Finding New Life With Chasing Victory
● By Jon Lewis
I Wood Love ToFebruary 2016
By Jon Lewis
Photos Kara Stewart
Working with wood changed Jonathan Stroud’s life. Twice.
One incident happened in a heartbeat and the results were catastrophic; the other took a few years but the results have been life-affirming.
A young man who was always happiest working with his hands, the former Redding resident had already worked as an auto mechanic, a cabinetmaker and a chef in his native Ohio before he landed a job in San Carlos, just south of San Francisco.
He was married and a brand-new father, making a home out of a cramped studio apartment in San Carlos with wife, Lisa, and 2-month-old Eliora, and apprenticing to take over a business that refinished and installed hardwood floors.
His world was upended on June 6, 2009, while using a table saw to cut a notch in a piece of bamboo flooring. In a flash, the spinning blade had cut through his left hand, severing the ligaments to all four fingers and the thumb.
In short order, he lost the use of his left hand, his livelihood, his sense of self-worth and his confidence. He nearly lost his wife in the process. “We were struggling. It was very stressful,” Stroud recalls.
His hand was such a mangled mess that Stroud firmly believes he would have lost it had he not been under the care of skilled surgeons at Stanford Health Care, where he basically lived for months after the accident.
While Stroud underwent procedure after procedure and learned how to live with one hand, his wife was home, caring for a newborn.
The family’s reduced income and the high cost of Bay Area real estate combined to force the Strouds out of their apartment and into Lisa’s aunt’s home. From there, they moved to Tehachapi, where Stroud continued his physical therapy. A loss of confidence, anger, doubt and worry filled most days.
The couple moved back to Redding and Lisa found work as a waitress at the Olive Garden while Stroud was able to generate a little income by restoring vintage cameras and selling them on Etsy, an online marketplace for vintage and handmade goods.
Worried that his workers’ compensation benefits would soon end, Stroud says he focused on ways he could make more money. He noticed that jewelry was a popular seller on the site and decided to explore that field. The challenge, though, was how to create a product that stood out in a crowded field.
That’s when Stroud settled on bentwood rings, a skill that required about a year to master. At the time, he was one of only a half-dozen offering them on Etsy. “It started to take off, and then customers asked for gemstones, so I figured out how to do that and people fell in love with them.”
For help in learning the fine points of mounting stones, Stroud turned to Janine Hall, the longtime owner of Janine’s Jewelry on the Market Street Promenade in downtown Redding. Hall, who says she’s always had a soft spot for young people interested in fine jewelry and craftsmanship, enjoyed her mentor role.
“The amount of teaching I had to do compared to his skill set was amazing,” she says. “Very few students have required so little to pick it up. I was very impressed with Jonathan.” Hall also is impressed with Stroud’s business acumen and his mastery of high-tech skills like computer-assisted design. (Stroud was able to return a favor by doing some custom design work for Hall.)
As his new business, Chasing Victory, began to flourish, so did his relationship. “My confidence started coming back and my marriage started improving,” Stroud says. His income also improved to the point where Lisa could quit her waitressing job, which was handy since the couple welcomed their second daughter, Lila, in 2013.
Customers began requesting metal rings, so Stroud learned how to cast rings out of gold, titanium and platinum. To each he adds a wood inlay. He’ll select wood from his inventory of oak, walnut, madrone, bubinga (a rare and beautiful African hardwood) and other types, but the real fun begins when his customers provide the wood.
For one engagement ring, he used wood the fiancé provided from a tree his fiancée used to play in as a child; for another, he used wood from a tree the two had picnicked under on their first date. Other rings have incorporated a bit of floorboard from a cherished family home, sea shells from a memorable day of beachcombing and wood from the tree that will provide shade for the wedding ceremony.
Now, after four years in business, Stroud says Chasing Victory is going strong “and our marriage has never been better—we’re super excited about the future.”
It turns out that in creating the symbol of love for his customers, Stroud has singlehandedly forged a renewed love in his own life.