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In Tampa, life coach and organ donor is a learned optimist

“You can’t love someone if you don’t love yourself,” Debbie Lundberg says.
Debbie Lundberg, Tampa life coach and kidney donor
Debbie Lundberg, Tampa life coach and kidney donor [ Glenn Nielsen ]
Published Feb. 7

TAMPA — Debbie Lundberg can barely squeeze all her endeavors on her business card: life coach, corporate trainer, national speaker, image consultant, podcast host and author of 12 self-help books, the last two Remote Work Rock Star and Living Kindly, published during the pandemic. A TEDx Talk, “Who Cares,” has received thousands of views.

Her email tagline neatly sums up her objectives: “Committed to applied knowledge, growth, fun & ROI” (return on investment).

A “learned, not born, optimist” since launching her Presenting Powerfully business in 2006, Lundberg starts most days with 100 pushups and a 5K run. Always wake up with a “grin and gratitude,” she says. “Smiling lifts my face and energy.” Friends have compared Lundberg’s positive energy to Apple TV+’s upbeat soccer coach Ted Lasso, who values relationships more than winning matches.

Debbie Lundberg, a Tampa life coach and kidney donor, starts most mornings with a 5k run.
Debbie Lundberg, a Tampa life coach and kidney donor, starts most mornings with a 5k run. [ Michael Lundberg ]

Two years ago, Lundberg, 53, added kidney donor to her resume, immediately followed by organ donor mentor. Her first “client” was her husband Michael Lundberg, who became a “one-beaner” in February 2021 when he donated a kidney to an unknown recipient with five children.

We recently spoke to Lundberg. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Why does someone seek out the services of a life coach? How long does it take to see results?

People seek a life or performance coach to enhance themselves through changing habits. I provide the strategy and tips for self-esteem, communication, emotional intelligence and leadership. Results that get them to their best selves can take one session, six months or a year, depending on their goals and commitment.

Everything begins with how you speak to yourself. What you think and say you can become, and that’s good or bad. You can’t love someone if you don’t love yourself.

You barely knew Debra Palmer when you gave her your right kidney. How did you make that leap, from reading her Facebook posts to having a donor nephrectomy?

I knew nothing about Debra other than she did good things in the community and was active in the South Tampa Chamber of Commerce. We’d never spoken beyond hello, never had a conversation. We’re very different…she’s a foodie, I’m an athlete; she’s a baby boomer and I’m Gen X. She’s very quiet about her work and I love to share my profession.

When I read about her 24-year journey with kidney failure, I thought maybe I could mentor or coach her or just be supportive in some way. Then I got curious. I didn’t know anyone who had done it, but Michael and I were in a bone marrow transplant registry and were already organ donors on our driver’s licenses.

People say it’s the most selfless thing you can do. I say it’s the most self-aware thing you can do. Really, it’s the best use of my kidney, made sense and felt right.

Walk us through the donor process.

I ordered a testing kit through Amazon without thinking too much about it and let her know I was Type A+. Michael and I talked about the side effects of donation; the most common is depression. You go through this continual testing and get caught up in all the energy, then soon as you make the donation, your part is done and it becomes all about the recipient and their recovery.

I spent a week in Tampa General undergoing tests and scans and psychological and physical assessments. You have appointments with a nephrologist, surgeon, pharmacist and a nutritionist. You have to limit your protein intake forever and you can’t take certain drugs like Advil, no anti-inflammatories. As an athlete, that was the biggest surprise.

So by February 2020 you were ready to donate when COVID hit. What happened next?

Surgery was put off until Aug. 6 and I was home the next day. We were told full recovery could be six months to a year but I was running again on Day 15. I was thankful I could share a spare and I started to counsel others deciding if kidney donation is right for them. No judgment because it’s a big deal. Michael was the first person I mentored who went fully through with it. We’re very competitive…like playing golf every week to see who will mow the lawn.

Michael and Debbie Lundberg of Tampa are both kidney donors.
Michael and Debbie Lundberg of Tampa are both kidney donors. [ Glenn Nielsen ]

There’s a very cool mentoring group from all over the world called Kidney Donor Athletes. They travel together and a bunch of them just went to Mount Kilimanjaro, and now we Zoom with them.

The Lundbergisms you send out every weekday, such as “Desire + Dedication + Discipline = Dreams Realized,” where do they come from?

People wonder, and sometimes, so do I, but they truly are the way my brain works, not in fortune cookie snippets, but from being aware, making my own mistakes, sorting through and simply seeing an experience clearly. For over 12 years, they are a “wake-up” for those who want to read them. And they can also watch a less than 60-second video on social media. Some of the most popular are about being true to ourselves.

Do you just love Ted Lasso? Why do you think the show has become such a phenomenon?

The Lasso Way is genuine, pure and positive, embracing change, being brave and wanting people to be and do their best, so yes, I love it. My running partner Lynn said, ”You aren’t corny like that, but you are a version of Ted Lasso by seeing the best in each person.” That was a compliment!

Mistakes happen, humor assists us all…relationships matter and confidence matters at all ages and in all positions. You can’t help root for Ted Lasso, and so I appreciate all the people who root for kindness, support and me through all I have done. Plus, I am known for wearing Louboutins, and Rebecca (Ted’s boss) wears them, so that makes for a wink in my book.

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