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From Grief to Wellness: Amy Voelker Wins a Fitness Makeover

Dr. Michael Mandell, Amy Voelker, Leeza Gibbons, and trainers Nicole and Jessica at Life@50+ session

Two years ago, Amy Voelker, 50, and her husband were enjoying the fruits of 20 years of marriage. Her two stepsons were married with kids. Her youngest son was doing well in his first year of college. Then tragedy struck this family when a drunk driver broadsided the car, instantly killing her husband and all three sons. After a lengthy trial for the drunk driver, Amy was at a turning point. “I was trying to figure out my future; I was thinking about what’s next.”  She knew she wanted to channel her grief into work to prevent drunk driving, but also knew she needed to take care of herself. “In the summer months before the crash, my husband and son had finally gotten me into the gym with them on a regular basis,” she said.

That’s when the email from AARP came about a contest for to win either a financial or fitness makeover as part of the “Decide.Create.Share.” campaign.

Decide.Create.Share. helps women in their 40s, 50s and 60s take steps now to prepare for a healthy and safe future. Its mission is to encourage women to envision their futures and to create a plan to help them achieve their goals – in the areas of health, finances, legal issues and home and community.

She entered to win a fitness makeover, writing in her application: “Although the gym gave me a free lifetime pass after the crash, I can’t make myself go into the building where we worked out together in those happier times.”

When she won, AARP worked with the American Council on Exercise (ACE) to find Amy a personal trainer, Nicole Topare. After six weeks of regular workouts, Amy says she feels “physically stronger.”

But ACE doesn’t stop with the physical aspects of fitness; they also help with the mental aspects. Dr. Michael Mandell, a psychologist and ACE’s senior fitness consultant for behavioral science, helps Amy with the emotional side of working out. He has been in contact with her grief counselor and together they are helping Amy gain a can-do attitude. “I moved from, ‘I can do this?’ to: ‘I can do this!’ ”

Amy has plans to increase her work with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). “Feeling healthy and good physically helps give me the support to feel like being out there and reaching out to people and sharing my story,” Amy said.

Amy Voelker, Nicole Compare and Dr. Michael Mandell joined Leeza Gibbons at AARP’s Life@50 in a session today to share more about Amy’s journey and tips for igniting your own fitness makeover. “These two women are on a pathto change lives and I love being a conduit to help make that happen,” said Leeza (referring to Amy and Celia Nathan who won a financial makeover.) Here are some the great fitness tips they shared: