Sabrina Worthington wanted to prove to herself and her two children that it's never too late to pursue your dream.
After more than a dozen years making her living as a hairstylist, Worthington says a chance to ride along with a fire department crew helped her realize she could still decide "what I wanted to be when I grew up."
So the 32-year-old Medford resident traded her hairstyling shears for turnout gear at Jackson County Fire District No. 5 in Talent, where she's training to become a paramedic.
Worthington wanted to join the military after graduating from Ashland High School, but started a family instead. She became a hairstylist so she could focus on her children. She enjoyed interacting with clients, but felt she was supposed to be doing something entirely different.
"In the back of my mind, I knew I always wanted to do something medical, something where I could help make a difference for people," she says.
"I started going to nursing school but I realized pretty quickly that that wasn't for me. Then I went into EMT (emergency medical technician) paramedic stuff, which was a better fit."
The turning point was a chance to spend a shift responding with firefighters to a slew of motor vehicle accidents and fire calls.
"I got to do a ride-along with the fire department and I just knew right then, this is what I want to do. It was like finally finding out where I was meant to be," she says.
Then a single mom, Worthington set aside her fears of not having a predictable income.
"I was managing a salon when I decided to go back to school," she recalls. "Leaving the comfort of having a regular paycheck to go back to school was a little scary. But changing careers "… that wasn't scary for some reason. It was more like finding my way home.
"I just knew, for me, it was now or never."
Worthington works as an EMT for District 5 in exchange for her firefighter schooling and gets paid per call. She also still cuts hair a few days a week to support her family.
Worthington says she enjoys the camaraderie of her crew mates and even the physical demands of the job. In March, she participated in the renowned Scott Firefighter Stair Climb at downtown Seattle's Columbia Center, the second tallest building west of the Mississippi. The event entailed climbing 1,311 steps (69 flights of stairs) in full turnout gear wearing an air tank.
District 5 Capt. Bob Holt says Sabrina holds her own with much younger recruits and works as hard as anyone in the district.
"For someone that's an unconventional student, it's even more difficult to take all the classes and balance family, school and work," Holt says. "You don't see individuals like Sabrina very often trying to pursue a fire service career later in life.
"Sabrina is still very new but she's able to compete with anybody we have around here. The one thing she has going for her is she's very mature and grounded and she's willing to work for what she wants to accomplish."
After earning her paramedic certification, Worthington plans to fight fires and work full-time with a local fire district.
"My main goal is I want to be a firefighter," she says. "It's hard but I know it'll be worth it in the end, to get to do what I want to do and what I love."
More than anything, Worthington wants her kids to see her chase her dream.
"I think it's amazing to be able to let them know, even if I didn't do this earlier because I was focused on my family, to go after what you want," she says.
"It doesn't matter what age you are, you just can't not pursue your dreams. Anything really is possible."
Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at email@example.com.