Past tense, but the future's bright

True tales of surviving - and thriving - after the world has thrown its worst at you.

Rhondalynn Korolak was a bright law student about to graduate when she received a terrible phone call.

It was the dean of her university with the horrendous news that her 18-year-old brother and three of his friends had murdered her mother.

“It was a real shock that she'd been killed but it wasn't necessarily a super shock that my brother was behind it,” says Canadian-born Korolak. “I grew up in a family of domestic violence, and violence breeds violence.”

With the added stress of four trials, Korolak became a shell of her former self, and her weight plummeting to 43 kilograms.

Friends urged her to take a break but Korolak, unable to fathom the idea of a holiday at such a traumatic time, instead focused on turning up to work, and trying to sleep and eat.

“I tried to get up and shower every day and put one foot in front of the other,” she says. “It's survival, it's not easy.

“You have to get to the point where you're ready to process everything.”

Many people told her that she would never recover from anxiety and depression and would depend on medication for life.

“I thought that was ridiculous, although I believed it for a bit,” she says. “I basically figured out that, you know, my brain was probably injured for a period of time from the grief and trauma of what happened, but it doesn't have to be forever.”


About 10 years ago, keen to leave behind national news coverage of her mother's murder – and following an ill-fated marriage – Korolak moved to Australia.

“I didn't want anyone to know what had happened to me, ” she says.

But as Korolak slowly started to tell new friends her story, they encouraged her to write down her experiences, which she later released as a book.

Hitting rock-bottom in business

Christian Bold, 36, faced his own challenging time when one of three businesses he owned with a family member started going bad.

Unable to find a way forward, Bold says he took on the two worst-performing businesses while his business partner took the most viable one. “It was really the only way to get out of the business relationship,” Bold says.

When the GFC hit, Bold's remaining businesses hit even rougher times.

“Basically, we lost everything – we lost our home, lost our business as well – we moved in with my wife's parents for nine months to get back on track,” he says.

The worst thing, he says, was losing his relationship with the family member he'd been in business with. He hopes they might reconcile one day.

With three children under six at the time, Bold was working all day, then stacking supermarket shelves four nights a week to pay his debts. His wife was also juggling several jobs.

“I hit a real low. There were times I didn't want to get out of bed,” Bold says.

He has since built up his remaining business, which he renamed Bold Trailers, in 2012. The Sydney business sells, services, repairs and modifies trailers and caravans.

The lessons he learned in that tough time have been heeded. Bold no longer relies on a single company for the majority of his work and is constantly networking and looking for new leads.

He says the experience has made him into “a much stronger person, both in business and personally”.

“One massive thing I'm very grateful for is it opened my eyes to the fact that I truly am with my soul mate. We've been through this and we can get through anything.”

After the deluge, the fire

Managing director Zachary Rook, 26, has already been through the wringer with his business, Your Local Movers.

His Brisbane warehouse was deluged during the Brisbane floods in January 2011, and he was dealt a second blow seven months later when the rebuilt warehouse burnt to the ground.

Rook lost hundreds of thousands of dollars (he wasn't covered in the floods because of an insurance mix-up) and is “still paying for it”.

He jokes that an “unrealistic self-belief” helped he and his business get through.

“We negotiated very hard with the tax office to have all of our taxes on hold until January the next year,” he says.

A good relationship with suppliers also meant they were willing to extend credit terms.

“I've been fairly optimistic. Through everything I see the silver lining, and make a silver living when there isn't one.”

Rook, also a director of charity Be A Hero, says a cycling trip around Cambodia shortly after the floods helped keep his own problems in perspective.

Rough patch

Chris Gatt, 37, is now well up the career chain, working as a strategic supply manager at BP.

But a tough Year 12 could have easily sent him in other directions.

Gatt, one of four children, was studying his final year when his Dad was made redundant and his mother slipped into depression. “It all culminated at the same time,” he says.

Gatt's school recognised he was going through a rough time and encouraged him to apply for a cadetship through the Doxa Youth Foundation.

Gatt's university fees, books and other costs were covered after Carlton and United Breweries took him on through Doxa's program.

“It struck me that someone was giving me a massive opportunity. It was a lot of relief and stress off my family and parents,” Gatt says.

By 24, he was managing Tasmania's Cascade Brewery. He rose to draught operations manager at CUB's Abbotsford plant in Melbourne before leaving the company in 2011.

Gatt now mentors other Doxa cadets, and is impressed by their determination. Some of his mentees have arrived in Australia as refugees. Other teenagers' parents have “basically gone absent”, leaving them to deal with family finances and their last year of high school at the same time, Gatt says.

A great little challenge

Rhondalynn Korolak long ago forgave her brother, who served a seven-year jail sentence, and believes that forgiveness helped her move forward. She prefers not to keep in contact with him.

After leaving a senior commercial role with the Coles Group, Korolak now runs her own business mentoring firm, Imagineering Now, and often shares her story while speaking at events.

Korolak also recently rose to another great challenge, giving birth to her first child at the age of 46.

After meeting her partner later in life, Korolak was given a one-in-300,000 chance of conceiving and giving birth to a healthy baby.

After experiencing “a one in one million” crime, the odds of having a baby “didn't seem that bad”.

After numerous miscarriages, and with the help of a generous egg donor, Korolak gave birth to a healthy little girl, Eden, late last year.

Her baby girl has two very special middle names – the first, Darlene, is her mother's name, while the second Tabatha, honours her best friend, who lost her life to breast cancer.

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