Reinvent Yourself After Misfortune

These women never knew their own inner strength—until adversity bent and almost broke them. Here's how they got onto the comeback road and started living their dreams.

by Andrea Atkins
reinvent yourself after misfortune
After a devastating accident, Karen Putz gave up barefoot water skiing. Twenty-five years later, she's competing in the sport she loves.
Photograph: Ben Hoffmann

Early in 2011, Putz, by then a size 6 or 8, lined up funding from a number of sponsors (including her ski school, the communications company, the Chicago Tribune and General Motors) to help defray the cost of training for and entering tournaments. At her first competition, in June, she performed a trick called a Flying Dock Start, in which she leaped from the dock into the air as the boat took off, then landed on her butt in the water and bounced along until she pulled herself to a standing position. But her most exciting moment came during the slalom event when she crossed the boat’s wake—the very trick that had caused her fateful stumble 25 years earlier. “I crossed over four times on the first pass and six times on the second pass. I was on cloud nine when I finished,” she says. “Before, I was a gal who had buried her passion deep inside. Putting my feet on the water again gave me back my passion—and a new outlook on life.

The courage to start over

In 1977, Sonya Dakar moved from Israel to California with her husband and their children. Back in her native country, she’d been an aesthetician, so once settled in the U.S., she decided to create her own product line. She concocted lotions and salves in her kitchen and converted her garage into a little skin-care clinic. Word spread quickly, and in 1982 she opened a salon in West Hollywood.

By 2000 the Dakars had their own manufacturing plant, and Sonya Dakar Skin Care products were featured in fashion magazines and on TV shows. Dakar’s husband, Israel, had left his job in construction to help her develop the business, and their four now-adult children worked for the family enterprise.

Then, in 2007, as Dakar was negotiating to open a second skin-care clinic, Israel filed for divorce. “My husband was my first boyfriend,” says Dakar. “We grew together. He helped me by believing in me. We had a shared dream to turn our company into the next Estée Lauder. Then everything shattered.

After the divorce, Israel retained the right to manufacture the company’s products and also received control of Sonyadakar.com. The skin-care clinic and the related website, Sonya dakarskinclinic.com, went to Dakar.The couple’s younger son, Natan, took his father’s side in the split, and the three other children, daughters Mimi and Donna and son Yigal, all went into business with their mother. Dakar had a large inventory of her products at the clinic but was no longer able to restock when necessary.

At night I cried,” she says. “I had lost everything. I kept thinking, What’s next? Where am I going to go?” She spent her days working at the clinic and then would go home and collapse. In the big kitchen, where her family of six had once gathered, she’d nibble at hard-boiled eggs and a salad, then go to sleep. She no longer bothered to open the curtains in her bedroom.

She contracted pneumonia so severe that she was hospitalized for a couple of weeks and had to recuperate in bed at home for a month. Then a request from USA Today to feature her house in its pages motivated Dakar to pull herself out of her slump. Before the photo shoot, she ripped out the home’s English-country decor, replacing it with a sleek, modern look. Renovating the house gave her the confidence to renovate herself. “I thought, I’m not going to be wiped off the earth,” she says. “I’m going to start over. When somebody pushes you to the wall, you have to fight.

Dakar began by launching a line of nutritional supplements (something she’d always wanted to do) and entirely new skin-care products. She researched botanicals and hired chemists and a manufacturer. Previously, she’d had a staff of 25 to do quality control and administration; now she was on her own with a tight budget and three of her children—two of whom lived on the East Coast.

First Published November 9, 2011

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