Her:Stories

Shared experiences for everyday women

Running Towards Joy

Running Towards Joy

She is as lovely as the first time I met her 5 years ago when asked to interview her for a transfer from one business location to another.  Long, strawberry blond hair and a smile that lights up the air around her.  She speaks softly and laughs readily.  She is a gem of compassion, love and mothering…she just has that way about her.  Meet Cathy Engen, Strong:Her Woman of the Month – June 2019.

Cathy hails from the Dakotas.  Born in Cleveland, Ohio, her family headed west when Cathy was 10 years old.  Their 800+ acre farm literally straddles across the North and South Dakota lines.  “I think the state line ran right through the middle of the house,” she says.  She attended high school in both states, as well.  From the time she was little Cathy was always singing.  Singing and running.  Even in her crib, the baby noise she chose was a song. Her passion for both would weave its way into the story of her life.

Cathy, performing in the musical, Brigadoon (1970’s)

In high school Cathy longed to be on the track team, but there was no such thing as a women’s track team for her small town.  Maybe in the bigger cities, sure.  For this tiny farm-girl, however, she was only allowed to train and run with the boys, but not compete.  This soon changed as she and a group of girls advocated for equality and were eventually allowed to form a track team to compete against other girls.  They did not have funding to be very official and certainly lacked equipment.  Passion fueled solutions, however, and the girls would wear the boy’s football cleats and stuff socks in the toes.  They would then take to the track and run their hearts out.  They soon found themselves allowed to compete in local competitions and like the freedom a bird must feel in flight, Cathy ran.

In college she reignited her love for music and majored in vocals.  She became a music teacher for the next few years and spent her time teaching, mentoring, coaching, singing and sharing her love for music.  It was harder in those days, the early to mid-80’s, to find good paying jobs for women in music in small mid-western towns.  So, Cathy moved into the business sector and became one of the first female managers for the Sioux Falls, South Dakota Chamber of Commerce.  She is proud of that position, even when finding opposition from other women in the workforce.  She overcame resistance by determining herself to be an example to other women around her and to show them that they could be strong and successful, as well.  “We need each other,” she advises.  “We just don’t do enough (as women) to support each other.  It doesn’t take anything out of me to help you get ahead!  If I pour out of myself into you, God will just come along and pour back into me.  One act of kindness can spread further than only I can reach.  I help you and you help the next person and it just keeps going.  Why wouldn’t I want to help someone else?”

Cathy as Chamber of Commerce Manager, Sioux Falls (1980’s)

That philosophy has carried her throughout much of her life.  Cathy has also found that her faith has been the central-most grounding force in her life. “Life is going to hold challenges,” she wisely admits.  “You will face dark times, trouble will find you.  You have to be grounded.  The most important thing is faith.  You must have that foundation and nurture it.  You can feel like you give away so many pieces of yourself as a woman, a wife, a mother, or at work.  Take time for yourself.  Set healthy boundaries for yourself.  I have found that it is in the valleys of life that I have experienced the most learning.  There are seasons of growth to be experienced in the middle of those trials of life.”

Cathy puts her own philosophies into action.  A few years ago she took time to pause and take an evaluation of this season of her life.  She and her husband have been married for three decades and their baby daughter is now grown.  She has seen success in life in business leadership and fostering relationships around her.  With this reflection, Cathy decided it was time to exit working and give time to focus again on what truly brings her joy.  “I wanted to hold music again!” she gushes.  “There’s just something about holding it in your hands.”  So, she joined the choir at the Fourth Baptist Church in Plymouth, MN.  She also started running again.

“I wanted to be an example to my daughter and I wanted to be mindful of my health.” She continues, “Life is a gift and I took control of what I could manage and change for myself.  It’s important that we mind the things that sustain us like eating good food, getting enough sleep, resting and paying attention to our emotional health.”

She admits that working towards her personal fitness goals takes a little longer in this season.  “Just start by walking,” she says. The pace is not the most important part, it’s the act of doing, being, striving, engaging, participating, setting a goal and working towards it.  “Sometimes I think, could I be better, yeah, but I’m using my talents, my gifts and living the best in my body.  There’s only one of me, I’m one-of-a-kind and I’m worth taking care of!” 

She built a regimen for herself that she could stick with and embraces the trail as an adventure that brings her joy.  “I’m an athlete and I run almost every day, even in the winter,” she says.  Cathy wants to make the most of what God gave her and she loves to meet people on the trail.  Like a magnet, she attracts others to her warm, caring and genuine nature.  She strikes up conversations with other runners and enjoys pouring love into those whom she meets along the way. 

It’s only been a few years and now she has a whole shelf of medals.  She has run races in multiple seasons, including sunshine, snow, warmth and cold.  One of her biggest dreams was to run a race with her daughter, which they recently did together. They since have enjoyed several races together, including celebrating their fourth annual run of that first race, the Minnesota Hot Dash.

Cathy and her daughter, Kiki

“I just want to make the most of what God gave me.” Cathy proclaims.  “It’s never too late to start or try something new – or to go back to something you love – every day is a chance for a new beginning.  I hope to make the most of everything I’ve had in my life – my marriage, friends, family, work.”  She states, “I am not a human being, I’m a human ‘be-coming.’  Until I draw my last breath, I am still a work in progress.  I want to be everything God wants me to be.  I may not achieve that in every moment, but I am trying.”

Cathy and her husband, Tim

We think Cathy has achieved that and so much more.  Her passion and faith is evident all around her from the dedication to her training for the next race, to the voice that carries out hymns and praise on a Sunday morning, to the very words she chooses to speak to a mere stranger.  Cathy is a StrongHer Woman and she’s striving to fulfill her purpose.  “I’m still a kid,” she laughs.  “Still goofy!  This body is housing me, but the me inside is ageless, timeless.”  Her greatest accomplishment?  “I joy in having a part in the good for others,” she exclaims.  “At the end I just want to be able to say that it was a good run.”

Cathy, finishing up the Twin Cities Marathon in 2017

We applaud Cathy and her passionate zest and zeal for life! This is just the beginning of sharing stores of our Strong:Her Women. Come check out more of our inspiring ladies on our Her:Stories page.

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Not for the Faint of Heart

There are a few things in life I have not necessarily been brave enough to try on my own.  First time admitting it.  Feels good.  Like therapy.  Or at least what I think therapy would or could feel like if I were to ever try it.  I am not sure if I’m motivated to afford myself, actually. 

I mean I can secure a parking spot at the mall during holiday season with no problem.  It does not matter that Grandma Ruth over there just wants to grab one more box of Legos for little Johnny this year, if she circles that spot more than once, she’s out.  (Valet was made for one reason: for the non-decision makers of the world, I’m sure of it.) 

But skydiving, spray tan booths and radical group exercises are among my lists of phone-a-friend first kind of activities.  Being blonde, sometimes we make irrational decisions.  Like if we have said we will NEVER do such-and-such or this-and-that it does not mean we will not wake up some random Tuesday morning and decide it sounds like a perfectly reasonable adventure.  Maybe this is part of being female, too.  Does it make sense to the average person, next door neighbor, best friend or even ourselves?  Perhaps, not.  Will it be fun?  You bet!

            This is how I found myself in a body pump class in the middle of an otherwise normal sunny afternoon.  Now fitting into medium shirts and able to do average exercises like getting in a run AND going to work on the same day, I was feeling pretty motivated.  (Otherwise major physical undertakings were reserved for days off when my energy meter was full and no one was home to watch me struggle to walk afterward.)  I mean, I was no longer just walking the sidewalks and jogging the intersections.  I was serious. I was hardcore.  There were a variety of ladies in all shapes and sizes lining up for this class and my intimidation level was moderate to low.  I’ve got this.  I was actually excited about it.

            The weight bar was 15 pounds in itself.  Still ok.  I tested it out a few times, then selected a medium -sized weight with the lowest number possible.  It added on another 5 pounds.  Ok, cool.  I mean, my groceries feel this much, at least.  Our instructor was about 10 years my junior and fresh out of college.  She still had ambition and lots to live for, and she decided to demonstrate it all on this day.  Some electric metal music track came on and we were off and running.  We lifted and lugged, we squatted and stretched, we bounced up and down and pumped our hearts out.  My lungs were getting tight and heart rate had been up for a while, I was starting to feel the burn.  I looked up at the clock to see 15 minutes had passed by.  Oh, good…halfway over.  The woman in front of me had a sweat stain the size of Texas spanning the length of her Lululemon tank and I suddenly did not feel so bad about how many times I had to gasp for air.  We were all suffering for a good cause. 

            Workout Barbie gave us a 30 second break, “Grab some water, ladies!”  A few of the class members, who were brunettes and of the prepared sort, grabbed the bottles next to their workout mats and chugged away.  Some stretched out for a second and let their muscles relax.  Two of them collapsed on the floor, looks of regret for this time in their lives they had lost and could never get back, and three of them shuffled to the back fountain like water buffalo, fully intending on it taking AT LEAST 5 minutes to make it back to the front of the room.

            A few precious seconds later our time was over and we grabbed our bars.  Squatting having never been on my list of things to master or earn a degree in, I was really feeling this class in my thighs.  Thank God, only 14 more minutes and I can post this accomplishment on Facebook and go on with my life.  The music blasted again and we picked up where we left off.  I was counting down the minutes like it was the last day of school before summer.  Ten minutes left and we were doing dead lifts from our feet on up.  I reach over, removed my weight blocks and let my weights rest on the floor.  Surely fifteen pounds with the bar would be enough to finish.  I still felt accomplished and continued on.  Five minutes left and I slowed down, maybe she would not notice I was off tempo.  Maybe she would chalk it up to me being blonde.  Two minutes left and I stopped looking at her altogether.  I stared at the trees out the window, focused on getting a little more air in my lungs and figuring out a strategy on how to stay alive for 60 more seconds.  One more minute….45 seconds, 30, 15. 

Author NOT pictured

            “Break!” She yells.  “Great job, get some water, we’re halfway!”  Oh no, did she say half?  My arms feel like Gumby and I have lost all sensation in my toes.  This is an hour class? I considered dying as an option out.  I frantically looked around at my classmates to assess their reactions.  Were there any other blondes here?  Did anyone else see the panic across my face?  A few seemed scared, but it was hard for me to see with all the sweat in my eyes.  Holy buckets, where’s the door?  The music started again and I jolted and started moving.  I abandoned my bar altogether and tried to fake the movements along, trying to strategize how I could sneak away.  42 minutes into this class, I decided humiliation was my only option.  I bent over right in the middle of Eclecto Jams and rolled up my mat.  You got me today, world. 

I hung my head and headed for the back of class.  I heard a bunch of scuffling and fully anticipated to turn and find everyone staring at the poor short girl with the red, splotchy face and the weird sweat stains.  Instead four of them were right behind me.  “Go!” They said, “We’ll cover you!”  We all ran like a heard of baby llamas into the hallway, laughing and snorting.  “I didn’t think I was going to make it out alive!” I laughed.  One of them turns, “My husband never believes me when I say I do these things, he thinks I just come and lounge by the pool or get a massage.”  One of them pipes up, “Yeah, a massage…great idea!  Let’s do that instead!”

            I limped out to the car, shaking my head.  I wonder how buff my legs will look tomorrow?  That’s the best 42 minutes they’ve seen in a while!  I might buy some new sandals and a shorter dress.  Oh, yeah baby…life is sweet.

Rachel Asks: Who is hitting their workout goals this year? How are you staying motivated? What is your favorite workout? Comment below!

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Insist on Love

There are two shiny, red corvettes.  I’m not entirely sure of the year, but from the cut of the fenders, the glisten of the cherry paint and the muscley-muscleness they represent, I’d say they are a 70’s model.  Sure, they are probably from the 70’s.  My children are intent on arguing which one is theirs, however.  The little one insists the one in her brother’s hand is IN-FACT hers and the other, identical one on the counter belongs instead to him. It doesn’t matter, I quip.  They are the same car.  We bought them on the same day, at the same time, from the same store.  They came in the same Hotwheels box and you both liked the same car, so take one of them and go play.  She sighs a huge sigh, shoots her brother a death-look and takes the other car from the counter, likely to create some sort of Evel Knievel-style launching system from which to shoot it from. 

It’s tough, this game of possession and the level of importance we assign to the objects, the things, the stuff that “belongs” to us.  As a matter of fact, I’m of the persuasion that we really own very little in our lives.  I feel we are more gifted an authority over things and we get to choose how to execute the stewardship of those things.

I have a home.  A home I purchased and work for and pay for.  However, when I am done with the use of this home, when it has served it’s purpose in my life, or I decide to move on from this place, I will relinquish ownership to the next purchaser and it will no longer be my home.  So, rather than get prideful about the place that I own, I try to honor it for the thing that it is, a place of shelter, a quiet place to read or study, a place to share a meal with family and friends, my safe harbor and the place in which I may rest my head at night.  I take joy in cleaning and shining the wood floors, impressed by the fact that although constructed nearly 100 years ago, the floors are still beautifully preserved and intact.  I give honor to the person who cut and built the archways by dusting, wiping, inspecting and giving attention to what my home may need.  I am the keeper of this place at this moment and I will also work to preserve and extend it’s life should someday I not still be the “owner.” 

I feel we can give such attention to the things in our lives and the people, as well.  I must remember as a wife that I do not “own” my husband.  He is a gift in my life for me to cherish.  Now mind you, I’m not preserving him for the next in line.  But, I rather feel in this dance of marriage and companionship that we are called to enhance the other’s existence, to partner to meet each other’s needs, support each other’s desires and to tenderly care for them in a way that does not overtake or abuse their position in our lives.  I do not wish to take for granted what I have been given. 

I help my children by providing them a donation box in which they can also release some of the ownership of their things in order to share with those less fortunate.  They sort through their toys and belongings and look for items to share.  It is not for the broken things they wish to discard, but rather when my step-daughter pulls out a stuffed bear that she likes and announces, “Beary has always made me smile because I like his silly scarf and his big eyes.  I think another girl would like him, too.”  My momma-heart swells so big and I know they are absorbing a will of goodness, rather than an idea of possession. For now she keeps that little, red corvette and that is okay, too.  She is enjoying it for this moment and perhaps will have a moment in the future where it is no longer hers.  Cherish the moments, baby girl, instead of the things.  I will enjoy more watching you create those loops and jumps, rather than basking in the pride of what items we can afford or not afford for you.  If you must posses, then posses the moment.  If you must own, then own the responsibility.  If you must insist, then insist on love.  Always, insist on love. 

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