Every year, Thrive Challenge participants share their inspiring stories of resilience, perseverance, connection, and joy. Candie Holland is one of this year’s Thrive Challenge Grand Champs, and as her story shows, small changes can have a big impact on our lives — and the lives of others. Download the Thrive app to start your own Thrive Challenge. After 21 days of making better choices, share your story for a chance to win part of the $1 million prize pool!

My childhood was tough.

Horrible things happened. We had foster kids, and my mom ran a home day care. When I was nine, I was molested by one of the boys. It was very scary; he told me not to tell anybody and threatened me. He eventually got charged because he was abusing other kids. My parents divorced and my dad started drinking heavily, and it was hard for me and my younger sister, Andrea. I lived with my dad while I was in high school, and he wasn’t home a lot. When somebody’s an alcoholic, that’s their top priority. Alcohol came first — before food, and before his kids. 

When I was 20, I got married.

They say women often marry their dad, and that resonates with me. My first husband was an alcoholic, and he wasn’t an honest person. He never held down a job; I was the only person working in our household. We had two wonderful sons, Bradley and Gauje. I got pregnant again, but our daughter, Ariel, was born premature and only lived for four hours. She had pulmonary hypoplasia — her lungs weren’t developed. I was heartbroken. We lost our home in Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and my husband and I ended up getting divorced. 

Then I married my second husband.

We had our beautiful daughter Alexis. But I lost another child — our son Johnathen, who was born without a diaphragm. It was devastating. After losing one child, you never think you’ll lose another. My health went by the wayside. I had another son, Alexander — I have four kids altogether. But I missed my angels. And the marriage didn’t work out; we realized we were better off as friends.

Now I’m 42 and married to Dustin — they say, “Third time’s the charm!” 

Dustin also works for Walmart and we’re very happy. But I wasn’t taking care of myself. I weighed 265 pounds and I had high blood pressure. I was eating junk food. Oh my gosh, I’d have tacos, hamburgers, fries — you name it. And I was smoking at least a pack of cigarettes a day. I was miserable. The kids wanted me to run and play with them, but I didn’t want to do anything because I could hardly breathe. They’d say, “Smoking is gross and you stink.” That hit home, but I didn’t know how to stop. 

Then I had a health scare.

I had terrible back pain, so bad I could hardly walk. I had surgery, and that was the push I needed to get my health back. I thought, “This is crazy, I want to be able to enjoy life.” I knew about the Thrive Challenge and I was like, “I’m going to do it.” I was tired of being miserable. My sister Andrea started with me.

My first Microstep was to stop drinking pop.

That was a big thing because all I drank before was Coke. I lost weight right away, and oh man, I felt so good! It was a great incentive to keep going because I could see the difference and I started to feel happier. 

We began cooking fresh food.

I stayed away from diets — I’ve never seen one that works. Instead, we switched to fresh food — lots of fruit and vegetables. For breakfast, I’ll have a protein shake, and on the weekend I’ll make French toast for everyone, with wheat bread, a little pure maple syrup, and strawberries. My favorite dinner is grilled chicken with green beans and carrots. We have lots of color on our plates, and I have smaller portions. I’ve lost 30 pounds so far.

My 15-year-old, Alexis, is my sidekick.

She’s always in the kitchen, helping me cook, and she helps me plan our meals for the week. We have an 80/20 rule: 80% of what we eat is healthy and 20% might be treats like pizza. 

We’re exercising.

We all go to the gym. We recently moved to Arkansas when I got promoted and it’s beautiful here. We go hiking and there are lots of pretty trails and waterfalls. I really enjoy breathing the fresh air. It’s invigorating, seeing nature in all its glory. What’s meaningful for me is having time away from our phones — we’re noticing the trees and rock formations. 

I finally stopped smoking.

I literally ended up quitting cold turkey. The Thrive Challenge supported me, because I found different ways to occupy my time. I’d go for walks instead of smoking a cigarette. Or I’d have a healthy snack, like a home-made protein ball, or berries. There was a lot of praying to help me through the day. And meditation helped, just taking that moment to sit in my room on my little meditation pillow and relax. Meditation is also helping me sleep better. I used to get four and half hours sleep a night, now I’m sleeping for seven and a half hours. I feel amazing.

I won the Thrive Challenge.

When I got the call, I was with my sister, Andrea, and we were actually exercising, so I nearly didn’t pick up my phone. But I answered and I was in shock for a minute. Then I was just grateful. Winning $5,000 was great, but by that point what meant the most was that I was winning in my health, winning in my relationships — and winning in life. 

Winning in life is the best feeling in the world.

I’ve continued with my Thrive journey because I’m growing as a person. I start each day with a Microstep, writing down three things I’m grateful for, like a full night’s sleep, sunshine, or my health. By starting the day with gratitude, it doesn’t matter what the world throws at me, I know I can still be positive. 

I’m listening to my kids.

Instead of telling them how things are going to be or making quick judgments, I’m sitting down with them and getting their thoughts and input about everything. And that’s led to a huge breakthrough. We’re closer than we’ve ever been. Alexis had to switch schools when we moved to Arkansas and I’d never thought about the impact that would have on her. I found out how much she missed her friends. She was in a class of almost a thousand students and didn’t know anyone. So we were able to come up with ideas together to make things better. We got in touch with the school counselor, who’s helped her make connections. Now she has some good friends and she’s enjoying life. 

I’m learning from Alexander, my 13-year-old.

He’s so smart and knowledgeable. One of my favorite things is listening to him talk about countries I’ve never even heard of. I’ve learned that the capital of Liechtenstein is Vaduz and the country has a GDP of six billion dollars! He really appreciates the quality time we spend together. And he’s so excited because he’s been recommended to take AP history next year.

I’m strong for my children.

My kids lost their fathers. My first husband passed in 2015. And my second husband had diabetes and became very ill. He actually lived with us for a while, and he passed in 2019. I’ve been able to comfort my kids and help them heal. It’s important because I’m the only parent they have left and I need to be there for them and be a good role model. 

My husband Dustin and I have a strong bond.

He’s still working in Oklahoma (until he transfers to Arkansas), but we communicate all the time, and he visits us. We’ve been writing letters to each other, instead of just texting, because letters are a little more meaningful and heartfelt. It’s exciting because you never know when you’ll find one in the mailbox. I write about why I fell in love with him — for his smile and his kind heart. I thank him for what he’s done for my family, like agreeing to have my ex to stay so we could take care of him in his final months. It takes a pretty strong man to do that. Dustin writes little poems and draws flowers for me in his letters. When we’re together, we go for long walks. We don’t necessarily talk a lot. There’s a calm silence and we know we’re there for each other whatever life throws at us.

Giving back brings us joy.

We’re foster parents to kitty cats — right now we have six kittens and a momma cat. And recently we volunteered for Wreaths Across America, hanging wreaths on veterans’ graves at a cemetery in Bentonville. It was a really emotional day for me because my father was in the military. As a family, we’re always looking for more ways to be involved with the community.

The Thrive community inspires me.

I love reading the stories from winners on the Thrive app. Kathryn Carpitcher, a Thrive Grand Champ, and I are good friends. I love Kathryn to death! I was her manager and I was able to help her grow in her job. I believe God puts people in your life at exactly the right time and that’s what happened with Kathryn. We really support each other. 

Thrive Resets help me ground myself.

People at work say, “How come you’re so positive, Candie?” Well, I tell them it’s the Thrive Challenge. I get up every morning, get my workout in, then I do a Reset, like box breathing — taking deep breaths in and out. And I love the Reset with little kittens. When I watch them, I let out all my negative energy and replace it with positive energy.

Reading is my “me time.”

I read a work-related book during my lunch break and a novel at night. I have a goal of reading 100 books this year — I’ve read 14 so far! I’ve just finished Grit by Angela Duckworth. I’ve learned a lot about how to support my associates and how to encourage my children to be resilient. I’m also reading a creepy murder story called The Island, by Natasha Preston. 

I love Walmart.

I started working at Walmart when my family got displaced in Hurricane Katrina and we moved from Louisiana to Oklahoma. I began as a part-time cashier until I was hired full time on the service desk. Within two years I was an assistant manager, and I’ve continued to move up. I’ve been constantly learning to become a better leader. I was able to go back to college and get my bachelor’s degree because Walmart paid for my tuition. No matter where you want to go with your career, there’s an opportunity to do it at Walmart, and I’m here for the long haul. I enjoy investing in my relationships and helping people grow. We’re a family. 

I’ve done a lot of healing. 

I’ve learned to forgive myself. When I lost my children, I would question what I could have done differently. Now I know my angels were put in my life for a reason; they’re watching over me, and one day I’ll see them again. I’ve also forgiven my dad. He’s 61, he’s in a nursing home for veterans now, and we visit him. My relationship with my mom is good too. I’ve learned that you can’t control what other people do, you’ve just got to love them. 

Thrive is a way of life.

I still have a long way to go in my well-being journey. I’d love to lose another 40 pounds — that’s my goal. But with Thrive, I know that each day I can be one percent better than I was yesterday. Thrive motivates me to be the best version of myself that I can possibly be. And it brings me great joy to see so many others who are thriving too, like I am, and living their best lives.

— Candie Holland, Walmart Home Office

Every year, the Thrive Challenge awards inspiring individuals with cash prizes from a pool of $1 million. Join the Thrive Challenge here and submit your story for a chance to win.