Michele Henn was born in Madison, Ohio, where she lived her whole childhood, and graduated from Madison High School. She went to college at University of Southern California, where she earned bachelor’s degrees in Psychobiology and Humanities Theatre; she hoped to be a trainer at SeaWorld. She auditioned at SeaWorld and made alternate but then after a trip to a race track for her 21st birthday, ended up taking a job in motorsports. She worked in racing in Connecticut, New York City, Detroit and finally Charlotte, NC doing first timing and scoring, then as a series manager and finally as a team coordinator. She has travelled to all fifty states and twenty-seven countries for work and adventure, including volunteering on Habitat For Humanity builds in Portugal, Thailand, India, Kenya, Hawaii and Alaska. After visiting the Athens area often, Michele moved here in 2018 and works as the Administrative Assistant at New Urban Forestry. She lives near downtown.
What led you to Athens?
I was living in Charlotte in 2011 in a fruitless relationship. My cousin invited me to come down here, saying she really thought this is my place. I came and lived with her in Lexington, Georgia and took two years to really find myself, travel and do Habitat for Humanity. When I started flying on the trapeze at Leap Trapeze, which unfortunately went out of business, Athens really began to feel like home because I made such a great network of friends there. So when I went back to work in motorsports in Charlotte, I spent more free weekends here than I did in Charlotte. When that chapter came to a close in 2018, the most logical place–where my heart felt most supported–was here. It is the first time I chose a place to live based on the people and not on a job. I said, let’s go to Athens! It is affordable, there are amazing people, I can still do all the aerials and I will be close to family. Plus, the food here is pretty good too.
What are some of your favorite things to do in Athens?
Some of my favorite things to do in Athens are get together and have lunch with my friends at various locations because everywhere has a delicious vegan option and some have multiple ones. I just love the fact that this community embraces being outdoors so much! For example, walking on the Greenway is fantastic. One of my favorite things to do here too is the aerial arts especially with the community at Canopy. I will typically take two different classes there and really enjoyed performing in their Advanced Student Showcase at the beginning of the year. Whenever I can, I get in the air and do flying trapeze and I also get in the water to swim. I just love that everything is so accessible! After living in cities like New York City or Los Angeles, it is nice that in Athens I can be just about anywhere in fifteen minutes and also still have a huge diversity of shops to go to. I love Native America Gallery store and all the little niche spots. You can really get to know the people who own the restaurants which is wonderful. I try to avoid chain restaurants as much as possible, but if you need them they are there on the outskirts, which is also nice.
If you could see any band or show, anywhere, who would you see and where?
I love Jason Mraz, and I have been able to see him twice. Even though I have never been there, I would pick Red Rocks out in Colorado because he is so in tune with nature, good positive vibes and his songs put out so much happiness, just trying to spread good messages and accountability. I think it would be absolutely outstanding to see him under a canopy of stars with the beautiful nature forms, and if I was the only one in the audience that would be even better. Of course, my boyfriend could come too, but just a small intimate performance in this big awesome stadium…it would be absolutely amazing!
What advice would you give to your younger self?
It all works out. Just have faith in yourself that you can handle whatever comes because everything is a lesson or a blessing and sometimes it is both. The times when Sea World didn’t work out, I realize now it was like trying to fit a square peg through a round hole. The universe had other plans and continued to provide opportunities in motorsports, I just had to follow the open doors. And, if I wanted to return and was willing to move anywhere, I would be probably fortunate enough to find a job in that industry still. So: go with the flow and trust that. Now, being a vegan, I look back and say thank you for not letting SeaWorld work out because the only way I would be at SeaWorld now is as a protestor. I wouldn’t have known that as a twenty year old. Trust the ride that it all works out, and when challenges come look for the opportunities to learn. I always say things don’t happen for a reason, but you can find reason in the things that happen.
Do you have a favorite book, or a book you find yourself re-reading or gifting most often?
I would say the one I gift the most often is Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed. Before she wrote Wild, she was an anonymous columnist “Dear Sugar.” She would respond to people’s gut wrenching questions and offer advice and perspective in the most honest Cheryl Strayed way. I like it because it is episodic. You can pick it up and open any page, or look through the Table of Contents and sort of see a theme that resonates with you and just read those five pages. It is not necessarily a story, but it really helps you reflect on the things you are going through and even if you have not ever gone through it, it helps you find perspective for what other people go through.
Do you have a favorite movie or remember the first movie you saw in a theatre?
My favorite movie used to be Love Actually, and it still is my favorite holiday movie, if I can classify it that way, because I love it. But, I would say that it got surpassed a few years ago when Captain Fantastic came out (which is not at all a Marvel movie, though it sounds like it). It has Viggo Mortenson in it and it is him raising six kids out in the wilderness. They go out in the suburbia of New Mexico to go to their mother’s funeral, and I love just the juxtaposition and the positives and negatives of always raising children in our consumerist lifestyle in America. It is just a movie that I love and that I like to show people and gauge their reactions and have conversations about it, because I think it makes people think. It is so heart-warming. I love that movie!
If you could travel anywhere in the world right now, where would you go and why?
I have been lucky that I have been able to go to all fifty states and twenty-seven countries so far, but I would return to a country that I have already been to: Germany. My boyfriend Philip’s family is from there, so I think it would be really exciting to go and see that part of his life, because he would go there so much growing up. I really enjoy going to small towns in Europe. Then, I would love to share with him in return one of my favorites: Australia and New Zealand. I know they are two totally different countries, but they are so close to each other that you can do them together if you have time. I have been to Australia five times so far and it calls me back even now.
What is something interesting about you that most people don’t know?
I have four kidneys. Isn’t that crazy? They are really like two uber kidneys, but a normal kidney has like a collector and one duct to your bladder. Mine are double the size with two collectors and two ducts to my bladder. So, I think I just have super filtered blood. I don’t know what that does for me. I asked the doctor if it lets me fly and he said no. It is a random thing that most people don’t know. Otherwise, I am a pretty open book, most people know everything about me.
If you could have lunch with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be and where?
I would like to pick my mom’s mother. She died when I was two, and I never really got a chance to know her. She was from England, and I just so admire her love story with my grandfather in World War II, how she married him and pretty much forsook her life there and took a boat over and raised her family here. Basically she saw her own mom only four more times before she passed. I admire that courage and that conviction for love. The first time I went over there and visited her family for a couple of days on my way back from Bahrain in 2005. They picked me up at the airport with a sign; I never had met them and my mom was sure they would show me around. I laughed so hard with them and realized, oh my goodness, my humor is British! This is where some of this comes from, and I didn’t even know it. I do not know how it turned up genetically, but it did. I think it would be really neat to have a talk with her and see what she thought of my mom. I am sure she is incredibly proud of her, because my mom is an amazing woman and human, and I am really lucky to have her as my mom. I think I would want to eat somewhere with her in a small town in Wales. She could show me one of her favorite meals or something. I think it would be really cool to just experience a little taste of what made her her and what made my mom her, which is what made me me!
What three words or phrases come to mind when you think of the word “home”?
Peace. It is always with me. Home is where the heart is and after traveling and living at 19 addresses I have realized I am always at home. I find it within myself, and then you can take that wherever you go. That is where that peace comes from. Another thing that is home is cooking. When I have a chance to cook, it is very meditative. Cooking has dividends that return over and over because the process is awesome for me, but eating that and sharing that with friends makes it great. I would say cooking is definitely an aspect of home. And community. Home is having a community where you can rely on people and you can help and invest.