind her of the positive contributions she has made in their lives. Donna is truly a beloved pillar of her community.
While absorbed in her passion for teaching and inspiring others, somewhere along the way, Donna forgot herself. As a child she suffered ongoing torment and bullying because she was overweight. As years went by, she continued to gain weight. Food became her “drug of choice” to numb the painful feelings. Her expanding size began to prohibit her social activities. She could not sit in a chair at a restaurant unless it had arms to help her get up and down. She had to deal with scornful judgmental looks wherever she went. When Donna’s mother, with whom she lived, died in 2002, Donna dealt with her grief and anguish by eating more food to self-medicate. It was becoming difficult to walk. Her pace was slowing. By the time she retired in 2011, Donna was becoming breathless in shorter and shorter distances. She found herself needing a cane and an electric grocery cart to navigate her life.
May 2013 was the turning point for Donna. She knew she could not go on this way. Despite being endowed with healthy genes from her parents, she was killing herself with her food addictions. She decided she needed structured coaching and support. She turned to the Metabolic Research Center in Bluffton. Several of her friends had experienced success with the center’s program. She was impressed with the visible changes in their size and vitality. More than anything, she wanted that for herself. She recalls the day she found the courage to walk in the door. She was scared. She had tried other weight management programs but was unable to stick to them. Her thoughts were filled with fear and doubt. “Do I really want to do this? Can I really do this? Can I spend all this money on me?” Somehow Donna pushed through those emotions and enrolled in the program. She knew if she didn’t make some changes she might not be around much longer.
Donna committed to a totally new lifestyle. She learned to make healthy food choices and practice portion control. Vitamins, weight loss supplements and exercise played important roles in her new health regimen. From May 2013 to April 2015, with the love, guidance and support of her angel-cheerleading staff (Martha, Cindy and Tina), Donna has lost 184 pounds and feels better than she can ever remember! She ecstatically declares she will never go back. She has been blessed with good health throughout her entire life, except for obesity related problems, which are now resolving. Her blood pressure and cholesterol are normalizing and acid reflux is becoming a thing of the past. Donna has a new lease on life with more interests and energy than ever. She loves going to her exercise class where she walks five miles twice a week. A recent milestone was attending a Garth Brooks concert in Jacksonville, where she was able to navigate stairs in the performing arts center, and did not have to worry whether she could fit in the seat.
Donna’s success is far richer than any material possessions. After being so valuable to so many others throughout her life, Donna has finally discovered her own worth. If that’s not success, what is?
Future Plans: Travel, maybe New York City first.
What’s Most Important: Family—two sisters, one in Savannah and one in Ridgeland, and two nephews.
Hobbies: Reading mystery novels, needlepoint.
Volunteer Activities: Hardeeville PTA, Jump Rope for Heart.
Lives by: “It’s Never Too Late. You Just Have to Have Desire!”