Pursue Your Dreams

Getting older, feeling younger

Yoga mat and exercise equipmentGetting old stinks.

It sneaks up on you. And before you know what’s happening, things you used to do with relative ease are either more difficult or even impossible.

I never had to take breaks when I cleaned the house, or stop at the top of the stairs to catch my breath, but there I was, doing both. I noticed I was really tired by late afternoon, which made me less productive at work.

For a long time, I just accepted this as an inevitable part of aging. Exercise? Sure, I took walks with my husband around the neighborhood, but I didn’t do anything too strenuous or physically challenging.

Then American Family Insurance offered a yoga class during the lunch hour.

My friend said, "Come on, it will be fun." So I took the plunge, paid my fees and signed up. The instructor was a young, perky woman with a pleasant smile who made me believe I could actually do it.

One thing she said that opened my eyes was, as we age, our balance is one of the first things to go. We did a lot of balancing poses, and she was right. I could barely stand on one foot for more than a few seconds. I learned about the plank. Apparently, if you could do that position, your core muscles would get stronger. The plank is the position you are in before you do a push-up, and a push-up was something I couldn’t do.

All this was new to me, but very exciting.

I started standing on one foot while stirring spaghetti, washing dishes and brushing my teeth. Every time a commercial came on TV, I would hold a plank for as long as I could. I felt myself getting stronger and having more confidence. 

Then, for the first time in my life, I did a push-up! A real push-up, from my toes, not my knees! I showed my husband. I showed my daughter. Soon I could do five in a row. Every single night, I did five push-ups before I went to bed.

Yoga turned into Pilates, which challenged me even more. Lunges helped my legs get stronger. Stretching, bending and twisting all improved my posture. After a few years of yoga and Pilates, I felt like a new person.

Then, the best thing happened. American Family dedicated a whole room to fitness.

More classes were added, including boot camp. I have to admit, boot camp was a scary thought. That is one giant leap from standing on a yoga mat. But that same friend said, "We can do this." And we did.

We ran around the pond. We learned to have a love/hate relationship with burpees (from a standing position you lower to a crouch, throw your legs out together behind you, then pull them back up to a crouch, then stand again). We got muddy. We made friends, we laughed and we got healthier.

My new love is Zumba, modeled after Latin dance. The night we have Zumba class is my favorite night of the week. The music is fun, the moves are exhilarating and the sweat is for real.

Today I can do 20 push-ups, run for two miles, clean my house in half the time, run up four flights of stairs without being out of breath, and by late afternoon, I'm excited about my fitness class coming up.

I'm healthier, happier and more confident than I've been in a long time, all thanks to the fitness classes offered at American Family as part of our benefits. I'm a 57-year-old grandma who can beat my 27-year-old daughter in a foot race.

The chance to take part in these classes, and the wonderful instructors who teach them, literally gave me back my life. I encourage anyone – young, old or in-between – to take advantage of these great opportunities to get more fit and healthy. You will never regret it!

Posted by Becky Schmidt on Fri, Mar 22 2013 8:52 amBecky Schmidt is an enterprise content management specialist with American Family Insurance.

It’s March, but staying fit isn't madness

Duane Ives officiatingEach year, when the weather starts to get colder and the ability to participate in outdoor activities becomes limited, do you find yourself asking, “What can I do to stay active during the winter?” While there are a lot of options, one people may not think of is officiating basketball. Yes, becoming one of us – a zebra!

Now I have to admit, when I started officiating basketball at age 15, it certainly wasn’t for the physical or mental stimulus; rather, it was a way to make some extra spending money while in high school and college. Fast forward a few years and things have changed significantly.

Yes, I still get paid to officiate, but now officiating is about being active, striving for the next level of competition, learning from veteran officials, camaraderie with other officials and a sense of personal accomplishment. This season will mark my twentieth being licensed as a WIAA official, thirteenth working high school, eighth working NCAA Division 3 women’s college basketball and my first year working NCAA Division 2 women’s college basketball. I ended my season this year at the Kohl Center, officiating the Division 1 boys’ championship game; which was my fifth state tournament assignment.

Most people don’t necessary think of officiating basketball as your typical workout, but it really is a good stimulus for your mind and body. The obvious relationship between officiating and physical activity is running up and down the court. Granted, some games require much more running than others, but overall, you do get a good cardio workout while officiating.

A friend of mine recently monitored his steps during a couple games using a pedometer and the results ranged from 2,500 steps to 6,000 steps (2,000 = 1 mile) per game. This is certainly not a scientific study, but it does give a good indication of the amount of exercise you can get from officiating.

Along with the physical aspects associated with officiating, it also requires a certain amount of mental focus and stimulus. On every single play, you have to evaluate the actions of the players, determine if a call should be made and then know and enforce the rules appropriately – all within a split second!

So … next fall, as the leaves start to turn and you think about how you’re going to stay active in the winter, consider becoming an official. It’s a great way to stay active and there is always a need at every level.

Posted by Duane Ives on Tue, Mar 19 2013 10:04 amDuane Ives is a business systems transformation director for American Family Insurance.

Change is Good

Sherry Lange and one of her American Family Insurance customers.Change is good, especially when you choose to make it so.

Previously in my career, I had worked in the IT field, serving in network administration, IT security, help desk support and other roles. But it was only after finding myself without a job due to another corporate takeover that I decided to take my career in a different direction.

I resolved to spend the rest of my working years doing what I was meant to do, and to be more in control of my future, too. But it would mean change, which can be risky.

While working for past employers I always had taken advantage of continuing my education during night classes. During one of those classes I took one of those standardized tests that helps you determine what your personality traits are.

I dug out that test and found my results, and then purchased a book that can help you discover just the right kind of career based on your personality type. Using the book as my guide, the first career recommendation was to become a doctor. Now, that was not a realistic choice for me since I had no medical education, and I was already 38 years old.  

The second choice was to become a nurse. That career path seemed a bit more reachable, but would require more education. However, I read on and found a third choice: selling life and health insurance.  

At first I thought to myself, “What does that have to do with being a doctor or a nurse?”

But after 10 years in this business, I now understand – and many agents would agree with me – being an insurance agent has a few things in common with being a doctor or a nurse. It’s about helping people, relationships, trust and more.

It’s my desire to help others, help them solve problems, and make connections that led me to this field.

As an American Family agent, it makes me feel good to know I can explain different kinds of insurance coverage to clients in their own language. When customers come into my office, they all know that I care about them. And, it’s nice working for a company that places a high priority on caring, one-to-one customer relationships.

I am in a career that is rewarding for me and I enjoy it each and every day!  It fits my personality and I LOVE it! 

I started by getting on the right bus. Now I am in the right seat on that bus, and I’m headed in the right direction.

Editor's note: Sherry recently inspired others with her story at American Family’s DreamBank in Madison, Wis.  

Posted by Sherry Lange on Tue, Feb 19 2013 9:59 am

Finding my dream again: My weight loss and health transformation

Stephen PetersonI have been battling my weight my entire life. I have been the “fat kid” since fourth grade. I did not participate in sports or exercise. I watched from the sidelines.

Diagnosed with high cholesterol in college, I was put on cholesterol-lowering medication, and later another prescription for heartburn. I was also diagnosed with sleep apnea, as I stopped breathing an average of 38 times every hour. I had to wear a CPAP machine mask at night just to keep me alive and breathing until morning.

In March 2012 that all changed.

One night while walking our dog, I decided to jog instead of walk. I jogged at a very slow pace for about 100 yards, stopped to catch my breath, and walked for a bit. Something changed in me at that moment. A voice in my head said, “This is enough!” It was time for me to take control of my life and set a better example for my family.

Later that week my wife and I signed up for our first 5k in June 2012. After training for three months, we both finished the race. I finished two seconds under 30 minutes. This was my first time running 3.1 miles all at one time. I was hooked! That same afternoon I signed up for another race in July, this time a five-mile one. On one of the hottest days of 2012, I ran five miles in 52 minutes! Next was a 15k relay with two friends in October. I ran my leg at my personal best time. After months of training I was ready for my next challenge, a half-marathon. In Nov. 2012, I completed a 13.1-mile run in two hours and 25 minutes!  This June I will run in a six-team, 200-mile relay race from Madison to Chicago, called the Ragnar Relay.

After six months of watching my diet, running and doing other exercise (and setting a better example for my children), I’ve lost 60 pounds and 23 inches. I no longer need to take cholesterol-lowering or heartburn medication. I recently had my sleep apnea problem checked and the occurrences have dropped from 31 to 1.1 per hour. A rate of occurrence for an average person is three times per hour. I will be re-evaluated in June, and I know I am on the way to never needing that CPAP machine again.

What have I gained from this experience? I gained the ability to dream again. My father passed away well before his time and never had the chance to meet my children, his grandchildren. I have made choices in my life during this past year to ensure I will continue to set a good, healthy example for my kids and live long enough to meet my grandchildren – and beyond.

All it took was making a choice between living in an unhealthy way or taking control of my life and my dreams. Today, I really live life instead of just existing.

Have you made the choice to live a healthy life? What do you do?

Posted by Stephen Peterson on Tue, Feb 12 2013 4:36 pmStephen Peterson is a physical damage senior desk adjuster with American Family Insurance.

Small changes make a big difference in the quality of life

Tyler Rohr from American Family InsuranceIn the Midwest, we look forward to the first weekend during the winter when the high temperature reaches 60 degrees. After a cold winter, it’s the first taste of spring.

Feb. 1, 2003, was one of those days. I was 17 years old, the starting quarterback for the football team, my school’s No. 1 golfer and a bench warmer on the varsity basketball team. Life couldn’t get any better. That warm February day, was also the beginning of a long journey for me. That morning I was in a tree-trimming accident that left me paralyzed from the t-9 vertebrate (belly button area) down to my feet.

Lucky for me, that was the only complication I had from the fall. Yes, I was left paralyzed, but it could have been much worse.

As time went on, I got back into my usual routine. I graduated from high school, started college and was hired by American Family as a temporary employee. After graduating from college, I was fortunate enough to get a Personal Lines underwriter position.

For the most part, I lived like I did before I was paralyzed. I had enough energy for two people and nothing could hurt me or slow me down. Eventually, the long days caught up with me and I developed a bed sore from sitting in my wheelchair.

I ended up having two surgeries and had to lie in bed for 106 days before the doctor would let me resume a normal life. From the beginning of April through August of 2010, I was in my parent’s basement in a special bed and thought about all the ways I was going to prevent this setback from happening again.

After six months of being back to work, I needed something different. I was tired of going home and lying down for hours when I spent all day at my desk working at my computer. There had to be a way for me to be pressure-free or close to pressure-free while working.

I talked to my manager, Lee O’Brien, about the possibility of getting a stand-up workstation. I know … you may be thinking, “Tyler, you’re paralyzed. How are you going to stand at work when you haven’t moved your legs in almost nine years?”

The answer is a standing frame. Environment and Safety Analyst Dan Coleman, thought it was a great idea and found one. The frame and workstation work great! The standing frame helps prevent the pressure sores. It also increases blood flow to my legs, reduces back pain and makes the bones in my legs stronger. I went from sitting eight hours a day to standing for six.

Now that I stand most of the day, I am able to do fun recreational activities after work such as hunting, fishing and exercising, activities I had to cut back on drastically while always sitting down at work.

I can’t thank American Family enough for what they have done. The standing frame is truly a life saver and has given me my life back.

Editor’s note: American Family Insurance received an award in October 2012 from Midland Empire Resources for Independent Living in St. Joseph, Mo., for finding a solution that helps Tyler Rohr work in a more comfortable workstation.

Posted by Tyler Rohr on Fri, Jan 25 2013 1:22 pmTyler Rohr is an underwriting representative for American Family Insurance.
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