I was fortunate to be raised by the gentlest and kindest woman I’ve ever known. I was an only child of a single mother who radiated grace and strength. She was everything to me, and I was everything to her. Though It was the two of us against the world, we made a great team.
I may have been an only child growing up in our New Jersey home, but our family was extended by the animals we kept. Not just a dog and a cat, but birds, bunnies, a tarantula, turtles, and even a pet squirrel. The most beautiful thing about my mother was her love. She adored all our animals equally and treated the cats with the same nurturing tenderness as the turtles. She loved me with all that she was, and she loved people – all people. The impact that she made on every life that she met was immeasurable. The love and the strength that my mother embodied are the forces that built me.
In 2016, after a routine gallbladder surgery, post-surgical complications led to the end of my mom’s young life. My world stopped at 20 years old. I was in between college semesters at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and came home over break to tend to my mom after her surgery. What I expected to be a winter break like every other, made up of quality time with my mom, my friends, and holiday joy, became the week that changed everything for me.
Several days after the surgery, there seemed to be complications. After a few calls to the doctor, my instincts told me something was not quite right. I took my mother to the emergency room and quickly learned that that would be my last few days with her in this life. Our team of two would soon become an army of one.
I spent the days that followed trying to wrap my head around the news. Life felt like it slowed down and sped up, simultaneously. I was soaking in my last days with my mom, preparing for my next semester of school, trying to understand the existential purpose of these events, and making all posthumous decisions on her behalf. I was twenty years old. I was in college. This wasn’t supposed to be my reality. Mom and I were supposed to do it all together, forever. But it was my reality and life changed before my eyes.
She took her last breath on January 19th, 2016, the first day of my spring semester at school. For the next week, I stayed home and surrounded myself with loved ones, so that I could make funeral arrangements and mourn the loss of my sweet mother.
What should have broken me, fueled me. It was during that week that a fire lit within me to expand into becoming all that I was created to be. With my mom now living in my heart, I went back to school and started my next semester, albeit a week late. I didn’t doubt my decision to go back to school or work because they gave me the routine my mind needed.
The college that I was attending was two hours away from my home in New Jersey. In the weeks and months that followed, I made the trip back home every weekend. The drive each way became moments of healing for me. The highway and the steering wheel became my confidant. The drive to and from school became my road to rising again.
During my healing, there was one significant moment that empowered what would become my future. One of my greatest childhood friends gave me the book, The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. Reading this book changed my entire perspective on the thoughts that were beginning to fill my mind. So many what if scenarios plagued my mind as I replayed the course of events that led to her passing. It was when I read the Power of Now that I opened my eyes to value the present moment. I decided that from that point forward, I would be the best that I could be in honor of my mother, and I would live out the rest of my life for her. My purpose became so much bigger than myself.
Mother’s Day 2017, I walked across the graduation stage at Rutgers University with high honors and a degree in Exercise Science and Sports Studies with a minor in Nutritional Sciences. My mom was a conqueror and I was too. I felt her presence in my heart more than ever as I stepped out into the world, ready to take on whatever life had in store for me.
I had originally intended to attend graduate school after finishing my undergrad, but after my life changed so dramatically, I made the decision to try a different route. I couldn’t afford to take out any more student loans and my personal life needed attention. After college, I used my knowledge in health and nutrition to become a personal trainer as well as an online health coach.
In my quest to honor my mom with my life, I found an unexpected path as an international model. Not long before her passing, my mom and I had been having a conversation about my desire to become a boxer. In typical mom fashion, she told me that I was too handsome, and I should become a model instead. Being a model hadn’t been a consideration of mine, but I happened to be in the right place at the right time. A friend of mine that I attended school with had been modeling for an agency, and I casually mentioned to him my conversation with my mom. One conversation led to another and before I knew it, I was doing runway shows and traveling to places like India for photo shoots. After my second show, Essence Magazine even featured me as one of their Male Models to Watch!
I often get asked why I don’t hold animosity towards my father for not being in my life. The way I see it, we are given a certain life to build us in all different ways. I don’t know what my home life would have been like if my father was around. There’s no telling if my mother would have been the woman that she was, or if I would have been raised to be the same man I am today. I don’t hold anger or bitterness in my heart. I want to encourage other young men without fathers in their life and empower the youth to become the greatest version of themselves, no matter their circumstances.
For a lot of people in my industry, success is what you see on the outside. But for me, it’s more than that. I believe success is to leave a positive and lasting impression on everyone that I meet, the same way my mom did. My story was given to me for a reason and I will use it to leave a legacy—for the two of us.
March 26, 2018
—This is the story of Justin Rice—
Justin is the founder of JRiceFit, an online fitness and nutrition coaching business. He graduated from Rutgers University with a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science and Sports Studies and a minor in Nutritional Sciences. Justin resides in New Jersey working as a personal trainer and mentor. He is an international model as well as the host of a new podcast, The Diary of the Come Up. Through all that Justin is and is working to achieve in life, he hopes to leave a positive impact on everyone that he reaches. Justin plans to share his story through the avenues of mentorship and motivational speaking.
This is the 40th story of Our Life Logs.
This story first touched our hearts on March 26, 2018.