Sarah Williams: The power of positive

Ana Macedo in conversation with Chilliwack's Sarah Williams.

When you look at any circumstance in your life, it is actually neutral. How you choose to react to those circumstances is the difference between a positive or negative reaction. Some choose to live with inner peace while others, for whatever reason, gravitate to inner unrest. When you happen to be around those who consciously or unconsciously choose to live in negativity, you feel absolutely drained. Then there are those who choose to rise above it all and who look for the good and positive aspects of their life. This is enriching and life-giving not only for them but for those around them. This is Sarah Williams, a vivacious, positive and energizing woman! After a few moments with Sarah, I not only felt as if I’d known her my entire life but I felt ready to conquer the world.

Sarah actually arrived in the world prematurely. “My parents were on vacation in Tofino at the time and I decided to make my entrance a month early. I guess I couldn’t wait to come into the world,” she laughed.

Growing up in Chilliwack, Sarah was involved in Highland dance for many years and she was what you’d call your typical girlie girl. “I always enjoyed shopping and dressing up,” she acknowledged.

While a student at Sardis Senior Secondary, she was quite social but was attracted to accounting and the business classes. “I also enjoyed sewing and fashion-type classes,” she said. Upon graduation, she had every intention of going into law or accounting but instead headed off to Okanagan University College in Kelowna to study business administration. After two years, she received her diploma and those that knew her best were encouraging her to put in another two years to finish off her degree. ”I didn’t want to do that. I may have been naïve at the time but I wanted to get at it now! I was excited and wanted to open up my own business; something that I’d long dreamed about. I didn’t think of the negatives. I jumped in with both feet and took a risk and made my business work by sheer hard work, determination and enthusiasm,” she said.

Her first hurdle was to get a bank interested in loaning her money. Fortunately, First Heritage (Envision) came through and in 2005, Sarah started living out her dream by opening up BELLA Clothing Boutique in Kelowna. “It’s an Italian name that means beautiful. I have no Italian in my background but I just loved the name. After all, I wanted ladies to feel good and beautiful in the clothes,” she enthused. Upon reflection, Sarah wouldn’t have done things any other way except that she wouldn’t have started off with quite as much space. “I will say that 2,000 square feet was a bit too much space and hard to fill, although I made it work.” She also worked too hard for far too long without any help. For 4 years Sarah worked by herself 6 days a week. “It was good in that I got to know my business and my clients but I wouldn’t recommend it,” she said.

Then 4 years ago, at the age of 26 and on the day of her sister’s wedding, the unthinkable happened. Sarah woke up and just didn’t feel right. She felt pins and needles down her right side. She decided to take a shower, thinking that perhaps the symptoms would subside but after getting out of the shower, they hadn’t gone away. Rather, they were intensifying. “My older sister was in med school and I began telling her that I felt awkward and while we were talking, I guess I began slurring my words. We immediately took a taxi to the hospital and by the time that I got there, I couldn’t walk. They did an MRI right away but thought that it was MS (Multiple Sclerosis) because there is a history of the disease in the family. There was an older doctor who kept saying that he thought it was a stroke but no one would listen to him because I was so young,” she explained. Three months later, it was confirmed that Sarah did have a mini-stroke, the result of thick blood. “I was put on blood thinners which I will be on for the rest of my life and the conditions were reversed although to this day I do have some numbness in my right arm and when I’m overtired, I will slur my words. My mom always knows when I’m tired,” she chuckled.

For Sarah, this was a real wake up call. “Working long, long hours just isn’t worth it. I do love what I do but there has to be balance. I drink a lot of water; I eat right, exercise and don’t smoke anymore. You know, 1 in 3 women will have a heart attack or stroke and it doesn’t just happen to older women. Those are alarming stats and we have to change that!” she said. A few months ago, she was the Heart & Stroke Foundation’s keynote speaker at a Red Dress fundraiser in Kelowna to raise awareness about the importance of heart health.

Aside from owning her own business and giving back to her community, which she was encouraged to do from a young age, Sarah is also a sales rep for a couple of Canadian clothing designers, “Getting out of my own store and connecting with others right across Canada is important, it’s a wonderful opportunity and something that I love doing,” she said.

Sarah’s family is in Chilliwack and she has many friends here so what a better opportunity than to franchise your store in a community that you love. “I was approached by Kim McLandress to open up a Bella in Chilliwack. I had always wanted to franchise the brand and after working out all of the details, we proceeded. I’m really very excited and Kim will do a wonderful job. It was a really good fit. The store, which is called Bella Clothing Boutique, is located in Sardis Park and it appeals to women of all ages; from the young to the more mature. We have classic pieces but we also have unique and funky styles. Bella offers a full range,” she explained.

There is no doubt that Sarah Williams is an inspiration for anyone who dares to dream. She set a goal at a young age and through sheer determination and hard work made the dream a reality. It can also be said that she’s a poster child for someone, who in the face of adversity, pushes on, remains focused and positive and overcomes the negative to make a difference in the world.