How I Got Fit & Changed My Life

Fit happens.
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The Cyclist

MICHELLE SCHARF, 48 Atlanta MY MIDLIFE SLUMP "When we lived in Florida, I was an active horseback rider. But then my husband was transferred to Atlanta, and I had to leave my mare behind. I was in a new town with no friends, and my kids were becoming adults. All in all, I felt a little lost. I asked myself, what’s next?" MY "AHA" MOMENT "I’d been on a swim team before, so when an instructor at my gym needed a swimmer for a triathlon team, I signed on. On race day, the bikers had a blast. I wanted to experience that joy." THE LIFE-CHANGING WORKOUT "I used the money I’d gotten from selling my horse to buy a good bike. Once I got adjusted to it, I spent weekends riding a 25-mile loop. I’d be so wiped at the end that I could barely function. But I kept at it, and a year later I moved on to a group. Once we went on a 53-mile ride. Of the 50 riders, 45 were men. Ten minutes in, I dropped back, and, left on my own, I got so lost I cried. It took me over four hours to complete the ride, but I did it. After that, the guys realized I wasn’t going away." THE NEW ME "By taking me out of my comfort zone, the bike helped me become the person I was always meant to be. I’ve finally recognized what a competitor I am. And I’m enjoying some of the most intense friendships of my life, with people I would never have met through my job or in my neighborhood." Editor’s note: When she’s not posing for a photo shoot, Scharf wears a helmet.
Photographed by Justin Steele

The Runner

ANN LOMBARDI, 58 Atlanta MY MIDLIFE SLUMP "During my forties, when I was teaching English as a second language, I was a semi-couch potato. Though I’d played volleyball and bas-ketball throughout high school and college, my major exercise became running to catch the bus, which left my heart racing a lot faster than I knew was healthy. I felt sluggish, soft and seriously out of shape." MY "AHA" MOMENT "I speak German and French, and I’ve always loved the music of other languages, so I volunteered as a translator at the 1996 Summer Olympics, in Atlanta. Watching all these incredibly fit people made me think, I used to have fun in sports, why can’t I do it now? And why do I need to have upper arms that flap in the breeze just because I’m approaching 50?" THE LIFE-CHANGING WORKOUT "I started training with a local fitness group. Two months later I did a 10K race and six weeks after that my first marathon. I figured if I was going to get up at six AM to train, I wanted to get the most bang for my buck." SIDE BENEFIT: BECOMING AN ADVENTURER "Besides teaching, I worked as a part-time travel agent. At an informational seminar I met a fellow agent and runner, Wendy Swartzell, and to-gether we decided to take a career leap. We both believe that the best way to experience the world is to stretch your mind and your muscles, and in 1998 we launched the Trip Chicks, an adventure travel agency. We’ve taken groups biking in New Zealand, horseback riding in Iceland, hiking in Italy and tracking howler monkeys in the jungles of Belize. And I’ve gone on to complete 25 more marathons, including the Berlin Marathon. I finished dead last, but I finished." THE NEW ME "When I first started running marathons, I kept myself going by looking for money on the ground. I found $364.98 in two years. Now I’m making my living by following my passion for fitness and travel. The skills I acquired from doing marathons-tenacity, persistence and the ability to take things, literally, in stride-have helped me manage the ups and downs of running a business during these daunting economic times."
Photographed by Justin Steele

The Martial Artist

WENDY HOOD, 42 Cumming MY MIDLIFE SLUMP "I was a manager at Nordstrom, in charge of supervising 500 employees-a job I loved but one with a very demanding schedule. To keep up my energy, I’d join a gym or start a new workout program, but I was never able to stay consistent or committed. I felt tired and stressed, so I’d wander through nutrition stores looking for whatever I was lacking." MY "AHA" MOMENT "Eight years ago, my daughter, who was seven, decided she wanted to take tae kwon do, and the rest of us-my husband, our nine-year-old son and I-decided to do it with her. We had a great time and even got our black belts at the same ceremony in 2003. Then, in January 2005, Nordstrom offered me a promotion and the chance to open a new store. Before, I would have been all over that opportunity, but at that point, I really didn’t want to relocate again. I wanted to try something new and also to spend more time with my family. I not only turned down the promotion, I decided to take early retirement." SIDE BENEFIT: A NEW BUSINESS "I began teaching martial arts at my church and dreaming of having my own studio. My husband, a baseball hitting coach, was thinking of going out on his own too. We were driving home from Disney World during spring break 2005 when inspiration struck, and I suddenly said to my husband, ‘Pull over.’ Right on the spot, I started diagraming a business that would include the Swing Doctor, my husband’s coaching company, and My Health Kick, a martial arts studio. We found a space the next year, painted and outfitted it in six weeks, and opened our doors in February 2007. These days I wake up at 3:45 to lead a five AM boot camp class. I’ve swapped business suits for sweat suits, and I’m making way less than half of my old six-figure salary, but it’s all worth it. As a family, we’ve learned to get by on what we need and not what we want. That’s been a great lesson for us all." THE NEW ME "My strength as an executive was motivating people, and as a martial arts teacher I still do that-only now I’m helping women become healthier and more empowered, in body, mind and spirit. And I get to spend more time with my family. My oldest daughter works in the studio, my eight-year-old takes my classes, and we’re able to have family dinners most nights, including a weekly picnic in the park."
Photographed by Justin Steele

The Climber

TERESA BONDORA, 44 Kennesaw MY MIDLIFE SLUMP "When I was 39, my marriage was unraveling and I was overweight. I’d been a gymnast in my teens and twenties,but I’d become a very sedentary,very unhappy size 16." MY "AHA" MOMENT "During a business trip to Buffalo, I was exploring the slippery cliffs of the Niagara Escarpment. I soon found myself hanging, terrified, from a tree root 20 feet above the ground. I got myself out of it, but later realized that I had two choices: to never do that again or to get fit and learn how to do it the right way." THE LIFE-CHANGING WORKOUT "Back home in Mobile, Alabama, I walked into a climbing gym full of twenty-somethings who welcomed me with open arms and coached me. I fell in love with climbing and lost 50 pounds over the next year. On those walls, and later on outdoor climbs, I found perspective and a sense of calm, which helped enormously when my husband and I decided to divorce. When you climb, you keep heading upward even though your fingers are being shredded and your muscles feel like Jell-O. That ability to move on despite pain and fear carries into your daily life. It gave me the clarity I needed to see my choices objectively and make the right decisions." SIDE BENEFIT: A NEW HUSBAND "I started taking my kids camping and climbing, and they absolutely loved it. I met my future husband during one of those trips. Later, after our house was hit by Hurricane Katrina, we moved to Atlanta, within driving distance of several great climbs. Now I coach climbing, and my family and I spend the weekend out on the rocks whenever we can." THE NEW ME "I’m stronger and leaner than when I was a high school cheerleader. Even better, I know that whatever happens in my life, I’ll always have climbing. It’s like a magic pill that constantly brings me a renewed sense of purpose; I feel confident about the future and unafraid of getting older." Find more real women’s stories here To submit your own pics and story, click here
Photographed by Justin Steele

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