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Denice Reich

It’s Never Too Late to Live Your Life Forward And Understand It Backward

When Denice Reich was at the height of her flourishing real estate career, she had matchbooks made up to pass out to potential clients. “If Denice can’t sell your house,” they said, “you might as well burn it down.” She was that confident. Denice knew she could do just about anything when she set her mind to it; she had a lifetime of proof to back her up.

Denice, who is now 80 but doesn’t look it, was born in Denver, the youngest of four siblings. When Denice was a small child, the family began splitting their time in Aspen, at the time still a sleepy, hardscrabble place. From the outside, life in their tight-knit community looked pretty perfect. Denice was popular in school—a cheerleader and Homecoming Queen—but that polished exterior concealed a much darker reality inside. Denice had a secret; she was being sexually abused, first by her mother and later by a brother. It was a secret she kept buried until it forced its way to the surface, leading to a suicide attempt at the age of 16. Denice got in her Volkswagen Beetle and floored it, crashing into an abutment at top speed. She survived, waking in the hospital – to her absolute despair – to find that not only had she lived, but that she had also suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

Slowly, she recovered from her injuries, though her brain wouldn’t be the same again. School, which had never been her strong suit, became even more of a challenge. Denice fought through it and completed her college degree, later becoming a stewardess for Pan Am—a highly sought after and glamorous job in those days—which allowed her to see the world. She was having the time of her life, she says, when life took a sudden turn. She was participating in a promotional soccer match—Pan Am flight attendants vs Playboy bunnies—when she suffered another head injury. The previous TBI had left her vulnerable and the impact was severe; she woke up three months later in a mental institution, covered in her own filth and surrounded by the screams of other patients. It could have been a life sentence and in those days often was, but Denice’s father believed in her and was able to secure her release.

Once she was back in Denver, Denice married a doctor who had been pursuing her. She had a child, but complications during pregnancy made it impossible to become pregnant again. Denice went on to adopt three children, building the family she wanted in a different way despite the challenges of her home life. Her husband, a man she had taken to referring to as Prince of Darkness because of his outward charm and private cruelty, was not someone she could rely on, so yet again, she found another way: a career in real estate.

It took Denice five tries to pass her real estate licensing exam–that TBI coming back to haunt her—but she persevered and did it, going on to become one of the 500 most powerful women in real estate and Denver’s top selling agent five years in a row.

In the midst of that success, Denice was dealt a stunning blow. She had left her youngest child, still an infant, in the care of a nanny overnight. She woke up in the middle of the night to the nanny’s screams that the baby was dead. She rushed him to the hospital, where she learned the nanny had poisoned the baby with a lethal dose of prescription medicine. It was a miracle that he survived.

Denice was aghast to discover that in Colorado, there were no background checks for child care providers. You needed a license to cut hair, or be a beekeeper, but to watch children…there was nothing. Joining forces with two other mothers whose children had suffered grave abuse at the hands of their unlicensed caregivers, she set about advocating for change. The women brought national attention to the issue, appearing on syndicated talk shows, including Oprah Winfrey and 48 Hours. Thanks in large part to their activism, there are now mandatory background checks for child care workers in Colorado, keeping innocent children from becoming easy prey.

There would be more challenges to come. Denice navigated a bitter nine-year divorce and survived a horrific hot air balloon accident, barely escaping with her life, as well as uterine cancer and her daughter’s brain tumor. Denice faced it all with her characteristic chutzpah and humor, simply refusing to let the past dictate her future. Today, Denice is healthy, happy, and in a stable, loving relationship. She is passionate about sharing her story to encourage others to be the hero in their own lives, just as she has been in hers.

Her message is this: We all experience failure and life will never go according to plan. What matters is what you do about it. Denice, who has never defined herself by other people or situations, knows all too well that life is not a fairy tale. We need to learn to save ourselves.

It’s never too late to live life forward and understand it backwards.

To learn more about Denice, check out her book, Fight Back: Be Your Own Hero, available on Amazon.