UT alumna and employee finds herself—and finds success—through ‘badass’ book

October 27th, 2017 Posted in Alumni Profiles

Sherry Stanfa-Stanley suits up as The University of Toledo’s Rocksy the mascot for a UT soccer game.

Sherry Stanfa-Stanley learned one or two things — or maybe 52 —after she set out on a journey at the age of 52 to tackle 52 new experiences outside of her comfort zone.

“I discovered the anticipation of facing our fears is almost always worse than the reality,” she says. “I learned things never, ever turn out as you would expect. And I also learned to laugh at myself. And boy, is that one a heck of a terrific survival tactic.”

Her year of misadventures, through what she called The 52/52 Project, is chronicled in her new book, “Finding My Badass Self: A Year of Truths and Dares.” The book, published in August by She Writes Press, has been categorized as part humor, part memoir and part inspiration.

Writing wasn’t a new arena for Stanfa-Stanley, who graduated from The University of Toledo in 1983 with a degree in communications education. She has written professionally for almost 35 years, the past 25 of them as the UT Foundation’s director of communication and fund stewardship. However, publishing a book, as well as facing the 52 ventures on her “Unbucket List,” was new territory.

During her mime performance at an outdoor mall in Newport, Ky., Stanfa-Stanley says she embraced her “weirdness.” “A few folks went out of their way to avoid me, while some of the passersby and I seemed to agree—in an unspoken understanding—that we’re all weird, really.”

Her exploits included going on a raid with the vice squad and SWAT team, babysitting quadruplets, spending 24 hours with nuns at a convent in Joliet, Ill., performing as a mime outside a shopping center in Newport, Ky., and crashing a wedding reception — where she accidentally caught the bride’s bouquet. That exploit was featured on the ABC news show, “20/20.”

Among the most frightening of her experiences was floating in an isolation tank. “Who knew I’d be claustrophobic?” she says. In addition, her ride-along with a Toledo Police officer, which unexpectedly culminated in a drug raid, left her hyperventilating. “I was the only one not wearing a bullet-proof vest,” she said. “Whatever happened to the stereotypical stop at a doughnut shop?”

She notes that her nude beach experience, one of her most personally awkward escapades, has proven to be one of the most popular stories among her readers. “I think this shows that people basically have a sadistic sense of humor,” she joked.

“Catching a Flight to Nowhere” was one of her favorite adventures. She packed (tucking a swimsuit but also a winter coat and boots into her suitcase) for an unknown destination on a winter day, drove up to the Detroit Metro Airport, and booked the next flight out — wherever it was headed. Through pure serendipity, she jetted off to Fort Myers, Fla.

While awaiting her racing experience at Toledo Speedway, Stanfa-Stanley says she watched the cars tear around the track. “I convinced myself it appeared almost less hazardous than a Detroit freeway.”

Another personal favorite was her Stranger Party, for which she invited a group of people she’d never met  — and who didn’t know each other  — to a dinner party at her house. While she anticipated an evening of awkward silence with a group of guests she might never care to see again, the experience resulted in a night of remarkable conversation and long-lasting friendships, she says. Four years later, the eight women continue to get together regularly.

Her project wouldn’t have been complete without a few adventures at her alma mater. She suited up as Rocksy the mascot for a UT soccer game, appeared as a guest on UT’s radio station WXUT, and faced the high-ropes course at the UT Student Recreation Center, which proved to be her least successful endeavor of them all. From a view 35 feet above the gym floor, Stanfa-Stanley watched as an athletic college student on the course slipped from a beam and dangled by her safety harness. “Out of all 52 of my endeavors, this proved to be the deal breaker.”

While much of Stanfa-Stanley’s writing evokes laughter, she also includes some thoughtful, “aha” moments. After that high ropes course failure, she wrote: “Perhaps acknowledging our limitations is an essential part of self-discovery. Maybe we learn just as much about life and about ourselves by discovering our weaknesses as well as our strengths. Maybe we succeed in growing even as we fail. Just maybe we get credit in life for simply showing up.”

Why this particular challenge at this time in her life? “My life had been the status quo for a couple of decades. I wasn’t in a rut; it was more of a crater. I felt the need to shake things up a bit,” she notes. “Attempting a true bucket list, consisting of things I actually wanted to do, didn’t seem challenging or life-changing enough. After traveling to Italy by myself, I realized there were probably a lot of other uncomfortable or difficult things I could attempt and hopefully accomplish by going outside of my comfort zone instead.”

Her debut book of frightfully fun escapades has received raves from book bloggers, including dearauthor.com, bloglovin.com and abookishabode.com, as well as positive reviews from trade journals, including Kirkus Reviews, Midwest Book Review and Foreword Reviews. In addition, Buzzfeed.com named the book one of five fall reads “guaranteed to make you laugh out loud.”

Sherry Stanfa-Stanley is the author of “Finding My Badass Self: A Year of Truths and Dares.”

Even a Los Angeles-based production company headed by a well-known actor/comedian inquired about film and TV rights. “Usually nothing comes of these requests; it’s happened to a few author friends,” Stanfa-Stanley says. “But a girl can dream.”

“Finding My Badass Self: A Year of Truths and Dares” is available at most Toledo-area bookstores, through online retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and by order at any bookstore.

For the latest on Stanfa-Stanley’s upcoming appearances across the country, check sherrystanfa-stanley.com, which also links to facebook.com/The52at52Project, where the witty writer has attracted more than 5,000 readers. Her upcoming appearances include Indianapolis; Lawrenceburg, Ky; Columbus; and Cleveland.

“Having my first published book out in the world at age 55 tells you it’s truly never too late to change your life,” Stanfa-Stanley says. “I’m hoping my stories might inspire others — or at least provide readers with some good laughs.”

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