By Catherine Anaya/January 15, 2017
I met Michelle Steinke-Baumgard a couple of years ago in the Phoenix area when I did a story on her for the news here. Her husband Mitch passed away in 2009 and to cope with that overwhelming grief that she was feeling, she decided to lose weight.
“My overarching goal is to change the conversation on grief and to have people be more real and honest about it. It’s a healing mechanism for me as well.” Michelle Steinke-Baumgard
She ended up losing 70 pounds plus she gained the strength to tackle the world again, creating One Fit Widow Virtual Training and Nutrition Company …and so much more! I wanted you to meet this intrepid changemaker so here’s an excerpt of our TWE Radio interview as she joined me from Bozeman, Montana…
EYE: Every year you have honored your late husband Mitch by doing something off his bucket list. Tell us about some of them.
MICHELLE: A few months ago, we hiked the Grand Canyon almost rim to rim, 38 miles in a day. I hiked the Napali Coast in Hawaii. We do all kinds of things. We pick an event a year and I try to do it on the anniversary of his death. So I take a tragic day and show my kids what living looks like, what he would have done if he were here.
I think that is a positive message. We turned it into a nonprofit, called Live the List Nonprofit which funds special dreams for widows and widowers who cannot afford it. A lot of young widows can’t afford to go on vacation so we send families to Disneyland and whatnot. This is one of the greatest legacies for Mitch and really makes him come to life.
EYE: What would he say if he were here watching what you are doing?
MICHELLE: Mitch was my greatest cheerleader and he would tell me I could do anything. He really believed that. I think he’d smirk and say, “I told you so!”
EYE: You are very raw and emotional and honest in your blog and on social media. Where do you find your inspiration for what you write about?
MICHELLE: Things just hit me, honestly. I feel compelled to write about them. They aren’t always happy things. For instance I’m at a football game watching my son play and I see him do a great pass. I get this amazing pain in my heart and at the same an amazing joy, a joy that I have a wonderful man in my life who loves him and raises him and adores him and yet the pain.
I call it “duality” that Mitch isn’t here to see. That’s part of life. I try to be vulnerable and real with those emotions because I think culturally we are very sensitive in the grief department.
We all go through grief. We all lose people. We all die ourselves. And we are so scared of that. My overarching goal is to change the conversation on grief and to have people be more real and honest about it. It’s a healing mechanism for me as well. I get my emotions out; I write about it and I help other people. It’s a win-win.
EYE: You get such an enormous response to One Fit Widow from all over the world. Did you ever imagine you would have such an impact?
MICHELLE: No, I never did. I started it mostly for me because I was talking so much about fitness on social media that I think I drove people in my life crazy. This is kind of a dual place for me to talk about fitness and about my grief. I never thought it would reach anything like this.
I really do feel like I found my calling and feel incredibly blessed to be doing what I’m doing. I just can’t believe that I get to share what I share and have people better their life because of it.
EYE: You have a blended family now that you’ve remarried. How does your marriage to Keith influence the tremendous growth you have experienced?
MICHELLE: He’s amazing and special and accepting of what I do, what we do. He helps with the virtual training company and the nonprofit. Keith also has a degree in exercise science and sports medicine. Ironically he lost his best friend in a plane crash several years ago.
He really believes everything I write about and what we do as a couple. Having a blended family is a new world. It’s a whole new blog I actually started about blending after loss and, of course, he’s divorced so that’s a mix of different emotions coming in.
I haven’t had a lot of time to write for that blog yet, but I hope to in the future. There are so many people going through it. It’s not easy.
EYE: Like you, I am blessed to have a very successful blended family. What do you say when people want to know how did you that. What’s your secret ?
MICHELLE: It’s never easy. I don’t want people to think they see this perfect family on Facebook. It takes a ton of hard work and communication and good counseling. I think some people are scared of counseling, but I think it’s invaluable especially if you are blending families or moving beyond major life trauma like divorce and financial difficulties. I think having a good person to talk it out with and communicate with is important.
EYE: You wrote a piece for the Huffington Post, I May Be Remarried But I Am Still a Widow. What motivated you to write that? Were you getting negative feedback?
MICHELLE: I was. When you put your heart on the line and it’s read a lot and shared a lot, of course there is negative feedback from time to time. I’ve grown so much over the last few years. I find some things in the negative feedback that I need to reflect on myself. Sometimes I realize it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with me. It’s more on the person who made the comment.
I was hearing a lot: “You shouldn’t call yourself a widow.” “You shouldn’t have this blog.” I really had to reflect on the fact that I will always be Mitch’s widow. There’s nothing that changes that. But, I am Keith’s wife and there is nothing that changes that.
Again, this is one of those cultural norms or cultural stereotypes that we do to people. We lost somebody and now they are replaceable. You’ve remarried so you’ve replaced that person. You should never speak about that other person again or you shouldn’t label yourself this way.
I think it’s something we need to reflect on and work on as a culture because when you lose someone like a spouse, a child, a brother, a friend….that person is never replaceable. That person always has a special place in your heart; that person you love is always with you.
MICHELLE: It’s about living your life. And, why if you choose to live your life with fitness, you can live more effectively. You can climb that mountain you want to climb; you can participate with your kids.
You can remind people that life is short and their body, their health, is precious. They are able to work out and kayak while there are millions of people in hospitals that cannot do that. So, really go out and enjoy and cherish being able to do those things.
EYE: What are you looking forward to doing that you haven’t done yet?
MICHELLE: The biggest thing for me once the book I am writing is off my plate is my nonprofit. Keith is taking over more and more of our training company. While I will always be involved in that, the nonprofit really is my baby and my heart and soul. So I’d like to continue to see that grow.
I have a five to ten-year plan where I hope it’s as big as Make-A-Wish. I hope we can open it up beyond widows and widowers and help all people who are grieving.
EYE: With Live the List , when you are helping the people who’ve lost loved ones with trips, etc., how do you fund those?
MICHELLE: We do fundraisers. On Giving Tuesday we have set limits about what we can do. The board goes through the guidelines and we see if there is a fit and do as many people as we can. We’ve been blessed with donations so we are funding people fast and furiously now. I encourage people to apply and think of it as Make-A-Wish for the surviving spouse.
A lot of times widows and widowers have a hard time thinking of themselves and thinking of what they want to do. But once they do it, they write me and say, “This really helped me take forward steps in my life.” And that’s what we’re hoping.
EYE: This is so beautiful and I so commend you. We will be looking out for your book in the fall. It’s all about using fitness as a coping mechanism for grief. Thanks for all you are able to accomplish and continued success with your inspiring work.
Facebook: One Fit Widow