From running track in high school to now being on track to earn $1 million this year, Matisa Ullrich often describes her upbringing in Miami as “unconventional” — but credits her time in the Marine Corps for much of her success.

Her father died early in life, and she didn’t have much of a relationship with her mother. Raised by grandparents, older siblings and other family members, Ullrich found a measure of stability when a military recruiter noticed her in high school.

“I came to school one day in my tracksuit, having a meet that day, and he stopped me and asked me what I was running,” Ullrich said. “I said I was pretty decent in the middle distance and not a very good sprinter.

“He was really just taking an interest in me and that didn’t happen very often when I was growing up. Nobody really took an interest in the specific things that I was doing.”

College was always a goal for Ullrich, but she didn’t think it was feasible, so that encounter with a military recruiter carried significant weight for her. Despite the protests of family members who preferred she go a different route, she enrolled in basic training and joined the Marine Corps the day after graduating high school in 1999.

“Nobody was super ecstatic about it, to be completely honest,” Ullrich said. “But I think they understood. I have always been super independent. But Marine Corps boot camp was a dream to be frank, because I knew every day exactly what I would do.”

Nearly a quarter-century later, Ullrich’s decision to enter the military has proven to be the right one. She rose to the level of sergeant during her eight-year tenure, which included a tour in Iraq, before heading into the next stage of her life. While her initial foray into civilian life wasn’t exactly what she’d hoped, she was determined to change that course.

She got her college degree at Campbell College in North Carolina and landed a job at the IRS, but threats of a government shutdown and eventually an actual shutdown in 2011 turned her career in a different direction — toward the cleaning industry. By 2014, when another shutdown loomed, she’d had enough.

“A few paychecks were skipped,” Ullrich said. “But when the shutdown happened, I was like, ‘I can’t stay home.’ I’m a busy-body.”

When one door closes on an opportunity, another door opens. It was during this time that she started a small cleaning business with a few local clients to supplement her pay from the IRS. But when the shutdown ended, the cleaning clients still wanted her business, and that portfolio expanded.

She thrived in the cleaning market as a small business but knew she needed more resources to further succeed in the industry.

Earlier this year, Ullrich became a franchise owner at OpenWorks, a facilities management company that offers client services in areas such as commercial cleaning and disinfection, pest control, and handyman services. Ullrich offered many of these services previously, but under the franchising umbrella was able to expand her business reach even more.

Ullrich is based in Stafford, Virginia, which is located only 50 miles from Washington. The location keeps her in a well-populated area to attract clients. She has clients in Virginia and West Virginia.

The new business has been a smash, as Ullrich is on track to meet her goal of $1 million in revenue from commercial contracts.

The girl from Miami succeeded in overcoming a rough start to secure a bright future.

“My grandfather always taught me that you don’t know if you can do it or not, unless you do it,” Ullrich said of taking the chance on a new career.

That sage advice also applies to her choosing to take the military route when not everyone in her camp initially supported the decision.

“Some of the most impactful things I’ve learned from the military, especially the Marine Corps, is that the Marine Corps works on a really small budget and almost makes miracles,” she said. “So that is my mindframe [in business]. I don’t perfectly do that, but I have learned to adapt to whatever resources that I have available to me that I have access to.”

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