Power up your life

Power up your life! These women learned that the best practice for climbing a mountain is…climbing a mountain

You probably think of a spa as a retreat where you’ll be pampered and spoiled – not as a place where you replenish your self-confidence by overcoming difficult physical challenges. But that’s what you’ll get at an innovative 7-day program created by Pamela Peeke, MD, MPH, author of Fit to Live: 5 Steps to a Lean, Strong, Fearless You. “The rocks will teach you,” says Peeke, referring to the confidence women gain from climbing to the summits surrounding the Red Mountain Spa in St. George, UT, where the program is held. “Your foot will find a way up; then you’ll say to yourself, If I can fight this fear, I can fight other fears, too.”

The getaway, known as “Peeke Week,” is designed for women ready to move beyond big life issues – failing marriages, illnesses, unsatisfying jobs, and aging parents. Peeke also drives home the importance of eating well, exercising, and managing stress, but the hikes impart the most meaningful lesson: If your body can conquer new physical challenges, your mind will have the skills it needs to conquer all the rest.

After a week with Peeke, these three women felt they were better equipped to do just that.

I came to “Lose 20 pounds”

I ended up “Regaining control of my life”

Kathryne Olds, 48, discovered very quickly that the extra pounds she was carrying were merely symptomatic of thornier issues. “Dr. Peeke told me, ‘Honey, you’re not going to lose any weight until you get rid of stress,'” says Olds, who lives in Grand Haven, MI. “She explained that stress produces a hormone called cortisol, which has been linked to abdominal fat. And stress can trigger overeating.”

A chief source of anxiety was the devastating cancer diagnosis that, despite her family’s offers of support, she’d soldiered through alone. So was the job she’d held for 15 years as an accountant and property manager for her parents’ real estate business. At first, she enjoyed the work, but she eventually burned out and worried that quitting would leave her parents in a bind.

Her perspective began to change after she successfully completed each one of the hikes, including the most challenging one–Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park. Hikers must scramble up the bare rock, with sheer drop-offs to one side, while they hang on to a metal chain bolted into the mountain. “It’s the scariest thing I’ve ever done besides chemo, ” she says.

A few days later, a walk with Peeke through Red Mountain’s labyrinth, a popular setting for meditation, cemented her commitment to change: “When we reached the middle, Pam told me, ‘Get rid of the crap and get on with your life.’ I got excited and yelled, ‘I want to be free!’ I’m religious, so I asked God to help me. It was very emotional, very cool.”

It was also very liberating. She finally told her parents she wanted to leave the business. “It wasn’t as hard as I’d imagined,” she says, adding that she feels closer to them as a result.

As she tries to figure out what she’ll do next, she’s found a breast cancer support group and is working on losing those 20 pounds, too. “I’m not giving up,” she says. “I know it’ll come off. I used to think it was too late to change. At the retreat, I learned that isn’t so.”

I came to “Manage Stress”

I ended up “Renewing my self-confidence”

Laura Hinkle, 48, came to Red Mountain from Raleigh, NC, shortly after one of the most depressing times in her life. Over the course of a year, she helped a daughter through a serious illness, put her mother in a nursing home, had back surgery, and watched her marriage collapse. As a newly single woman without health insurance, she was eager to find a career she could feel passionate about that also provided benefits.

“At Peeke Week, I discovered that I can put myself first,” she says. “Going straight up the rock face on the Angel’s Landing trail and holding on to the chain for dear life – it was so soon after my back surgery, I wasn’t sure I could do it. But I did. Sitting on the top, I said to myself, Okay, if I can do this, I can do the rest of it.”

Four months after the retreat, Hinkle says: “I feel more confident than ever.” She took a part-time job at a retail store during the holiday rush, and, with her new drive and courage, attracted the attention of the owner, who offered her a full-time management position–complete with a health care plan.

Now she keeps inspirational cards with questions such as, “What are you grateful for?” on her mirror and reads them while she blow-dries her hair. “They remind me of my inner strength and all the good things about my life.”

I came to “Eat Healthfully”

I ended up “learning how to trust others”

Pamela Hairston has a strong independent streak, so when she arrived at the spa she felt a familiar desire to retreat within herself. To her delight, she found that women at Red Mountain were warm and welcoming, and they bonded while sharing stories about work, relationships, and the ongoing battle to eat healthily and stay fit. As she hiked Bryce Canyon, she realized that the biggest mountain for her to climb was finding the courage to let down her guard and let other people in.

When she returned home, Hairston was determined to demonstrate her newfound sense of connectedness. She invited six people who didn’t know each other to a toga party. “Before Peeke Week, I would never have mixed people who didn’t know each other,” she says. “I would have worried they might not hit it off, and that would have spoiled the fun.” What’s more, because her condo was being remodeled, Hairston had to ask a friend if she could host the party at her house. When her friend readily agreed, Hairston was reminded of what she learned at Red Mountain. “On the retreat, I surprised myself by being able to accept a hand up to the next ledge or even a word of encouragement. I saw those gestures for what they were–signs of communion and friendship.”

Change your life

Are you fit to live? Pamela Peeke, MD, MPH, a women’s health expert and Prevention advisor, says the answer has both physical and mental components. Go to prevention.com/drpeeke for inspiring tips on how to get healthy and confident and possibly take on new adventures. You can also post questions for Peeke, who’ll be monitoring the message boards regularly from May 1 to June 30.

3 steps to I-can-do-anything confidence

Try these long-lasting self-esteem boosters and find the courage to fix what’s not working in your life.

1. Challenge your body The amount of physical effort you put out will return to you as mental energy. Run instead of walk. Lift heavier weights. Soon you’ll have the newfound enthusiasm to tackle other challenges.

2. Stop trying to be perfect Embrace the concept of “good enough.” If you eat well most of the time, the occasional greasy burger isn’t a calamity. If you miss workouts for a week, forgive yourself and get back to the gym when you can.

3. Fire your board of directors We all have a chorus of critical voices in our heads telling us what to do. “Tell those voices to take a hike,” Peeke says. Focus on what you want and need–and don’t let the naysayers stop you from getting it.

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