When Danika Veldkamp and her husband, Jason, decided in 2019 to comb the world to find the perfect place to live, their nearly three-month journey ended in Chattanooga.
"We got married, quit our jobs and traveled around the world to find out where we were going to live," explains the 27-year-old former Minnesotan.
It took two visits to sell her on the Scenic City, but moving here turned out to be a great decision, Veldkamp says. The couple had visited Rome, Barcelona, and Sicily, among other places, but the outdoor wonders of the Southern Appalachians ultimately convinced them to settle here.
Veldkamp is marketing and communications manager at InfoSystems, a locally based technology company specializing in cybersecurity. She says it took about four months for her to find her current position with InfoSystems. Much of her work revolves around internal communications for the company, which is headquartered here but operates in several states.
Veldkamp grew up in Princeton, Minnesota, which she calls "the middle of nowhere." Her mother was a United Airlines pilot, part of the first wave of female pilots to work for the airline. Her dad owned and operated a successful flooring business.
One of several adopted siblings, Danika had her share of early adversity. When she was a senior in high school, a rare reaction to steroids prescribed for her rheumatoid arthritis caused a brain injury that became a multi-year battle to regain her cognitive abilities.
"One day I just said, 'I can't function and I feel like I'm coming out of my skin,'" she says. " I have an extreme aversion to steroids."
Veldkamp says she went from being an honor student to reading at the second-grade level. She was able to graduate from high school, but soon dropped out of college because she couldn't keep up.
It took years of therapy and recovery for her to work her way back to college, she says. Along the way, she worked for her dad's company refinishing floors around the Midwest, a job she still calls the best she ever had.
"I had to teach myself to read again — how to hold a conversation," she explains.
Then, eight years ago, Veldkamp's life took another tragic turn. Her father was killed when the small airplane he was piloting crashed on the way to a hunting trip.
"His death changed my life," she says.
She remembers turning down an invitation to eat dinner with her father the night before he died, a decision that — although innocent at the time — still troubles her.
"Since then, whenever the opportunity to do something arises, I ask myself if this is something I'm willing to never have happen again," she says.
* Role: Marketing communications manager for InfoSystems
* Age: 27
* Hometown: Princeton, Minnesota
* Family: She and husband Jason have an infant son
Late last year, Veldkamp gave birth to a son, Oliver, and she has been juggling parenting and work duties ever since. Her job allows her to work at home, she says.
Veldkamp says all of her life experiences have given her a resiliency that has prepared her for future challenges.
"When you get bucked off a horse or something happens to you or someone around you, you just have to get up and keep going," she says.
She says her brain injury was especially transformative.
"It's shown me I can to anything I put my mind to, literally," she says. "It shaped me as a person 100 percent."