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.
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?”
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 have since shared running for joy together, including celebrating their fourth annual run of that first race, the Minnesota Hot Dash.
“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.”
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.”
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.
Want to be featured as a Strong:Her Woman? Submit your request for consideration here.