I interviewed Valerie Azinge from My Digital Kitchen on March 6, shortly before COVID-19 and before George Floyd became a devastating symbol for Black Lives Matter. I remember the day so vividly. It was a windy, cold and stormy. We had been trying to set up the interview for a while, but things came up. I met Valerie at an event in November of 2019. I was struck by her candor and warmth. The moment that she told me that she had a cookbook coming out, I wanted to interview her – after all – what is more inspiring than a woman making her career dreams come true? How about a woman who not only does that, but literally comes back from a life changing car accident? When she briefly told me her story, I was riveted. You will be too.
When I got to her building, she was the same engaging person that I met several months before. It wasn’t a typical Q&A. She spoke, I listened and this is her story. She is our latest feature (and first two part) #WomenInspiringWomen.
Her Health Journey
I had high cholesterol and high insulin levels as a child. At 14, I started gaining weight. I had 10 pairs of jeans, and could only fit into one. Friends teased me, talking about how much weight that I had gained and said that I should take extra Phys-Ed. It was typical teenager struggles. At that point, I decided to find some discipline. It was before Google became a household word and I wasn’t sure what to do. I only knew the basics, like limiting calorie intact and exercise more. I limited myself to three small meals a day and then would go on the tread mill losing 15 pounds that summer. I thought that it wasn’t easy, but with the right discipline and the right mind set, you can accomplish anything that you want, especially with your body.
As I got older, I wanted to learn the proper way to take care of my health, including the right type of diet and exercise. I got a personal trainer to help her with exercise, including weight training and the proper cardio. A nutritionist drafted a diet plan for me. At the time, I had a lot of dietary restrictions that I put on myself because I didn’t know any better. I wouldn’t eat eggs, white bread or dairy. All I had was salmon, sweet potato and chick peas. There wasn’t a lot of variety on my meal plan. I didn’t think that it was a way to live and it wasn’t sustainable long term. I needed to find a way to still eat some of the things that I liked and have more variety in my diet. I started doing her research on everything that had to do with healthy food and healthy portions and found ways to make my diet more enjoyable.
My Digital Kitchen
I joined Instagram posting pictures of what I ate. I started getting some traction on the IG page and looked into other fitness enthusiasts that were doing a lot of diet and exercise content. That inspired me to dive more into that lifestyle. People enjoyed my photos and recipes and I ended up being promoted by several fitness accounts. Eventually, it turned into “My Digital Kitchen” because I figured that I have a knack for this. It allowed me to educate myself more, create more recipes and share stories of my progress. That led to “My Digital Kitchen,” the food blog.
I started getting questions from friends and other people who asked if I ever considered selling my products and I always insisted that it was just for fun. At the time, it was just for fun, I was working at a law firm as a personal injury law clerk. I come from a family where notable careers are acknowledged like being a lawyer or doctor. I realized that I wasn’t really happy doing in my role so I was literally looking for something else that I was good at. I tried other things without knowing that I was already doing something that I was good at. I always thought that my blog was just for fun.
I took a step back after I got fired from my job and realized that this was something that I’m good at and there is a market for it. You can actually help other people make better choices when it comes to sweets and desserts. I also had a problem with sugar and I was trying to limit my intake or substitute it for healthier sugars that have a lower carb content. I decided to register my business which is a dessert catering business, going that route while still doing the food blog and going around the city marketing myself. I did a few pop ups and was starting to get some traffic from that. It reinforced that there is a market for this type of business. I believe in firmly standing behind your product. If it’s something that I don’t like or I don’t believe in, then I’m not going to put it out there. Even though I may not have a large menu, the little menu has been tested many times, improvements have been made and its quality – I’m all about quality.
I was moving forward with the startup, getting the paperwork done, and having very good year. In 2018, I was doing a lot of marketing, getting traffic to my business and doing well. It wasn’t easy, I had some ups and downs but I was getting the hang of it.
In September of 2018, my friend was giving me a ride home from an event on his motorcycle. At first, I was hesitant, because I had never been on a motorcycle but I figured it was something I could check off my list of things that I had done. I had protective gear on – a helmet, a jacket – everything. We were literally ten minutes away from my apartment when a drunk driver veered into our lane and knocked us off the bike.
When they say your life flashes before your eyes, it literally did. We were thrown off in opposite directions. He flew 100 feet and I flew 20 feet and landed at the edge of the road. I heard the thud. The car was damaged – it was an awful scene. I tried to get up to run, but I couldn’t get up. My pelvis was completely shattered. My boots flew off my feet. Everything was broken. My left arm was completely fractured – I saw it hanging off and I was screaming for help. I couldn’t even cry, I was just screaming. A lady who lived in the area saw the accident and came to help me. She told me that I was very injured and that she needed to call 911.
Eventually the police and paramedics got there and I was taken to St. Michael’s Hospital. I had to have five surgeries and I still have one pending. I was in the hospital for two months and in rehab for another month. I made it home about ten days before Christmas.
The first feeling that I had was guilt because when I heard that my friend had passed away, I thought if only I had listened to my instincts and taken an UBER home, he would still be alive. His daughter wouldn’t have to remember her birthday as the night her dad died and I would also have been safe. It was a bit of guilt, blaming myself and also a bit of why me? I’m the person that is always so careful, I never take dangerous risks. Even when I have fun, it’s cautious. As an only child, I didn’t feel like I had any room to screw up because everything was on my shoulders. I had to wonder why this happened to me the one time that I decided to do something. I was wearing the proper gear; he was driving at a safe speed. We were very cautious and then this happened.
At the same time, I realized that since I’m still here, I need to fight. I fought really hard, and that’s why I’m here right now. When you fight hard, you find yourself taking the right steps to recover. Sometimes recovery happens more quickly when you don’t just give up. It wasn’t easy. It was the worst pain that I ever had in my life. I even told my Mom; I bought a new pair of jeans that I was wearing that evening. It was my first time wearing them. That was the best I felt. My body looked great, I was healthy and happy and then they had to cut off all my clothes because of the accident.
It’s been a difficult journey, but at the same time it’s shown me a lot of goodness in the world from my friends, to strangers to the hospital staff. It also teaches you about your own endurance, perseverance and the strength that you possess.
Part 2 of Valerie Azinge’s story will be up tomorrow. Her cookbook, 30-Minute Low Carb Dinners is on sale now.