Overcoming & Defeating the Odds – Kelly LemoN

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In this week’s episode, we have Kelly Lemon, a one-armed wedding and elopement photographer based in PNW. Her story has inspired thousands of people and gave a big reason for everyone else not to give up. She is the epitome of dedication and hard work. The car accident she was in when she was 12 years old has transformed her life in many ways than one. A huge part of her body was paralyzed. She survived and tried living with only one hand.

Listen in and discover how Kelly managed to face all these challenges and come out stronger, bolder, and definitely a winner!

Kelly’s website: https://kellylemonphotography.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kellylemon/

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/kellylemonphotography/_created/

Katie Brinkley 0:02

Hi friends I’m Katie Brinkley and you’re listening to Rocky Mountain marketing. This podcast is all about helping Colorado based small business owners, entrepreneurs, realtors and professionals discover the strategies and systems that take their marketing to all new heights. Let’s dive into today’s episode. Welcome back to Rocky Mountain Marketing. Today I’m joined by Kelly lemon Kelly is a p NW and Colorado based one armed wedding and elopement photographer, adventure seeker and chocolate chip cookie connoisseur. She is the photographer the adventurous couples seeking an intimate wedding in a way that honors their story. Over the last 11 years in the industry, her wedding and elopement photographs have been published in a news style me pretty the not magazine 100 layer cake and Seattle bride magazine. Kelly has overcome the stigma that photography is only for two armed able bodied people to photographed a wedding in 2018 with no functioning arms and is thankful to have her left arm back, and wants to empower business owners to strive and deliver an incredible experience for her clients, even in the midst of incredible adversity. Kelly, I am so excited to have you on the show today. You’re located here, right in Colorado, actually just up in the mountains up in Vail and you have point the story. Thank you so much for joining me.

Kelly Lemon 1:25

Thank you so much for having me. I’m really excited to be on the show. And just glad that we got to connect over on clubhouse and just to have this conversation. I’m really excited to be here. Yeah, and

Katie Brinkley 1:34

you know, clubhouse. I feel like I say this every week. But it is continuing to just present fantastic opportunities to meet people that you might have never had the opportunity to meet in real life. So if you’re still on the fence on clubhouse, I gotta tell you to jump off and jump right in, because it really is allowing me to meet some incredible people. And Kelly, you are one of them. What a story. So I mean, I’d love for our listeners to get to know you just a little bit. So tell us a little bit about life growing up, and then we can move into how you ended up being a photographer and a one on one photographer. So tell us a little bit about your backstory.

Kelly Lemon 2:09

Yeah, so I was kind of raised in Vail, Colorado, and that was definitely kind of my heart and soul. Like I love the mountains. I love snowboarding like that whole lifestyle was something that was just kind of like that’s where I am when I’m in my element. And so growing up that was my life, like just living in Colorado and I think a big part of my journey, which we’ll kind of get more into was this pivotal life change that happens my family in this car accident and we’ll kind of get into that in a second. But yeah, so now I think we you know, I moved back to Vail this year and it’s exciting to be back. I was in Pacific Northwest for the last seven years and my husband and I are back here and my daughter is 15 months old and we are just excited to be back in the mountains.

Katie Brinkley 2:52

I’m a Denver native Colorado native but Denver area native also and I agree I feel like a lot of us think about leaving or leaving a little bit but we always come back because Colorado is such an awesome place to call home. And bale What a great place to be able to call home to I frequently snowboard in steamboat, I hit up Copper Mountain a lot. It’s I’m right there with you with the outdoor snowmobiling, snowboarding lifestyle hiking in the summer. So welcome back to Colorado. But I want to get back to you a little bit on on your career journey because you were in Seattle for a bit, you know, take us through your career journey and how you ended up deciding to open up your own business and become a photographer.

Kelly Lemon 3:32

Yeah, so my journey starts kind of with this pivotal moment, like I mentioned early on in my life, when I was 12, I was in a near fatal car accident, my whole family was in the car, we were road tripping across the country, and my brother fell asleep at the wheel. And it was one of those moments where, you know, you kind of see your whole life flash before you and just prior to that I had just taken off my seatbelt and told my sister like oh, well just relax for a little bit. And then we’ll put the seatbelt back on. You know, once we stopped for breakfast, and 10 minutes later, we were in this accident. So I actually went through the window, my head went to the side window, the frame of the car, caught my body. And then when my body finally got out of the car, the car ended up rolling over me and kept going. So it’s just a complete miracle that I am alive and here to tell you about it. But as a result of that accident, it actually paralyzed a fourth of my body. So my upper extremt mostly my right arm, so my chest and my back, and my right arm all the way down to my pinkie. And so I think the beginning was just adapting to life with one arm. And I had always I have that cheesy story in terms of like, I’ve just loved photography since I was a kid and was always interested in people and the stories that they have and that was where I was gravitating like much more towards people more than like landscapes I always wanted to put people in the landscape. I was really interested in seeing that the correlation together. So you know after the accident, it was just learning to do life with one arm like I mentioned, and I was right handed before so also Learning to do life with my left hand and I was definitely not not ambidextrous at all. So that was a journey. But But yeah, so then basically from there I was went to a photography class and I said, like, Hey, I know this will be different for me, it’s a film class, but I’m willing to try and, and they basically said, my teacher just couldn’t look past her limiting belief. And she was like, you know, I’m really sorry, but photography is actually a two armed art. And I’m not going to let you join the class. And she just shut it down. She just said, No, like, you can’t join this class. And, and I don’t think that would happen today. But I was

Katie Brinkley 5:33

actually just thinking that I was like, me and Kelly I, How old is she? Cuz she, I mean, Kelly, you You look like you’re, you’re in your early 20s here. And so I’m like, I can’t believe this. This would happen in this day and age that anyone would say anything like that. That just breaks my heart. True. I

Kelly Lemon 5:51

mean, this was this was like 20, almost 20 years ago. So yeah, the accident happened. I’m like, 30, I’m 33. And the accident happened when I was 12. And then this whole dynamic was like when I was like, 14, maybe like 15. So yeah, so it was a while ago. But yeah, so then I didn’t join that class, but didn’t want to allow this person’s limiting belief to be my story. So that’s not my story, I’m going to show them that this is not true. I believe I can do this. And so I joined the next class the next semester, and it was this really awesome teacher. And she was like, Sure, come on in. And I learned to roll film with my feet. So I would use my feet to roll film in the darkroom. And so switching to digital, definitely made things a little easier. But yeah, so that was kind of the journey, when beginning was just this, like, kind of overcoming these different hurdles. And these boundaries and realizing like, Oh, my gosh, I can do this. And I think that that just really gave me that perspective. Like that event in my life shifted my perspective, it allowed me to push towards things, because I really believed like, okay, I was getting a second chance of life, and I’m going to give it everything I have. And I kind of did that in every area of my life. And so when I went to college, I just thought photography initially was going to be a side job. And then I like went to this conference and met this guy, and he was looking at my work. And he was like, at the end of conversation, I was like, 18 Super newbie. And he was like, okay, so let me get this straight. You spent all your time doing photography, you spend all your money on equipment, you’re only 18. And these are your raw, unedited images. Remind me again, why this, you don’t think that should be your full time career. And I think just having someone speaks so boldly, and seeing that potential in me, I just was like, Oh my gosh, I never really had considered that I would start my own company. And you know, and I was only 18 at the time. And then he walked out on stage at the next speaking event. And it was introduced as the photo editor of the New York Times. So I was like, oh, wow, like this person really has experienced. So I think that was the kind of one of the pivotal moments for me, like someone who’s established, sees something in me and I was 18 year old. So I was like, Okay, I’m gonna give it everything I got, I’m gonna switch my degree. And after I graduated in 2010, is when I started my company, and I’ve been doing it for 11 years

Katie Brinkley 8:06

since. Wow, what an incredible story. And you know, like I said, I feel like it’s been a horrible experience the first time around with your photography teacher, but I’m so proud that somebody like you said, the editor of the photographer, a New York Times Insider, saw what you could do and just believed in you. And sometimes it’s really all that it takes us to have somebody say like, why, why aren’t you going after this? Why don’t you do what you’re passionate about you? You are really good at it. So what an awesome story Kelly and you know, your your story continues? Because, yeah, you you went through, you changed your degree. You’re in Seattle, you’re taking pictures, but then there’s more to the story to about when you lost the use of both your eyes. Can you talk to us a little bit about that for a bit?

Kelly Lemon 8:55

Yeah, so I’ve kind of had this like crazy health journey and lots of ups and downs. And I actually lost view. So my left arm once in 22,008, because it was just a matter of a surgery that went wrong. And eventually it came back. So I it was something I had experienced once before. But then in 2018, I was fully functioning, my left arm was functioning great. And then I had shot four sessions back to back full day of photography. And then that night, I had a lot of pain in my neck that was a little bit unusual. And I went to my chiropractor and kind of was like, Hey, this is happening. And it was it was really inflamed and they didn’t really know what’s going on. And I started losing some fine motor skills and started losing feeling pretty rapidly. Whereby, you know, I was shooting totally normal by on Sunday, and by Wednesday, I couldn’t lift a two pound weight, and then come Friday and I’m going to all these different specialists and trying to figure out what’s going on. Just going to my chiropractor, and then by Friday, I was driving home from the doctor and no one could figure out what’s going on and my left arm fell off the wheel while I was driving. And I had to like navigate the wheel. Thankfully, it wasn’t too far from home with my legs and my knees and get the car off the road. And at that point, I had lost like 95% of the mobility in my left arm. And it had happened, like within a week, because it just went from like full capacity to not being able to lift or use my arm at all. And he just was not responding to the brain. So yeah, it was a pretty scary time. Initially, they thought it was a brain tumor, and then they realized that was true. And then they kind of realized it was very, very rare, rare, rare syndrome, where inflammation attacks nerves and just cuts off your circulation to the brain. And it normally takes a limb that normally will take an upper extremity, and it just happened to take my left arm. And it was just something that they were like, this doesn’t make any sense, because it happens usually to people who don’t use their limbs, and you use your left arm more than anyone else, like anyone else, because that’s the only arm you have. So they were like, We don’t really understand why this is happening. So the prognosis at that time, I saw the top specialists, you know, in Seattle, and he was like, I’ve only seen 10 cases in my life, every single one of those cases, it took a year to two years to recover. So I think that you need to prepare that you’re not going to have your left arm for the rest of this year. And which would mean I’d have no arms for the rest of the year. And I was it was like April, so I’m about to start my like busy waiting season. And my study specialists are saying like, you’re not gonna have any arms for a long time. And I think you need to prepare for that. So Wow,

Katie Brinkley 11:31

yeah, what a hurdle that you’d have to overcome here. before you’re getting ready to go out and do it. Your job is taking photos. So what happened next? How were you able to overcome not being having no arms when you had a wedding shoot coming up? Yeah, so

Kelly Lemon 11:49

I think it was one of those times where I was like, Okay, I had to weigh all the different options as a business owner, like how am I going to best take care of my couples, while all being in the midst of like my own crisis, like I’m in the midst of like, ER visits and hospital, testings and MRIs, and all these things. So how can I make sure I’m delivering an experience? For my couple, it’s positive, and how do I talk to my couples about this, and so I really need to make sure I had a solution. And so that was one thing that was really important to me. And so I realized, okay, I know my settings, and my gear inside and out, if someone can help me carry the weight of the camera, and I can have the camera shoot in live view, where I see the frame in the back, and I just tell them like f stop aperture settings, ISO, like every single detail manually, then I could direct the couple without my arms. And then I just need a professional photographer to be holding the camera and they would their job would simply be to click the shutter. And before the before we kind of start each section, I would say you know, tell them composition, I want like a vertical and I want a lot of natural space and negative space here. And thankfully, the reason why it worked was I worked for with a photographer that worked for me for three years. And so she had known my style, she was my second shooter, but I was like I need to test this. So we went out and we went I selected two couples that were my past couples because I wanted them to be able to compare the experience to what it was like shooting with me from their own wedding. So I could kind of get the feedback if it felt different. And we shot, we did a set couple different sessions. And I had two fingers that were sort of working. So I was able to edit. And so then Okay, the direction, the energy, the composition, the settings, they were all mine, and then the editing was mine. And so then the images look like mine because they were and so we realized, okay, we can do this. And so when we communicate with my couples, that was the key part was how do I tell them that I lost my only arm? You know, like, how do we start this conversation? And that was something I think that really kind of led to this journey of how do we empower business owners but basically to finish the story by three weeks later, went to California photograph this wedding 30 is a 13 hour wedding, it’s really long wedding. The couple was amazing. We do we did it. I’m so proud of the images that we got. And thankfully by God’s grace, I had this feeling that I was going to recover quicker. And I actually told my doctor like I’m going to be your first two months, I’m going to recover faster. And he was like well I’ve never seen that before but positivity is good you know and and thankfully it all started March 25. And by May 25. I walked into his office and gave him a high five and said like I’m your first two months or and it still took a couple weeks to get a little more strength to be able to carry my equipment but I had this also like I’m someone of faith and I believe that I believe there was a reason I had a really oddly gap in my season like all through May and June no one booked like no one booked after that one may wedding I had like a six week gap that was very odd. And that was the exact amount of time that I recovered and by the first full wedding where I was like every single weekend. My I was strong enough to carry my equipment again. And it just really worked out beautifully and But the comp, but what I learned from that whole experience is I still walked away with a five star review and a great experience and a good delivery. But there was so much opportunity where things could have gone wrong just simply by how we communicate with our clients.

Katie Brinkley 15:14

Well, Kelly, I believe, too, that everything does happen for a reason. And that is so crazy that you had that six week gap there. But man talk about the stars being in alignment and stuff for you to you found a backup solution, but it ended up working out okay, I’m so glad to hear that you have the use of your your left arm again. And you know, it was just that that six week gap, but only two months without it. It’s still I’m sure through you for a giant loop bond. Okay, is this going to be my business from now on? Is this how it’s going to be? So you know, I think that that is one thing to add that I love about your story is that even though you have one arm, there have been doubters that said, No, you can’t do photography, but you’ve done it anyways. And this is your main business. For those people who might be listening right now that, you know, maybe they haven’t had to face the adversity that you have. But there are people doubting them, what would be the best piece of advice that you’d want them to have, as they start their new business journey,

Kelly Lemon 16:13

I would say you know, you really have to come back to what your purpose is, you know, I think your purpose is combining your God given talents and talents that you really are within you, and sharing love with the world. And if those two things are kind of a part of your business, then have so much potluck have so much peace in knowing you are going in the right direction, because you are sharing love with the world with your talent. And if someone can’t see that, then like you have to allow that to just, like bounce off, because that’s their own limiting belief. And you have to not allow other doubts to like define your story. And I think that that’s such a big part of my journey. And I think the thing that I want to make sure that business owners are walking away with is that, you know, with COVID, we’ve had so many opportunities to have hard conversations with clients. And I think I just want to give a couple practical tips on how to do that. Here’s the thing, when I emailed my client, to say, hey, by the way, two weeks before your wedding, I don’t like your photographer doesn’t have any arms. So I could have gone into that. But this is how I started the email, I said, Hey, I just want to let you know I have some good news, we’re gonna have three full time wedding photographers at no additional expense at your wedding. So started off like super positive. And I just said, I’m having some weakness in my arm. And I would love to have an additional photographer there to help me carry the equipment. So I can give 110%. And I just wanted to let you know. And then the next thing was, by the way, I already photographed a couple different sessions with this method. Here’s some links and examples. So then there’s like those examples there and then said, and then I asked my client for review of the experience. So then there was social proof. And so then after that, it was like, okay, you know, my client was able to say that it was a great experience, it actually didn’t feel any different. It just felt like she had a second shooter. And then after that, like I’m open to answer questions, and then said, you know, if you are more curious about what’s going on, here are a few details. They think it’s a syndrome, they’re not really sure what’s happening. But you know, if you want to talk more about it, let me know. So the reason why I bring that up is because it’s important to do these things. You got to start with something positive, start with something positive that can come from this. And also don’t be overdramatic, I think sometimes it’s been zoners, we want our couples to understand why something has to change, or why what we’re going through, so we embellish, and I could have said, Oh my gosh, I lost my only arm and now I have no arms. You know, it’s like, it’s like, there’s no reason to be overdramatic, like we just need to share the information that’s important, but also be very forthcoming with whatever questions you think they might have. So think of put yourself in their shoes, like if they heard, okay, my photographer has no arms, then they’re going to be thinking, can she do her job? Am I gonna get images that look like hers? Like, is this gonna feel weird? Like, you know, they’re gonna be thinking all these different questions. So come to them with solutions first. So bring the solution, you know, bring the examples then have if you can bring social proof or someone else can vouch that this is also a good solution, kind of just structure your email with positivity, first solutions. And then at the end, if you need to kind of Express like, whatever is happening, then you can do that. But keep it concise, because there’s no reason to kind of just be overdramatic, and how we communicate with them. And I think those tips can really help because as you practice that, if there’s times where you sometimes have to have these conversations on the fly, if something happens on a wedding day or something happens, you know, within your business, and you’re on the phone and something happens, you start rehearsing that, that method, okay, start with positivity. Take a breath. Don’t be dramatic. What’s my solution? Where’s my social proof? How can I calm their nerves and how can I take care of them, even if it’s something that’s really

Katie Brinkley 19:51

stressful? That is fantastic, Kelly, I think that that is something to where, you know, you could have looked at it and said, Well, great. Now Now what But you came at all of your current clients with a solution. And you positioned it as Hey, look what I’ve done for you, no cost to you, when you absolutely like you said could have just gone at them and said, well, you’re you’ve talked for the last both their arms. So I don’t know what’s going to be the next step. I mean, you came to them with a solution. So I absolutely love that. I do want to ask you to just a couple more questions about being a business owner. If there is anything that you would have done differently, before starting your own business, is there anything that you would have changed on your career journey to starting your business?

Kelly Lemon 20:37

Honestly, I would say two different things. I would say a lot of business owners that are in the creative fields, they focus so much energy and education on the creative side of it. I think that if I would go back in time, instead of like, for example, my degree was in photography, I would have studied business, I would have studied marketing. And I think that had really, for myself, I wish I would have invested earlier on business courses more than photography courses, because that’s really going to be the game changer. And you can obviously still invest in whatever whatever creative field you’re in. But for me, that was the thing I wish I would have done earlier. And the second thing, I just think I would have, I wish I would have embraced my story. Earlier, I was told early on that I should hide my story, because it is going to scare people, it’s going to scare clients, you just got to like kind of dumb it down, kind of like quiet it Don’t let people know you’re a one on one arm photographer. Like they’ll figure it out. But like, don’t let it be something that people know about you. And that was the worst advice because that’s a part of my story. And it’s something that my couples are excited to be a part of. They’re excited to be a part of a business that’s overcoming and defeating the odds. And I think each business owner that’s listening, you have your own story. And so don’t let anyone tell you that your story is not enough. Like is your your story should be quieted. You know, I think that we that’s what makes our own businesses so unique. And I think that’s something that we should embrace. And I think as an early business owner, sometimes it’s scary to do that.

Katie Brinkley 22:06

Oh, Kelly, this has been such a fantastic conversation and I love that you’re just up the hill from me here. I’d love to meet you in real life someday because your story really is remarkable. And I think that you’ve overcome a lot and I’m so glad that clubhouse introduced us to one another. Thank you so much for coming on the show today. If there is anyone that’s listening right now and they’re like, I want to work with Kelly, she is my people. What is the best way for them to find you online?

Kelly Lemon 22:35

Yes, well first of all, thank you so much for having me and I would love to connect with your listeners if you guys have questions I’m very accessible so please feel free to DM me on Instagram is where I’m probably most active. It’s just simply at Kelly lemon for Kelly lemon photography calm or same thing at Kelly lemon on clubhouse they’re all the same. So yeah, come getting my DMS let’s talk I would love to just meet your meet your audience and meet other business owners so please feel free to reach out.

Katie Brinkley 23:01

I absolutely love it and Kelly just one quick follow up. Do you specialize in taking photography and elopement pictures just in the mountains? Or will you make the trek down here to Denver or were you will you travel to just about anywhere?

Kelly Lemon 23:16

I do travel? Yes So I right now I’m based in anywhere in Colorado as well as Pacific Northwest but I have many weddings that are out of country as well as all over the US so yeah, so I am thankful that I can travel with my job and and yeah, so it’s mostly in the Pacific Northwest and Colorado but

Katie Brinkley 23:34

I love camera. The camera will travel right? Yep,

Kelly Lemon 23:38

hats camera will travel.

Katie Brinkley 23:40

Awesome. Oh, thank you again so much for coming on the show today.

Kelly Lemon 23:44

Thank you so much for having me.

Katie Brinkley 23:47

Thanks so much for listening to this episode of Rocky Mountain marketing. As always, I’d love to hear from you. You can visit my website at www.nextstepsocialcommunications.com connect with me on LinkedIn or check me out on Instagram. Let’s keep taking your marketing to new heights.