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Hilton Head: The path that leads some of us to our true lives

Milissia and her mother Izdehar Johnston at a recent island charity event.
Milissia and her mother Izdehar Johnston at a recent island charity event. Submitted photo

Growing up on Hilton Head, there were a lot of distractions from the high road of academics and athletics. Which is to say, high school here was pretty much the same as it was everywhere else, however microscopic. We just learned to get along with each other because there were too few of us to form actual cliques. We were sort of one big, rogue clique that could find trouble one day and win the division state soccer championship the next.

We learned early on not to complain about anything because we had been told – by everyone in the entire world who didn’t live on Hilton Head – that we were so darn lucky to be living on Hilton Head. Here we were, lollygagging about the beach or playing golf and tennis while the real world commuted and trudged endless miles through deep snow to offices and classrooms, usually, we were told, at 4:30 a.m.

It would behoove us, our advisers said, to just “shut it.” As in stop complaining and be grateful.

Naturally, this advice was received with the enthusiasm one would expect from the brooding, and misunderstood - sullen, non-communicative teenagers who apparently had not yet grasped the concept of gratitude. Go figure.

Milissia Johnston, a competitor in this weekend’s Atlantic Community Bank Beach Bum Triathlon, likely knows what I’m talking about. (The event is at 8 a.m. Saturday at Coligny Beach and is hosted by GoTri Events. For a schedule of GoTri events check out

Milissia is twenty-four and also spent her teenage years growing up “lucky” on the beach - Daufuskie Island beach to be more precise. Her parents moved to Haig Point nine years ago so she could attend the Heritage Golf Academy. That was an opportunity for which she is grateful to this day. She later graduated from Hilton Head High School, where she also enjoyed swimming and water polo.

When we spoke over coffee about our teenage years on Hilton Head, it was apparent we had much in common, despite the generation gap. We both excelled at sports and academics. We both found other, ahem, routes in our journeys through high school and college, which were less traditional than paths taken by some of our peers. And, we also both found our way back to life’s main highway while living here.

As many kids learn – sometimes the hard way – when one is labeled a protégé of any kind, it is easy to veer off the rails. Grand expectations, peer pressure, temptation, and self-esteem issues combined with changing hormone levels can make the pot boil over before anyone sees it coming.

But our island has a way of healing the emotional wounds of youth. So it stands to reason that more and more of us return here to live after getting our degrees.

Or, as in Milissia’s case, remain here while attending college. Training for the triathlon is her extra-curricular activity when she’s not studying to be a nurse at the Technical College of the Lowcountry. She has learned to show gratitude by giving back to her community. Becoming a nurse is way to honor those health care folks who helped her through tough times.

Giving back is a concept many of us absorbed while growing up on Hilton Head.

Of course, this should come as no surprise. Hilton Head Island has long been on the topside of the learning curve when it comes to progressive community involvement. That assertion includes a broad array of educational opportunities, arts and cultural events, community outreach, conservation efforts, and non-profit programs.

The list does not include the most obvious advantage to living here; i.e. physical - and spiritual - well being.

It should never be lost on any of us that Hilton Head offers the best scenery and the most ease as backdrop for a fundamentally healthy lifestyle. Running, biking, swimming, rowing, tennis, golf … all at our fingertips.

I mean, really. Everyone should be so lucky, right?

So, if you’re not grateful for all of that, well, just shut it.

Carmen Hawkins De Cecco lives on Hilton Head Island. She blogs at Email her at