“It became such a challenge, like a sport for me,” says Danielle Bryant of her career in construction. “Can I achieve greatness in an arena that people doubt me?” Once an all-star athlete, struck with the devastating news of an autoimmune disease that left her disabled, Danielle found an industry to help her overcome adversity, stay challenged, and thrive: construction.
Growing up amongst the hard knocks of her three older brothers, Danielle wasn’t intimidated by the idea of working in a predominantly male industry. Her father, however, who worked construction, always told her that construction is a man’s world. “I was his number one,” reminisces Danielle, “he didn’t want me to go into construction but I thought, you know what? Watch this. Let me see what I can do.”
This moment of reckoning came after a tumultuous five years following her diagnosis of an autoimmune disease at sixteen years old. For a long time, “they thought I had some sort of muscular dystrophy,” Dani recalls of the year it took to find out what had been causing her so much pain. “I originally thought a lot of the pain was from working so hard as a catcher. You’ve got balls coming at you at fifty to seventy miles per hour,” she recalls. Sports had been what defined her as a teenager. She had scholarships waiting for her in college and plans to go to the Olympics. She was eager to make strides in women’s athletics. However, those plans came to a screeching halt after one too many games. Danielle recalls the aftermath of a weekend tournament, “I threw the ball 42 times down to second base in and woke up in excruciating pain.” After an ice bath and a pep talk from her coach, she played in what became the last game of Dani’s athletic career. After returning home from a devastating loss, her health took a steep dive and she went from her school’s popular athlete dominating the field to an outcast barely able to walk without a cane.
Dani eventually made it to a podiatrist who would ask her a life-altering question. “Has anyone ever tested you for Rheumatoid Arthritis?” Having no idea what this disease was, the results came back positive and she began what she now refers to as the end of her first life before this chronic illness stripped her of her identity and forced her on a journey of self-discovery and a newfound purpose in life.
That same year, Dani’s father decided he was moving back to his hometown in Lake Placid, NY but Dani was determined to stay in Tulsa. So, she convinced him to let her stay behind under the condition she found a family to take her in. She ended up nannying for a woman who unfortunately struggled with alcoholism. “This is when my life spiraled, it’s a miracle I made it,” Dani recalls. Suffering from depression over the loss of her physical well being, she began mixing her painkillers with alcohol.
Having been left behind as all of her friends went on to fulfill their dreams of college, Dani spent her first couple of years into adulthood just barely getting by. One night, after hours of partying, her grief took hold of her and she attempted to take her own life. After a friend found her, she was rushed to a hospital where she recovered but not without scars.
It was after hitting this rock bottom, Dani decided she would pick herself up and make a move from Tulsa, Oklahoma to Phoenix, Arizona. She began taking classes for computer programming and despite doing well, decided that it wasn’t for her. She did, however, stumble across a job posting for a construction engineering assistant. Despite warnings from her father and brothers who all worked in construction, she applied and got the job where she assisted a 19 million dollar department store build-out. Only seven months into her new position, Dani’s boss was fired for sexual harassment which left her to run the job as the construction rep working directly with the General Contractor. Despite being down on the count for years, her athletic spirit rekindled and she tackled the challenge with great joy. “I memorized those plans!” Dani laughs. If anyone on site had a question, she knew exactly where they could find the answer and in record speed.
Eventually, Dani ended up getting a tip about an opportunity at a well-known construction firm, Hardison/Downey. They were looking for a project manager but had never hired a woman before. Well equipped to take on the challenge, Dani showed up to the interview ready to do what it took to earn a spot on their team. “I told them to give me 90 days and if I don’t do what you need me to do in those 90 days, we can shake hands and I’ll walk out the door.” They agreed and offered her 27k for a position she knew her counterparts were being paid 60k at the time. “I sat in a desk in the hallway,” Dani laughs, “I was a superintendent in the morning and in the afternoon, I was a project manager. I worked my butt off. And you know what? They gave me a truck on my 90th day,” she proudly recalls. Dani continued to work for ten years at this company making history as the first woman to receive multiple nominations for Arizona’s best project manager of the year award as well as recognition in Arizona Women’s Magazine’s top five women in construction in 2005. “In ten years, I worked 130 million dollars worth of projects for them,” says Dani, “I worked with integrity and ethics and worked hard every single day. I loved my job so much.”
Unsurprisingly, Dani’s talents did not go unnoticed from other construction firms and she ended up getting an offer she couldn’t refuse. It was from a firm looking for someone to travel around America building training facilities for athletes. “Here I am, an athlete whose career was taken away from me, and now I had an opportunity to build training facilities for pro athletes!” Dani exclaims. It was her dream job combining everything she loved. And so, with her previous employers’ blessing, she left to begin building exceptional facilities around the country.
Eventually, after the United State’s economic recession of 2009, she was recruited to build gyms in Canada with another company. She didn’t stay long however because she realized the owner valued profit over safety, and she resigned. She discovered that many of the buildings that this company wanted to convert into gyms had a lot of mold that had not been remediated properly. So, she put together a budget that included resolving this potential health risk to future gym members. However, when she presented it to her boss, he replied, “If the members can’t see it, touch it, feel or smell it, I’m not spending a dime on it.” “I told him, ‘well, you hired the wrong person!’ I couldn’t live with myself knowing that I could potentially make someone’s health worse who signed up with a membership to make their health better. No amount of money was worth it to me.”
Dani returned home from Canada with her integrity intact but otherwise in rough shape, both mentally and physically. The cold, wet climate in Canada did a number on her health. Additionally, to add salt to her wounds, her marriage and family had fallen apart. Never down for too long, she returned to Phoenix prepared to start over. “There has been little catalytic moments in my life that have made me keep fighting for both physical mobility and achievement.” Her return home was no exception.
What would follow includes a home robbery leaving Dani with absolutely nothing to her name and a year of hand surgeries to replace her degenerating joints with artificial ones to allow the use of her hands.
But like every obstacle Dani has overcome in her life, she re-built her foundation and leaned into her love of construction to find a way to make it work. In 2013, she created Thrive CM, LLC. a construction management/project management consulting company, and soon after launched THRIVE Construction, LLC. a commercial and residential general contracting company based in Phoenix, Arizona.
“We only do word of mouth referrals,” remarks Dani. With a stellar reputation and lasting relationships, this approach leaves her turning more work down than she can take in. She takes great pride in her team and skillsets to provide truly beautiful, purposeful spaces for her clients to THRIVE in.
To create positive change in other people’s lives who are battling RA, in 2017, Dani launched her very own foundation, Make it Count 4 Dani (MIC4D) where she advocates, educates, encourages, and inspires those living with Rheumatoid Arthritis to help improve their quality of life. Through “movement” care packages, college scholarship funds and financial assistance to help find a cure, she brings light and hope to her cause. From athletics, to construction to battling chronic illness, Dani is championing each fight and bringing everyone to the finish line with her. “The foundation is my passion,” says Dani, “and construction is the love of my life.”