by Joanna Atherfold Finn

Not one to blow her own trumpet (though she does play the trumpet!), Kathy Rimmer describes being awarded the Examiner’s Business of the Year award in 2018 as a “humbling” experience. This year, she was selected as Port Stephens’ Australia Day ambassador. What is most inspiring about Kathy, though, is the person behind those achievements.

Kathy Rimmer tells a story that encapsulates her genuineness, her desire to help others and her persistence despite the odds. When she was ten, her family rescued a quarter Clydesdale. The horse took a shine to Kathy and she mentored it from a being a mistreated horse to one that excelled in barrel racing. “He was such a gentle giant; he loved racing,” Kathy told Real Women of Port Stephens. “I said to Mum, ‘Why can’t he be a racehorse?’” Even as a child, pushing the boundaries and persevering defined Kathy’s personality.

Those qualities have allowed Kathy to excel as a business professional, but also to deal with a life that has thrown up its fair share of challenges. Kathy moved from Broken Hill to Port Stephens with her husband Josh in 2000, whom she describes as evolving from “the most annoying boy in school” to a major source of strength. Josh’s support, as well as the resilience of her children Zac, 13, and Taylor, 11, became vital when Kathy was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis after a prolonged period of unexplained health issues.

“I basically woke up one day and had altered sensation. If I had a belt around my waist, from the belly-button down, I couldn’t feel properly. I couldn’t tell the difference between a warm, fluffy cat and a cold metal pole against my leg.”

The sensory changes meant Kathy couldn’t feel pressure or detect temperature changes. When she scalded herself with hot water, she knew something was really wrong.

Kathy’s cognitive ability was affected and there was significant nerve pain. Although she’d always been slim, she put on a significant amount of weight.

The implications of the chronic illness were devastating and yet they also revealed Kathy’s determination, and that of her family.

“My husband was my rock because anything on the home front I was not capable of doing. That’s when my kids became resilient. I was told I would be on pain killers for the rest of my life and I wouldn’t be able to stand for long periods.”

Kathy’s response when asked how this affected her reveals both her forthrightness and fighting spirit.

“I thought [the prognosis] was crap, to be honest. I thought, how can you know that? And I wouldn’t accept it. I don’t believe in can’t; I believe in do what you can do and work up.”

Kathy made modifications to her lifestyle, exercising on a treadmill in an air-conditioned space and making alerations to her diet. Today, Kathy positively glows.

“I can stand for long periods, and up until recently I had no clinical symptoms and was free from medication. I don’t want to give false hope to other MS sufferers, but I do feel that the changes I made significantly contributed to this.”

The 12 months that Kathy took off from her job at the Greater to re-evaluate resulted in experiences that she could not have anticipated.

“The biggest challenge [following my MS diagnosis] was having to slow down and learning to say no. I was always loyal. I did the right thing by everyone, sometimes to the detriment of myself.” 

The time also marked Kathy’s ongoing reflection on the way other family members’ lives had been vastly impacted by soldiering on under any circumstances.

“My grandmother passed away when I was eight and she was told to work until she was bedridden. [That attitude was] taught to my mum and taught to me. The last time I saw my grandmother alive, I was told, ‘When you go in and talk to her, don’t cry in front of her.’”

Kathy now makes work and life decisions based on recognising those ingrained roadblocks, and deciding whether a decision will lead to regret. The formula is powerful in its simplicity. “If I do x, y and z would I regret missing something? That is how I make decisions now,” she said.

“If anything we have too many opportunities; we overload ourselves and don’t finish anything. So much choice can be overwhelming. Sometimes less is more.”

Rather than the break from work being a barrier, it instead provided Kathy with a pivotal opportunity to retrain. She completed Diploma-level qualifications in Quality Auditing and Leadership and Management, but the biggest change was her decision to productively apply her desire to help others. Her revived outlook towards work and life lead to the creation of Yin Yang Consultancy. The name reflects Kathy’s commitment to balance, an ethos using the ripple effect of Kathy’s life-changing experiences and strength of character to help small business owners realise their own potential. Today the business is thriving and expanding in innovative ways, much like its creator. We can’t wait to see what is on the horizon for this inspiring local woman.