Boating is in Lisa Almeida’s blood. Born to professional water skiers, her pregnant mother skied with Almeida in her womb until the doctor ordered her to stop.
“It’s literally in my DNA,” Almeida says. “Experiencing that as a baby growing up, it gets ingrained in you.” She loves the smell of outboard motors, feeling the wind in her face and the camaraderie of other boaters. Five years ago, she walked away from a career to start a new work life on the water. After dedicating 25 years to achieve a high-powered and high-paying corporate position at BellSouth, it was the scariest thing she had ever done.
“It was a true leap of faith,” says the 58-year-old “water baby.”
An only child, Almeida grew up in Fort Lauderdale. She didn’t learn to water ski until high school, when boating friends threw her in the water with a pair of skis.
“I literally got up the first time and skied,” she says. “That was it. I was hooked.”
Almeida’s career at BellSouth never interfered with her boating. When traveling for work she towed the boat along to spend nights and weekends on the water. When the company moved her to Atlanta, she spent every weekend on Lake Lanier.
Over the years, Almeida, who started as a sales representative, was promoted to sales manager, area trainer and the regional marketing director of a nine-state area. Her soul searching began shortly after she moved back to Florida. Her boyfriend became gravely ill and wasn’t expected to live. She took a leave of absence to be by his side. It was a tough time for both of them. Eventually, she ended the relationship and they both moved on.
Then in 2007, Almeida had an epiphany. Talked into taking an African safari, she met a family of eight living in a mud hut “smaller than my kitchen.”
“They were happy and they had nothing,” she says about the family in Tanzania. “I thought, ‘Oh my God. I’m selling my soul for a dollar. They don’t have anything, and they’re happy.’”
She was five years shy of retirement. Almeida says she had become bored and disenchanted with her job.
“I had become one of those people that I hated,” she says. “I walked out. No retirement party or nothing. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. But it’s what I was supposed to do.”
She took time off to figure out what she wanted to do with the rest of her life.
In 2009, she heard about the Freedom Boat Club, a private membership boating group. She took a sales job and in short time became the manager. Two years later, she was approached to buy the franchise, which she did in partnership with the eager young dock manager she had hired, avid boater and entrepreneur Kevin Seelig.
The company’s inventory has grown from four to 55 boats and now has 12 employees and two locations, in Julington Creek and St. Augustine. Boating is no longer just a way to enjoy free time. She built a new career sharing her passion for being on the water with others.
“It’s a dream come true,” Almeida says. “This is who I’m meant to be.”
Lisa Almeida is happiest on the water, as her nickname “The Boatanista” celebrates. She left her corporate job five years before retirement to do some soul searching. In 2009, she started a new career with Freedom Boat Club, and is an advocate for women boaters.
Buddy Boy is a BP oil spill survivor, loosing an eye after being poisoned in the polluted waters of the Gulf. He fully recovered and is an avid boat dog.