In 2009, at the age of 36, Michelle Steinke-Baumgard tragically lost her husband of 9 years in a small plane crash, leaving her widowed with two young children. She turned to exercise as an outlet for grief and a way to handle stress. Not only did she drop more than 60 pounds, but she also found that she was healing. Michelle found it so powerful that she eventually quit her corporate VP job to become a fitness coach. Somehow, in the midst of her darkest moment, Michelle discovered a solution – and it wasn’t by eating the cakes and casseroles her friends left in the fridge.
We recently had the opportunity to catch up with Michelle about her new book, Healthy Healing: A Guide to working Out Grief Using the Power of Exercise and Endorphins.
Beliefnet: Tell us about moment you first realized that channeling the pain you experienced after your husband’s death into something productive could be used as a catalyst for inspired change?
Michelle: I was on a long run, training for a marathon I would be complete in his honor. I felt the pain washing over me, and suddenly a felt a strange sense of peace and strength. It was in that very moment that I knew I had to spend the rest of my life helping other find exercise as a grief coping tool.
Beliefnet: In the book, you mention the gifts that grief has to offer, one being “post-traumatic growth.” I’m sure this is a brand new concept to many people, myself included. What can you tell us more about the phenomenon of post-traumatic growth?
Michelle: When you have experienced life-altering grief or tragedy, you have this unique opportunity to grow into a fantastic individual full of a new and beautiful perspective. I recognized this in myself and many others very quickly after loss. It was as if I was seeing life for the very first time. Yes, life was very difficult and painful after a loss, but I quickly realized it was more beautiful and I appreciated so much more. Just recently I read about new this field of psychology, and I realized it was what I had learned many years before. When we go through loss, we have a chance to grow and change for the better, if we make ourselves open to that growth.
Beliefnet: As adults, we prioritize everything above ourselves, often to the detriment of our relationships, parenting, and our work. What advice can you give to help people overcome any barrier to exercise?
Michelle: Your love for others, our effectiveness at work, your view of the world, will all improve if you take time for yourself. I couldn’t believe how much better I became in all facets of my life when I started taking care of my health and wellbeing. You can love deeper, think more clearly, have more personal strength, and live so much larger when you make the time to be your best. The people in your life who love you would not want anything less for you. Don’t make them your excuse, make them your reason why.
Beliefnet: The response to your One Fit Widow from people all over the world is incredible. Did you ever think you would have such an impact on the lives of others?
Michelle: Not really. I knew I had something essential to say after my late husband died, but I wasn’t sure it would resonate the way it has. I think because I’m honest, vulnerable and real, people relate to much of what I have to say. I’m glad that my words and mission help the people who need a lifeline on the hard days.
Beliefnet: I read that you were working to accomplish everything on your late husband’s bucket list. Have you done it all or are more adventures waiting?
Michelle: The list is long and very adventurous. I haven’t even come close to completing them all, and many will have to wait until my kids get older, but I’ve been blessed to do some very cool things. Running a marathon, hiking the Grand Canyon, traveling to Bali and seeing the sunrise over an active volcano, and hiking the Na Pali Coast in Kauai, just to name a few. The best part of my bucket list adventures is that it has turned into a nonprofit for others and through the work our nonprofit does we can now help fund dreams for widows and widowers who may need financial support. That makes me the happiest of all.
Michelle’s new book empowers people to find hope, move forward and feel better. She teaches others how to channel their pain onto something productive and turn a tragedy into something that inspires lasting change. Pick up a copy of Healthy Healing today to read more about her revolutionary fitness-based approach to dealing with grief.