When I was 20, I lost my little sister, Lindsey, in a car accident. She was 18 and had just graduated from high school. I was numb for a long time — there was an emptiness inside — and even to this day it’s hard to accept that she’s gone. There’s always a hole in your heart. The other very difficult thing in my life was breaking the news to my parents that I’m gay. That took a lot of courage. I’d kept it to myself. In fact, when I told them, they were very accepting and supportive. I’m 34 now and I live with my partner, Fernando. 

I started the Thrive Challenge because I wanted to grow as a person. 

I wanted to get healthier and work out. I was buying food from taco shops, eating pizza, and feeling sluggish. Also, I wanted to be financially stable and do better in my life.

I downloaded the Thrive app and started out with food.

Three days a week, Fernando and I have a meal kit delivery service. The rest of the time we cook. I pick up culinary tips from TikTok, and I’ve found different ways of cooking. I make tacos with turkey, and gluten free or low carb tortillas. I’ll add onion, bell peppers and jalapenos. And I make my own salsa. Fernado makes his own chicken pesto pasta recipe that I absolutely love. 

Because we’re not eating out, we notice a huge difference in our spending.

I put $100 away from each paycheck. And in total, I’m saving $300 a month. We’ve cut back on going out. And I’ve stopped spending money on things I don’t need, like clothes. I don’t have cable, just Wi-Fi, and I changed my phone plan. I stopped my expensive gym membership and joined a cheaper gym through Walmart. Also, writing down everything I spend helps me plan for the week ahead.

Creating good habits makes me feel successful. 

I’m learning a lot about investment and savings. And I’m reading a lot of personal growth books. I just read Atomic Habits by James Clear, and I really love it. Another great book is Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki.

Working out helps to clear my head and release stress. 

Every single day I do cardio or weight lifting at the gym, and it always makes me feel good. The gym is my happy place.

One of the best things in the world is going for walks with my dog, Bella. 

Bella actually smiles when we’re out together! You can tell she’s happy, and that makes me happy. I don’t like to sit down and do nothing. San Diego is so beautiful and I relax by walking on the beach.

I love to surf. I’m not the greatest surfer, but I feel free and at ease in the water. 

Fernando and I go kayaking. It’s a blast. Last week there were dolphins swimming between us. I also like diving to see the leopard sharks in La Jolla. They swim right under you and it’s a beautiful experience. 

My work is fulfilling.

I would love to keep growing in my career and become a store lead. I like teaching and training staff, and promoting them. My goal is to move up and one day become a store manager. 

I’m always there to support my co-workers.

In my store, honestly, we work well as a team. My co-workers talk to me about issues with their personal relationships. I’ve had people break down when family members are in hospital. I tell them, “I won’t have all the answers, but I’m always here to listen if you need to vent.” I also like to give back. There are a lot of homeless people in the area where I live, so I’ll buy food for them and donate clothes. 

I’m healing from grief.

When I have painful memories of my sister, I’ve learned to not hold in my pain. I cry and let it out. Sometimes I’ll give my parents a call and that really helps. I have a lot of support. 

My big goal is to buy a house.

I grew up in a trailer park, so to be financially stable with my own home — something that’s mine — will be great. I’ve realized that if I want to keep moving forward in a positive direction, I just have to keep making small changes.

— Ryan Barela, Walmart Store #2177, San Diego, CA; $5K Winner