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STEPHEN PANUS has been a publicist, sports agent, artist, attorney, sports marketing executive, and motivational speaker and serves as president of the Jockey Club’s America’s Best Racing brand. Yet the only title that’s ever mattered to him has been father—to his two boys, Jake and Liam. When his elder son, Jake, was tragically killed in the summer of 2020 at the tender age of sixteen, Stephen’s life imploded. He wrote Walk On to confront his daily agony, inspire a renewed faith in living, and regain purpose. Stephen and his wife, Kellie, live in Connecticut with their son, foster daughter, and two dogs.

In today’s world, grief and adversity are everywhere, causing many to suffer and lose hope. From the depths of darkness and greatest loss emerges an intimate, candid, and raw story of a father’s search for meaning following tragedy. Walk On is a resilience-centered guidebook for overcoming struggle while teaching that the path to a purposeful life filled with kindness, compassion, and service resides within all of us.

Drawing upon his wisdom and leadership experience, Stephen Panus provides real-world applications of indispensable values and traits for becoming the best version of ourselves. We all suffer in some manner, but no matter what happens or how it happens, we all must Walk On.

1. What was the process like for you to write this? Was it cathartic, challenging, freeing?
I initially began this process with no intention to write a book, but rather to pen a goodbye letter to my 16-year old son, Jake and to move my feelings from within me to paper. Losing a child is the worst thing that can happen to any parent and when it occurs suddenly and tragically, it feels like someone reaches into your chest and pulls out your beating heart. It’s beyond traumatic and unnatural. As the writing and time evolved it became apparent that this was less of a goodbye letter and more of a tribute to the relationship I had with Jake and continue to have with his younger brother, Liam. It was a painful and complex process of writing which required significant breaks and involved a lot of tears. In the end, I was rewarded with a book that not only could help Liam, but also many, many others. We all suffer in some way, and no matter what happens or when it happens we all must find a way to “Walk On” in our lives.

2. With nonfiction, it is often obvious why an author feels a push to tell their story. Can you elaborate on what made you put pen to paper? What was the driving force that made you feel this story had to be told to the masses?
I recognized it would not be healthy or helpful to keep my hurt, pain and emotions from losing Jake bottled up. Doing that was a recipe for disaster. So I turned to writing as a form of survival, plain and simple. What evolved over the course of a year and several months was therapy for my soul as I leaned into the sharp points and decided to confront my grief and accept that I wasn’t letting go of Jake, but rather letting go of suffering. Grief is now my shadow and there’s no running away from it.

3. So far, what has been the biggest challenge in the process, from writing to editing to design and beyond? What’s been the easiest?
The biggest challenge is marketing the book and making people aware that it transcends grief and is more inspirational and hopeful than sad. Working with the team at Koehler Books through the editing and design process was the easiest as they were helpful on every front and guided and supported me through that part of the journey.

4. For newbies, what would you recommend as a starting place in the way of marketing? What has worked for you? What has not worked?
One word: hustle. You need to be active on social media, proactively pitch your story and book to media outlets, podcasts, radio programming, digital platforms and more. Focus on the differentiator your book offers and don’t be afraid to knock on any door. I am fortunate in that my background, skills, talent, and career have included significant experience in public relations and marketing. Lastly, hustle breeds luck.

5. Now that it’s published, how do you feel? What has been the reaction from readers? Authors often describe the postproduction process to be both exciting and difficult. What has been your experience now that it’s out there?
I’ve been overwhelmed with the incredinly positive response to “Walk On” and the amount of inspiring feedback I’ve received from readers, reviewers, fellow bereaved parents and others who simply are confronting their own form of adversity. It’s incredibly rewarding to help others who find themselves in a dark place and are looking for help. Additionally, public speaking has opened up an array of opportunities to connect me with more people and further help them. We’re here on this planet to help one another.

6. Borrowing from Sophia Bush’s podcast, what do you consider to be a work in progress in your life?
My next book. I definitely plan to write more as it’s something I enjoy and seem to have a talent for.