2022 Stories of Survival


Reviewed by Jennifer Nelson

For 2022, we had another batch of fantastic submissions to our annual book review issue. Four amazing stories of survival, grit and determination lead this year’s list of favorite books reviewed for you by Colorado Country Life.


Soles of a Survivor

By Nhi Aronheim

This true story by Nhi Aronheim is one of survival, pure determination and grit. At age 5, she went into the Vietnamese markets to sell goods so her family could have a little food. Her small home featured a hole in the floor over a river as the toilet, and her family was in constant fear of the frequent raids by govern­ment officials who took what little Nhi’s family had accumulated.

In desperation for a better life, Nhi’s mother sent 12-year-old Nhi with a group of adults she did not know through a treacherous jungle to escape Vietnam. Her harrowing journey continued in Thailand, before she eventually made it to the United States as a refugee. Each step of the way was fraught with trials.

Once in the U.S., life was better but still not what Nhi’s mother had hoped for her child. Nhi wondered if she would ever have the life she dreamed.

Now, many years later, Nhi, a Mountain Parks Electric consumer-member with a home in Winter Park, chronicles her incred­ible story and how she is finally in a place she only imagined in her dreams so long ago. She shares the depths of her soul as she recounts her life, her loves, her losses and the many lessons she learned along the way.

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The Reluctant Ninja

By Cheryl L. Ilov

By her mid-40s, Cheryl L. Ilov is a seasoned athlete, well versed in ballet dance, and a capable physical therapist. But aspects of her personal life are a struggle after a traumatic event triggers PTSD and threatens to ruin her life. Her longtime acupuncturist keeps mentioning martial arts, and how it has transformed his life and many others. But Cheryl ignores his pleas to give it a try—why would she ever want to learn how to fight someone? She prefers the strong but graceful movements of ballet.

But as her PTSD worsens and her attempts to combat it fail—not to mention her acupuncturist badgering to try the art—Cheryl finally gives in and views a class. She is horrified to see the men literally throwing each other to the ground and tells herself she’ll never go back. But something keeps nagging at her and she returns, saying she’ll give it a try for a few months, learn a few techniques to gain her confidence back and then move on with her life. But more than a decade and many tests and belts later, Cheryl has become a bona fide warrior queen—and has become her sensei’s first female black belt.

In this remarkable true story, Cheryl offers an incredible look into the world of martial arts, from her first moments on the mat at her Colorado dojo, through struggle and triumph, fear and perseverance, to her retirement from her formal training at age 61.

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By Ellen Weir Casey

The mother of Colorado’s first test tube baby had no idea her agonizing four-year infertility journey would lead to such a momentous result. She was determined that she and her husband would have a child. But Ellen Weir Casey never imagined that her daughter would be born after in vitro fertilization. In 1982, she had only heard of three other women in the world who had given birth following IVF. The new technology was virtually unpublished, and it was also still a time when infertility was a silent burden to bear, not discussed or acknowledged. 

So when Ellen is faced with loss after loss while trying to become a mother, she forges ahead, researching in the library via microfiche, mailing letters and cold-calling doctors she thinks might be able to help. Along the way, she promises herself and God that she would share their story everywhere they could, if only they could have a baby. 

Unstoppable is the story of a young woman who finds herself in unprecedented territory but who is unwilling to give in to the unknown or the terror that seems to beckon from every roadblock she encounters. Both about science and unbending courage, this memoir is a must read for those experiencing infertility (and their extended families) but also for anyone interested in the incredible scientific advances and the bravery of a woman in crisis.

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Uphill Both Ways

By Andrea Lani

Andrea Lani’s life in Maine started to feel unbearable. She wakes every morning hurrying to get the kids off to school, rushing to her uninspiring job, coming home to wrangle the kids to do homework, go to activities and get to bed—then she does it all over again while living in a locale that was far from her beloved Rockies.

Her mantra becomes “I hate my life” and she knows something needs to change. So, she does what all mothers in her situation would do, right? She decides to take her family on a nearly 500-mile backpacking trip through the Colorado wilderness.

After convincing her husband and pre-teen and teenage sons, and what seems like endless planning, Andrea’s family of five embarks on a six-week summer trek along the Colorado Trail. Laden with backpacks that are trimmed to absolute essentials, the Lani family sets out from Roxborough State Park south of Denver and heads toward Durango across southern Colorado.

The journey carries a lot of expectations for Andrea—she hopes for an epiphany about her life, a revelation about how to slow time down, for her family to grow closer and to restore her own joy. Yet not even halfway through her first day on the hike she is miserable. How would she cope through the next 489 miles?

In Uphill Both Ways, Andrea uses her memoir to bring the reader on a nearly day-by-day journey of not only the physical aspect of her family’s trip, but also her emotional, mental and spiritual journey. From stories about eating cold oatmeal every morning, to encountering cows on the trail, to dangerous thunderstorms and beautiful sunsets, Andrea weaves the experience with her memories of her and her husband’s first journey down the trail 20 years prior as well as interesting history of the area, trail information and the practicalities of how one hikes with teenage boys having only the items on their backs.

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Jennifer Nelson, once the editorial assistant at CCL, loves nothing more than curling up with a good book. She treasures sharing her love of reading with her children in their Texas home.