With $40 in her pocket, a then 17-year-old Mary MacDonald hitchhiked her way from an impoverished Northern Ontario life to dreams of prosperity in a booming Alberta.

Over 15 years, hundreds of educational hours and a wealth of oil and gas experience later, MacDonald now finds herself a cold casualty of a recessionary wave that humbled many in its wake.

In 2005, MacDonald purchased a Falconridge property — a place she could “finally call home.” At the height of the boom, MacDonald capitalized on the home’s equity in the pursuit of a dream — to open a martial arts academy.

MacDonald left her job, leveraged her home, found two investors and it appeared her dream was on the road to realization. Shortly thereafter, the markets plummeted.

“At first I just thought it was a short-term glitch and that the market would pick up as quickly as it crashed,” MacDonald said.

Two months later, the investors pulled out and MacDonald was left without employment, no job to return to, and a dream that appeared dashed.

“I knew I’d have to do some belt-tightening but I never dreamed I would be in a situation where I could lose everything I’ve worked for.”

Facing a mortgage in arrears and a still-shrinking job market, MacDonald is working where she can, struggling to make ends meet in a world that’s been turned upside down — as it has been for many Calgarians.

But one constant remains.

MacDonald said she will see her dream of a martial arts academy come true some day. She refuses to accept defeat at the hands of the recession, instead turning to inner strength after a lifetime of hard knocks.

“Dig down deep and find your growl,” MacDonald advises. “Everyone has a tiger inside.”