by Amanda Smith
Strong, radiant and oh so peaceful, at 57 Wendy O’Lenic may as well be the picture of health – and beauty. With glowing skin, a toned and flexible physique, long, thick hair and a pauseworthy sense of poise, Wendy often finds herself fielding countless questions from class attendees at her Wendy Fit Yoga, Pilates & Personal Training Studio in Palm Harbor. And they all seem to ask the same thing – “How do you do it?”
If you’re looking for tips and tricks that let you cut corners while promising rapid results – Wendy’s wisdom is sure to disappoint. Her secrets to wellness are frustratingly simple and undeniably well-known: drink lots of water, eat a diet of fresh whole foods, participate in some kind of social and physical activity everyday and yes indeed, pray for good luck in the gene department. The closest thing she’s got to a secret, she says, are two four-letter words…“Slow. Down.”
As deceptively simple as her advice may sound, Wendy’s the first to admit that decelerating the pace of modern living – and the modern mind – is asking one to paddle upstream. At first it feels utterly impossible, but with diligent practice, tenacity and just enough madness to believe it’s actually achievable, you begin to make your own current in the world.
“Modern society isn’t exactly conducive to wellness,” Wendy laments, “especially for women (and specifically mothers) who have been taught their whole life to put everyone else first. To truly live a life revering slowness, rest and intention you’ve definitely got to go against the grain – but honestly, sometimes life doesn’t give you much choice.”
Making the mind-body connection
For as long as Wendy can remember, she’s been involved in dance and fitness. After cheerleading in high school and enrolling at USF to study psychology, she soon racked up so many credits in dance and fitness she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts with a major in dance and a minor in exercise physiology. Having paid some of her way through college by teaching fitness classes, Wendy knew she’d found her passion, and although she took a few detours along the way, her heart always remained in fitness. While the unbelievable physique she sports as she approaches 60 definitely owes some of its lasting power to her diehard dedication to fitness for decades, she admits her relationship with exercise wasn’t always healthy.
“During periods of stress I always exercised more; it was my most dependable stress reliever,” she shares. “But as I confronted the most stressful time of my life the constant rigorous exercise went from a helpful tool to a hurtful one. It was clear to others I was imbalanced, but with so much on my mind, I couldn’t hear their warnings or see what was happening to me.”
As the stress piled up and Wendy found herself buying a new business and a new house, getting divorced, and facing single motherhood all at once, her body started to give.
“Our bodies can only take so much,” she warns, “and that period of my life pushed mine to the limit. I was over-exercising and underweight, working too hard and too long – and soon enough, my stress level began manifesting itself as internal issues. I had ulcers, skin irritations, and anyone who caught a glimpse of me could feel my chronic stress…looking back on that time, I can’t believe I thought I was ok, but what happened next was the painful wake-up call I desperately needed, it ushered in the best thing that’s ever happened to me in my life.”
The breaking point Wendy’s recalling came in the form of a painful herniated disc in her back that left her debilitated.
“It’s awful, and anyone who’s faced this injury knows the pain it causes,” she says. “But it also caused a real shift in me. It was the injury that brought me within.”
While on ordered rest, she says, it became clear she needed to shift her focus. Wendy reflected, and disciplined her inner world and her thoughts like she had done with her body. As meditation became a way life, her wellness underwent a silent hurricane of transformation.
“That’s how I learned to slow down, to listen, to respect limits. The injury taught me healing the mind is often key to healing the body.”
These days, curious folks wander into her studio and meet this Wise Woman with awe. If her body reflects a dedicated physical practice, her new demeanor reflects a deep, meditative one.
Freedom After 50
While Wendy acknowledges that a lifelong exercise habit does correlate to higher bone density, she’s quick to encourage 50+ women without a fitness background to embrace their unique opportunity.
“My 50s are the least stressful time of my life,” she says. “I’ve raised my children, I’ve fulfilled a lot of traditional duties. And so many women my age can relate. A lot of major stress is over, and I want women embarking on their later years to finally start prioritizing their own wellness. I want women to know it’s never too late to bloom,” she says. “And in fact, your bloom is really only just beginning.”
All photos by Tampa’s own Kevin Kelii. Find more of his work at KevinKeliiPhotography.com.