ESCONDIDO, Calif. (KGTV)- The pandemic brought life to a screeching halt for many, but the job never stops for California firefighters.
"I feel like they're saying it every single year, but last year's fire season was the worst in California history," said Ashley Iverson.
The worst season for Ashley Iverson will forever be December 2017.
Her husband, Cory, was a Cal Fire Engineer. He was just 32 when he was killed battling the monstrous Thomas Fire in Ventura County. At the time, the couple had a three-year-old, and Ashley was pregnant with their second daughter.
"I really think Cory's sacrifice was to help me realize my purpose. He knew that he couldn't fix me here, and what he's done has helped me realize how important I am," said Iverson.
Iverson says her purpose now is making sure firefighters know their self-worth. She launched the Iverson Foundation for Active Awareness. The non-profit helps firefighters and their families deal with the trauma the job brings.
"Our country says that mental health modality is a therapist, and that's not the only mental health modality, so when it comes to yoga practice, when it comes to music therapy, when it comes to meditation, those aren't covered by insurance, that's when the Iverson foundation comes into care," said Iverson.
The foundation has sponsored more than 400 yoga classes over the last year and a half. Firefighters from across the country and the world have participated.
In May, the non-profit will launch the organization's first fundraiser, a virtual marathon.
"We as a culture have come to realize how important physical health is and what we're trying to do is bridge the gap into realizing how important mental health is," said Iverson.
Iverson says the loss of Cory helped her gain an understanding of her own mental health.
"No matter what industry you're in or who you are, life is hard, and it ultimately comes down to perspective and how much value you have in self," said Iverson.
Her daughters, Evie and Taylor are now 6 and 3. The younger one never got to meet her dad. The older one has tough questions.
"She just wants to know why daddy can't be here. I don't have the answer for that, but what I just try to remind her that just because we can't see him doesn't mean he's not here," said Iverson.
She said the three of them are doing well.
"That's a loaded question, but overall I would say that we're good, and the reason for that is that over the past three years, I've learned that the most important things in life is gratitude and giving," said Iverson.
If you'd like more information on the foundation or how to sign up for the May Marathon, go to Iversonfaa.org.