HERO Update: Kathy Champion & Artist: MAKE & CO.


Her design (Best Damn Lemonade) shares her remarkable story of overcoming life's obstacles while maintaining a positive attitude by making the "best damn lemonade" you can when life gives you lemons. But that's just a snapshot of Kathy Champions' story, which has continued to be remarkable since she participated in the 2012 HERO[series] project. We caught up with "The Champ" as well as her Chicago-based artist partners, Make & Co, to see what they're up to and how they've been doing...

Since the project, where are you now? What are you doing?

Kathy Champion: I am still living in Florida helping other veterans learn to return to healthy lifestyles, and moving is living.

MAKE & Co: Having taken part with [HH] a couple years back, we have worked on a number of fun and exciting projects. Right after [HH] we jumped into a really large project with Baker Furniture, doing the creative direction for a Fall Sale promotional campaign which included an art installation and photo-shoot. This is one of our favorite projects of the past few years, check that out here. We also got the opportunity to work with Facebook, doing a table illustration as part of their massive F8 events. More recently we finished up a large branding project, that was almost a year in the making, which has been fun seeing pop up around Chicago (here is a little peek). Other fun projects have been murals for Dispensary 33 and New Era.

Looking back, in what ways has the HERO[series] project impacted you?

CHAMPION: That connecting with other vets in any capacity helps the healing process.

MAKE: The lasting impact has been respect and thankfulness of everyday getting to do something we love. And understanding that not everyone is so lucky. Also getting to not only hear Kathy's story but spend time with her, hearing her intimate details of what she went through, overcame and how she persevered - certainly left a lasting impact.

How did you and your veteran partner come up with the design? What was its inspiration and how did you end up with the final version?

CHAMPION: We brained stormed what I love now and how I viewed my life in Florida, my love of the sun and life, and how I survived 7 hits and still see the best in things.

MAKE: The design ultimately was inspired from one of Kathy's many upfront and enthusiastic statements, “When life gives you lemons, make the best damn lemonade you can make.” This was after many hours of conversation and really getting to know Kathy. The statement truly embodied her spirit and we distilled it down to a fun, upbeat illustration of an over-the-top glass of ice cold lemonade. We wrote up a bit about the process here.

What was the most memorable part of the project for you? What was the most challenging?

CHAMPION: Working with Abby and her hubby (Jesse). They took my vision and ran with it in a positive twist.

MAKE: Kathy, we will absolutely never forget her. The challenge was the process of getting comfortable with her, it takes a bit of opening up on both ends. For her it really must have been tough to relive those traumatic experiences for us.

What do you want veterans to gain from hearing their story? What would you want civilians and other creatives to gain from their story?

CHAMPION: That life is different and still wonderful to live to the fullest. We are champions.

MAKE: The thing we hope veterans and civilians alike gain from FHH and the stories that are told is how much we all respect, honor and want celebrate their commitment and sacrifice for our country.

What impact does your design have on you on a daily basis?

CHAMPION: I always think that I can make great things out of bad situations.

MAKE: The lasting impact will always be all of the veterans courage. The design we made is a nice memento and reminder of Kathy's beautiful outlook on life and her story.

What challenges do you face in your everyday life? What challenges have you overcome, and what enabled you to overcome them?

CHAMPION: Just learning to be safe with being blind. And finding ways to do everyday things like shopping and exercising. Asking for help.

In what ways can other creatives utilize their talents to further impact veterans?

MAKE: The least a creative can do is offer up their time to help bring a veterans story to life in the form of some awesome apparel or whatever else they can dream up. 

What is some of the best advice you’ve learned that you can share with other veterans in a similar circumstance? 

CHAMPION: You are stronger than you think. You survive and God has a plan for you, believe you have something to give no matter what to your community and friends, family and love ones.

What is some of the best advice you’ve learned that you can share with other creatives?

MAKE: Don't take yourself too seriously. We get to think, draw and design for a living. We are not risking life and limb. Have fun with it.

What are your goals for the future? Where do you see yourself in 3-5 years?

CHAMPION: I plan to have my wellness hotel open for veterans in St. Petersburg, Fl and I find myself kayaking the Grand Canyon all 226 Miles.

MAKE: So many goals, too many to list. Everyday there are new goals. Ultimately, our goal is to try our best everyday and have some fun along the way. 

In 3-5 years, if everything goes perfectly, we'll be entering early retirement, sipping a pina colada on a secluded beach somewhere, with a couple rug rats and Frannie running around. Most likely, we'll be a couple busy bees working away in our studio, but we can always dream!