Rita Maldonado is a combat veteran who learned to walk again after being paralyzed. She embraces movement as a Zumba teacher, and always tries to get the most out of life.
1) What initially brought you to Moab? I contracted parasites from a slug I ate on a TV show in Fiji. Paralyzed and fading fast in the hospital, I saw a man on TV who was dying from the same parasites. He and his mom inspired us to come to Moab to heal.
2) What do you love most about living in Moab? The openness of the community to having fun, and embracing life in any fashion.
3) What do you dislike about living in Moab? Haven’t found anything yet, but haven’t been searching either.
4) What is your occupation? Former Mandarin and Korean cryptologic linguist turned wandering workout instructor of salsa, bachata, body movements, Zumba, and the Masala Bhangra. I lead the Huts for Vets female-combat-veteran wilderness therapy retreat. Oh, and I’m writing a book.
5) If you could have any job in the world, what would you most like to do? Exactly what I’m doing right now. When I left the army, I turned down a six-figure position with the Department of Defense, sold everything, moved into my truck, drove to Alaska, and became a river guide on the world’s largest bald-eagle preserve. I’ll only do jobs for pay that I’d be willing to do for free. It makes life more epic, and work feels less like slavery.
6) Describe a typical day in your life. I wake up next to my soul-mate at 6 a.m. to take my meds. He juices for us, I remind myself that I love who I am now unconditionally then teach or take a Zumba class, laughing my way into the day. I stretch, find a comfy sun spot, write, brainstorm, connect, dance, choreograph, laugh, love, eat, talk, motivate, inspire. There are a lot of spasms at night so my evenings are pretty reserved.
7) Some people have bumper stickers on their car that reads: I’d Rather be Sailing. What would your bumper sticker read? I’d Rather Be… Inspiring you.
8) Tell us one thing people don’t usually know about you.
I’ve toured both Iraq and Afghanistan in my 8 ½ years of combat. In Afghanistan, my truck was directly hit by a 200-pound Improvised Explosive Device three days after I took three rounds through my backpack that missed me and the two mortars I had tied to the outside.
9) In high school, you would have been considered the person most likely to…be a lawyer (A lot has changed…)
10) What is your favorite Moab activity? I absolutely love teaching dance and embracing movement.
11) Tell us your favorite non-Moab place to visit. Haines, Alaska.
12) What do you consider your greatest achievement in life? I was paralyzed with no reflexes last winter. I attended three physical therapy sessions a day to learn to walk again. I now have nerve damage over half of my body, yet see an obvious reason to smile daily. I was released from the hospital on my “dirty 30” birthday, in a diaper, using a walker. That was December 19, 2012. Come to my Zumba class, and you’ll see my greatest achievement.
13) If you were President, what’s the first thing you’d do to make life better in America? Begin elementary school programs on renewable energy.
14) What superhero power would you most like to have? Healing.
15) If you could be an animal, what would it be? Why? Raven. Have you ever watched a raven entertain itself in the sky?
16) What is your all time favorite movie? “Amelie”
17) And, your all time favorite book? “The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch
18) If you were stranded on a desert island, which three music albums would you want to have with you? Just 2: Brett Dennen “Brett Dennen” and India.Arie “Testimony: Vol. 1, Life & Relationship.”
19) If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be? Why? My dad. He used to always come to my Zumba classes. I miss him terribly. I’d make him dance with me, then eat.
20) What is your life philosophy? “Live life so completely that when death comes like a thief in the night, there’s nothing left for him to steal.”