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Karen Skoog


The Author & her Mother, June 2006

At the age Barb Skoog, author, with her mother Karen Skoog. Karen Skoog views her future as ...life will never be on cruise control again…I am going to keep learning and living every day... Makes for an extraordinary woman.of 57 and after a long and successful career, my mom was offered an early retirement package, which she eagerly snapped up. I, too, was excited to see my mom retire after more than 20 years in the workforce. I saw her career as the last of the responsibilities in which she had wrapped her life. Like a blanket, those responsibilities—pleasing daughter, obedient wife, sacrificing mother, dedicated employee—had kept her snug and comfy, but a bit confined. I thought her retirement would hit her like a hot flash in the middle of the night. I expected her to awaken suddenly with heart pounding, sweat dripping, feet thrashing the blankets off her. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Easing into "Selfness"

My mom came into retirement slowly. It took a while for her to shed her corporate skin and feel comfortable with not having expectations of her for the first time in many, many years. She focused on doing things she had always enjoyed, like running, but that was just because she had more time on her hands. She continued to mentor former female colleagues who called at least once a week seeking her advice. She had lunch with friends. An interest in health and wellness lead her to take a few classes on the topic. She dabbled, but she didn’t pursue any one particular thing with the zing and zest I was used to seeing her throw at everything she took on. I look back now at this time in her life and I believe she was waiting for permission. Decades of putting other people first had conditioned her to think that doing what she wanted was selfish. Even worse, it was unnecessary. She was looking for someone to tell her it was okay for her to be her. Unconditionally.

If you think about, there are no role models for retired women of my mom’s generation. There certainly hasn’t been a generation of retired women of this size and scope before, which means they have to break new ground. Again. There are no existing resources or networks to turn to. Books haven’t been written on the topic yet. Starting over after a lifelong career is different than starting over after leaving a 30-year marriage. There are lots of resources helping women get back into the workforce, but hardly any for women getting out of the workforce. My mom had a good retirement package and savings, all the time in the world, and 57 years of life experience, but she had yet to give herself the go-ahead to dive into the deep end.

As her daughter, and more significantly as a woman and a professional myself, it was frustrating to watch the first few years of my mom’s retirement pass by her. My mom is talented. She has a natural curiosity which fuels her desire to learn new things and try a different route. People are drawn to her enthusiasm, compassion, and youthful spirit. So why hadn’t she hit the ground running when she retired?

What I failed to see, however, was that my mom wasn’t letting retirement “pass by her.” She was allowing it to unfold before her. I can now see, and appreciate, the difference. Slowly and patiently, she was restoring the energy, courage and strength that had been leeched from her in everyday life. She was becoming whole again.

Life Begins with Cancer

Six months after her 60th birthday, my mom was diagnosed with cancer. She had two choices: she could fight or she could surrender. She chose to do both. She fought the disease with surgeries and chemo. She battled the emotional rollercoaster. She took a stand for her health and her life and didn’t back down. And then she surrendered the things in her life that didn’t contribute to her crusade. She gave up worrying about what she had no control over. She let go of the fear, the anger, and the regrets that were exposed when she had tossed off the blankets she had wrapped her life in.

Eight chemo sessions, a painful rehabilitation period, and dozens of doctor visits later, all that was left, according to her doctors and her own determined will, was more life. Great medical care, a healthy lifestyle blessed by good genes, and a determined attitude had given her a second chance. She promptly wrote herself her own permission slip—role models, resources, and advice books be damned. After that, nothing was off limits.

And She’s Off!

“I want to live my life 24-hours a day,” she tells me. “I don’t want to go to sleep because I want to be doing all the things I never had the courage to do before.”

Extraordinary woman and cancer survivor, Karen Skoog.
Karen Skoog, Extraordinary Woman

And so she did. She took a trip to Europe for the first time in her life. Not an experienced traveler, I suggested “easing” into European travel by going to London where English is spoken and it’s a fairly easy city to get around in. She went to Italy on a 9-day hiking trip. She doesn’t speak a lick of Italian. Later that year, she ran a marathon on the one-year anniversary, to the day, of being cancer free. That meant she started training for it shortly after her last chemo session. She openly explored alternative medicines like acupuncture, imaging, and meditation. Just the other day she tossed out the comment, “I like combining Western and Eastern medicine in my life.” Huh? This is the same woman who once said I was fanatical for being a vegetarian. She learned to play bridge and joined a club. She learned to drink new wines. She bought a new, bright red car. She started her own business, cleverly called Wellness Workouts, teaching fitness classes to seniors and giving talks on health and wellness. She now has 18 certifications in her area of expertise, allowing her to teach classes ranging from balance/stability and senior cardio to arthritis water aerobics and yoga stretch. When she was hired by a community center to teach a fitness class to a group of H’mong seniors, she learned to count to ten in their language, bringing smiles to the participants who knew only broken English.

There is a long checklist of the more subtle changes she has made in her life as well. She laughs off “chemo brain,” the memory-loss side effect of chemotherapy, rather than getting frustrated with herself. She has no problem telling the doctors they are wrong when they advise her the memory loss is short term, and telling them they are wrong again when they don’t believe her. She no longer lets insecurities hold her back. She doesn’t regret missed opportunities of her youth but rather sees them as new possibilities for today. “When I was younger, I wanted to go back to school to be a nurse, but I never thought I was smart enough to do it,” she says. “Today, I put that desire to be a caregiver into my business where I help people get healthy and stay healthy.”

Back to the Future

I could spend the next few paragraphs telling you about the other obstacles in my mom’s life she has had to face: the death of her mother when she was 14, being raised by an alcoholic father, dealing with a rocky marriage, taking care of a mother-in-law suffering from mental illness, facing sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. But all that doesn’t matter—to her or to anyone else. “I don’t regret my past and the life I lived,” she firmly states, “but I am glad for who I am now.” And I can hear that truth in her voice.

There are many women with a similar story to my mom’s. The details may differ but the big picture is the same: women who at one point and for whatever reason surrendered their lives, and now they are taking them back. My mom’s story is not just about the journey, it’s about the attitude. “I’m not trying to impress anyone but me now,” she says. “I want to be honest with myself in a way that I was never before.”

Surprisingly, when I ask my mom what her future looks like, she has no concrete plans and instead comes back to the present. “My life will never be on cruise control again,” she declares. “I am going to keep learning and living every day.” Then with a chuckle, she adds, “And drinking good wine.”

Now that’s a good role model.

--Barb Skoog.

Karen Skoog’s Current Activities

Karen lives in Maple Grove, Minn. with her husband and near her two grandkids. She owns her own business, Wellness Workouts, which provides health and fitness classes, lectures, and seminars to a variety of audiences including seniors, medical professionals, and industry experts. She contracts for nationally recognized organizations and institutions as well as local community programs.

Classes Karen currently teaches includes:

  • Forever Fit - A land based aerobic/weight lifting/balance class open to all ages, but mostly attended by seniors 55+. Oldest man in Karen’s class is 86…and he moves!
  • SilverSneakers – Seniors only (65+). Teaches both muscle strength and range of motion classes as well as a cardio circuit class.
  • Balance and Fall Prevention (Beginning and Advanced classes) – These classes focus on strength training which is one of the major components of balance training. “This has been my most rewarding class to teach,” Karen says. “I see improvement from every participant by the end of our 8-week sessions.”
  • Core/Balance with Stability Ball – This is one of Karen’s favorite classes to teach, “because it covers everything needed to keep physically fit,” she says. A workout for all ages, this class is for the entire body and strengthens and tones muscles, improves balance and coordination, increases postural awareness, and targets core muscles. The class is great for improving weaker muscles and preventing injury through awareness.
  • Yoga Stretch through SilverSneakers – This class offers light to moderately intense rhythmic and static range of movement, choreography, and progressive breathing exercise instruction. Instead of mat work, the class uses a chair for seated and standing support moves.

Karen also is dedicated to spreading the word about the importance of fitness at any age. As a representative for SilverSneakers, she participates in many community events, health fairs, and fitness center open houses to encourage and show people how easy it is to get and stay in shape. She also leads “demo” fitness classes sponsored by insurance companies. In addition, she teaches Master Classes to new SilverSneakers instructors.

A week’s work would not be complete without Karen participating in her volunteer work:

  • She leads a cancer support group at a local church. “I started the class after being diagnosed with cancer to offer others help in staying healthy and fit during their recovery period, and, consequently, during their remission,” explains Karen. “The class is all about having fun while keeping fit, and we do just that!” The class is open to anyone, but at the moment there are only survivors participating.
  • Karen has had many volunteer opportunities to speak to employees at large companies about staying fit and healthy and having your body prepared for any diagnosis...cancer, heart disease, diabetes, or whatever medical issue you’re faced with. Speaking from experience, she focuses on how much easier surgery and recovery are when you start out healthy and the role a positive attitude plays in staying strong. “I have met some great people—inspirational people—doing this,” exclaims Karen. “Humor is one tool I use in my talks because it motivates anyone listening to keep smiling....no matter what!”
  • Karen recently signed up for training classes with the Minnesota Literacy Council to help non-English speaking adults and children learn English. Training classes do not start until late summer, but Karen can’t wait to begin teaching English in the fall this year.

Barb Skoog, who wrote this beautiful and inspirational tribute to her mother, is of herself an extraordinary young woman.
Inspired in so many ways by the amazing women in her life, especially her mom, Barb Skoog quit her 13-year career in Corporate America to focus on what she loves most: writing, traveling, and learning new things. Living thousands of miles away from her mom when she found out about her mom’s cancer, they eliminated the distance by lighting a candle together and found strength in its physical presence and metaphorical meaning. Soon, their candles became more than just a symbol of unity and closeness—they were beacons of light for a variety of hopes, intentions, meditations, and wishes. From this experience a new adventure blossomed for Barb. Last year she started Hope’s Flame (www.hopesflame.com )—handmade candles benefiting causes close to her heart. And since a portion of the sale from every candle goes to a charitable organization that contributes to the hope of another, Hope’s Flame candles are for those who believe a little hope can go a long way…something Barb has experienced first hand throughout her mom’s life.

We know there are thousands of unsung extraordinary women in this world. We want to feature those women who are not in the limelight, who don't make the headlines but who live their lives as an inspiration to those who know them well. We invite our PLATINUM MEMBERS to please nominate your own extraordinary woman to be featured in these pages. Send a brief introduction to extraordinarywoman@connectionsforwomen.com and instructions as to how we may contact you in follow up. Each extraordinary woman featured in these pages will receive a gift certificate to a day spa in her location.

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