It’s often said that as people reach older age, they look back on their lives and wonder about risks they didn’t take: What if I had taken that trip? What if I had gone after that relationship? What if I had tried that job? One thing is for certain—Kat Ludlow will never have to question whether her life was well lived. A free spirit through and through, Kat turned an unfortunate childhood into a life of spontaneity and adventure, and compassion for her fellow humans.
Born in Indiana, Kat’s earliest memories are of living with her grandmother, an avid bird enthusiast. Her parents divorced when she was young, and she moved to Lancaster with her mother, who remarried a man who would change Kat’s life forever. “He was an abusive alcoholic,” Kat explains. “My stepfather was overzealously religious, and used religion to justify gender roles and punishment. I had to copy bible verses—a thousand at a time, pages of bible verses. I wasn’t allowed to wear pants. I could only wear dresses,” she adds. When she was 13, Kat’s stepfather caught her wearing pants and physically abused her so badly that she spent Christmas in the hospital with two cracked ribs.
Kat ended up in foster care, moving around the country, living in seven homes in three years. Looking back, she views her heartbreaking circumstances in a positive light: “I think it probably saved my life because I don’t know how much further the abuse would’ve gone on,” she admits. “You learn a lot when you have to grow up immediately. I mean, I definitely missed out on a childhood, but I’ve learned how to be resilient and bounce back.”
When she was 16, Kat ended up in foster care with a woman who pushed her to graduate from high school and, eventually, college. “She accepted no excuses and made me aware that I did have choices—that you aren’t defined by the choices that people make for you.” After graduating with a degree in Anthropology and Women’s Studies, Kat started a series of adventures that spanned the globe.
First, she followed the band Phish around the country with her boyfriend, and ended up living in Los Angeles working as a receptionist. When that relationship ended, she moved with her next boyfriend to Oregon. Unfortunately, she didn’t realize that the boyfriend was already living with another woman. “So there I was,” she laughs, “and that’s when I learned to ask people for help, because I was in the middle of Oregon and didn’t know anybody. Within a week I found a job, a place to live, and learned a lot about the kindness of strangers.” Following a few years in Oregon, she took a rafting trip on the Salmon River in Idaho and “just never came back,” she says. “I packed everything up and I lived out of my car on the banks of the Salmon River for a summer. I just loved every minute of it.”
When she met “the most beautiful man in the world,” as she calls him, “I was done for.” The pair decided to leave the country when George Bush was elected president. They first ended up in Thailand—traveling, exploring, and meditating. In Laos, the pair started an import/export business to supplement their travels. “I loved Southeast Asia,” Kat beams, “It was a great place where the food was fantastic and the people were lovely. It’s wonderful to live in a culture where you don’t really speak the language.”
The couple lived in Myanmar for a while, despite the fact that it was a volatile time in that country. When the situation became too dangerous, they fled to Taiwan and stayed there for a year, teaching English to local school children. “Living in Taiwan was a great experience,” Kat remembers, “I learned a lot from the kids about the difference in language. I learned a lot about myself, too. A lot of self-reflection happened there.” A year and a half later—“You couldn’t get any good cheese there. It was really my breaking factor,” Kat chuckles—she and her boyfriend ended up in Hanoi, Vietnam, where Kat discovered she was pregnant.
Kat again found a teaching job, where she met a particularly feisty five year-old named Quynh Anh, who had been put up for adoption because he had two cowlicks in the front of his hair. The two formed an immediate bond. However, “I missed Turkey Hill ice cream, and ketchup, and I wanted to give birth in the states,” Kat admits. When she gave birth to her daughter back in Pennsylvania, Kat named her Quynn, after the little boy who captured her heart in Vietnam.
Now a single mother living in Marietta (the “most handsome man in the world” moved back to Oregon), Kat runs a cleaning business called Mother’s Green Cleaning, where she focuses on hiring women who are overcoming adversity and trying to support children. Her business allows mothers to work daytime hours for a living wage. She also focuses on helping families with children who have autoimmune disorders, as her own daughter suffers from chronic asthma. “I think in all those experiences, I’ve learned it’s important to state the beauty and value in those around you, and especially in yourself. It’s important to find your strength within, and with every problem, there’s an opportunity.”