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Food as Medicine

Persistence has always defined Jo Schaalman’s character, but never more so than after an accident left her with chronic pain that doctors said she’d suffer the rest of her life.

At Grinnell, Schaalman ’99 majored in biology, with a career as a doctor before her on a tidy path. Or so she thought. While leading a bike trip in 2004, Schaalman was hit by a truck going 70 miles per hour, breaking her back in seven different places.

Her injuries prevented her from working for close to a year. She went to more than 15 doctors that year, and was prescribed pain pills and antidepressants again and again. She was told she couldn’t have children, that she would be disabled for life. She became depressed and gained 40 pounds. But the doctors’ conclusions didn’t sit right with Schaalman. “Every time somebody told me I wasn’t going to get better, I would say, ‘I don’t believe you,’” she says.

Schaalman started finding some relief through yoga. Originally drawn to the practice as a form of exercise, now, limited by her injuries, she started to be intrigued by its more mental, meditative aspects. At the same time, Schaalman was struggling with the insecurity she felt about her weight gain. “I got really into weight loss, but in an unhealthy way,” she admits. Nothing worked. Having suffered from serious allergies as a child, Schaalman had some knowledge of how food can affect the body. “So after hitting my head for a while,” she says, “I thought, ‘There has to be a different way.’ I started to use food as medicine.”

In 2010, she and a friend put together a customized food plan for each of them. It included lots of veggies and “green” smoothies. It worked. Schaalman lost weight, her pain diminished, and her mood improved. Shortly thereafter, Schaalman started taking classes at the Nutrition Therapy Institute in Denver, where she received a master nutrition therapist certification. She also modified her career goals. She recalls telling her dad (Michael Schaalman ’70), “I’m going to go to the Jo Schaalman School of Medicine.”

The program she and her friend started has since grown to become a company called Conscious Cleanse, designed to eliminate allergens and reduce inflammation. Word of its success has spread, with 200–500 people now enrolling in each cleanse. A book the two women published about the cleanse in 2012 has sold more than 45,000 copies. Looking back, Schaalman says, “We didn’t mean to start a company or program. We just wanted to do something for ourselves.”

Schaalman, who lives in Boulder with her husband and 3-year-old daughter, says the accident was the best and worst thing that has ever happened to her. She still suffers from chronic pain, but it has decreased dramatically due to her adherence to the “cleanse-eating” lifestyle. On a scale of 1 to 10, she describes the pain as more of a 2 or 3 on a daily basis rather than the 8 or 9 that she was living with after the accident. She takes no medication.

And she’s glad she’s not a doctor. “I realized that being an entrepreneur and out of the system, I can call my own shots and make my own rules while still helping people like I always wanted to.”

From Hoops to God

As leader and two-time captain of the Grinnell men’s basketball team, Jack Taylor Jr. ’15 focused on winning games. These days, he’s focused on building his own church in order to win souls.

For most of his life, Taylor was devoted to hoops; the Wisconsin native achieved national acclaim in November 2012 when he scored 138 points — the most points scored in a single NCAA game — in a 179-104 Grinnell victory over Faith Baptist Bible. It was a triumph of the frenetic, high-scoring Grinnell System — the brainchild of then-head coach David Arseneault Sr

Taylor was interviewed by ESPN, appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live, threw out the first pitch at a Milwaukee Brewers game, and was praised by NBA stars. 

“I prayed a lot for humility after scoring 138 points,” admits Taylor, who discovered his faith in God when he was 19, after he blew out three ligaments and couldn’t play basketball for a year. “I realized (after the injury) I was living for a game instead of the God who made me.” He carried that faith to Grinnell, where sharing the gospel “was very unique, as you could imagine. We Grinnellians are smart, critical thinkers, and skeptical. Especially when it comes to religion or morality.”

His goal after graduating with a bachelor’s in biochemistry was to play pro ball overseas, so Taylor, who married high school sweetheart Christina Teeples in 2014, hired an agent, and went to a Las Vegas tournament to showcase his talents. But restrictive rules and the frustrating process of dealing with agents worked against him. And few coaches were willing to sign a 5-foot-10-inch guard. In late 2015, his hoops journey ended. 

“I was disappointed, but I wasn’t devastated,” says Taylor. “My identity and purpose is defined by God, not by my success on a basketball court.” 

That’s when he turned to ministry fulltime. In March 2016, he and Christina moved to Waterloo, Iowa, so Taylor could serve as ministry resident with Prairie Lakes Church. Every Tuesday evening, he and other leaders went to the University of Northern Iowa with sound equipment, banners, and a portable stage and lights to conduct church services for college students.

Though he loved campus ministry, the birth of the couple’s first child, Abigail, in August 2016 changed their plans. “We wanted to be closer to home, where Abigail could flourish near family and friends.” The three moved back home to Black River Falls, Wis., in October 2016.   

“I learned what I could from the residency, and now we’re on the slow march toward starting a church,” Taylor says. “I’m figuring out social media, marketing, and how to build trust and respect in the community. It’s similar to starting a small business.”  

As for basketball, Taylor concedes that he misses being part of a program. “I can’t watch too much basketball on TV so I purposely distance myself, for fear that I’ll get too consumed again. I make up for that by feeding my desires for ministry, for seeing people meet Jesus.”

In the end, says the enthusiastic Taylor, “I had an incredible amount of success and national media attention, yet it didn’t fulfill me. Basketball isn’t a god to be worshipped but a game to play and use as a tool to learn about yourself, to grow in character, and to enjoy.”