Who is Barbara Elaine MacMillan?
November 4, 2018
Yogi. Veteran. Mother. Hot-sauce enthusiast. Badass.
My Red Dragon yoga class with Barbara MacMillan is about to begin, and as everyone relaxes on their backs, she is already up dancing to Queen music. Over the course of one class, she sings, performs impressive handstands, and even stops class for a minute to hug a woman who is overcome with emotion and must leave. With her enviable abs, sparkplug energy, and unparalleled compassion, Barbara MacMillan is a force to be reckoned with.
Born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, MacMillan grew up endeavored in cheerleading, soccer, and dancing. Upon graduation from college, MacMillan decided that she wanted to enter the Coast Guard.
Barbara’s mother simply could not understand why her daughter desired such a thing: “I told her that I wanted to join the military and she told me, ‘Oh, nice girls don’t do that.’ And…she meant well, but I said ‘I’m gonna join the military.’”
But Barbara had a passion: “I love the coast guard’s purpose. To serve, to protect. I had a dream, I had it in my head, in my heart, and I was focused.” So just like that, she shipped out to boot camp.
“Boot camp was physically easy,” Barbara tells me. However, Barbara never quite grew comfortable with the way her superiors treated her, and often spoke out.
“They need to upset you, they need to yell at you, they need to do these violent things… They just put you in panic mode all day. Panic mode all day…You’re gonna have ten bodies in the water, three boats overturned; there’s gonna be a million situations around you, and you’re gonna have to be able to think.”
They just put you in panic mode all day. Panic mode all day.
After boot camp, Barbara began her first tour: “My first couple of tours went to Alaska, to the Bering Sea – ”
She stops mid-sentence, digging her teeth into the quinoa quesadilla that has just been placed in front of her, a Cafe del Sol classic.
“Mmm! That’s so good. So messy! I’m an eater! Are you an eater? Some people can only eat like three meals a day. It’s hard for me to hang out with them cause I’m like, ‘Ah, I’m dying!’ I eat everything. I eat all day and all night….Oh my god. I love cookies. I start and end my day with cookies.”
Barbara laughs, finishing up her wistful ramble about food, and then her face quickly changes to a more serious expression: “Are you getting reading for the story?”
She tells me about a particularly treacherous on the Bering Sea.
“I was so excited about that big night. I told my captain, ‘I can’t wait to see those 30-foot swells!’…And it’s pretty exciting, like thirty feet, like a three-story building, and we’re just jumping up and down like we’re in an elevator.”
However, the fun atmosphere quickly turned fearful with the arrival of an immense wave: “[I] look up, and all I see is a wall of water, so high that I couldn’t even see the top of it. And what it was – it’s called a rogue wave. A rogue wave is when one wave catches up to another wave, catches up to another wave, and it creates this tsunami. It was a 75-foot wave. So, if you can imagine, a 75-foot wave is like, an eight-story building. That’s water. It’s coming down on you. Can you visualize that? Can you imagine a wall of water that big?”
I shook my head. I could not.
“[W]hen that water hit me, I imagined that’s what it was like to be hit by a truck. To be hit by a truck! One square foot of water breaking weighs a ton, so it was like 75 tons of water coming down on me…I saw my life flash before my eyes….I went to this light. It was warm, it was wonderful, I thought I was taking a nap.”
It took nearly an hour for the other crewmen to finally find her.
“I thought I was just fine; I said, ‘Am I ready to work now?’ And they said, ‘I don’t think so.’ They didn’t really give me any pain medicine, because honestly, I didn’t need it.”
My face instantly contorts into one of incredulity: You didn’t feel any pain?
She shakes her head.
“It was shock. Shock is amazing.”
Shocked myself, I ask if she continued to work in the Coast Guard after such an injury.
Barbara pauses for a second, like there is something else she wants to tell me, but instead nods: “Yeah, yeah, yes…Some stuff happened in the middle; I might tell you that stuff in just a second…”
She decides to trust me: “I’m gonna tell you the story. It’s good for another girl to hear.”
She takes me back and tells me what happened to her just days before that fateful night on the waves of the Bering Sea.
“This guy in my office, he was really, really cute…He offered to take me out mountain biking before I shipped out because I had just bought a bike, and he was gonna show me the area. [I] showed up at his door with my bike and he was out back. He said ‘I left you some orange juice on the table. Just have a seat I’ll be down in a moment.’”
“So, sitting on the table was a glass of juice with a straw.”
Immediately, I wonder aloud: Was it roofied?
Without hesitation, Barbara nods: “I’d never heard of roofies in my life either…So I’m sitting there, and all I remember is saying, ‘I feel really sleepy.’ [T]he next day when I woke up, I was so embarrassed. I thought, ‘Oh my god, what did I do?’…It only hit me that I was roofied about ten years ago. I kept it quiet in the coast guard until I left because there were probably twenty other situations like that.”
To make matters worse, the night she was roofied, a video was taken of her, and it went circulating around the coast guard for about a year.
Despite it all, Barbara still maintains an attitude of perseverance: “My point of this story is to never give up. And sometimes the gift is hard to see.”
Somehow, Barbara has been able to forgive those who have wronged her: “The men that do this, they’re wounded. There’s something wrong with them…Oh my goodness. The littlest things can make such a difference. You can make somebody’s day with a smile or a handhold; you can ruin somebody’s life with something stupid that you did with a camera.”
Perhaps because she knows how profound of an effect one person can have on another, Barbara exudes genuine love to everyone that she meets. During our interview, the kindness she extends to me is palpable.
Hands on mine, she looks me in the eye: “Our love matters. The world needs your love. You matter. And what you do, and what you say, and how you can make a difference matters.”