The Real Housewives of Benton County Presents: Karen DeWolfe- Making fitness/health a part of your family lifestyle

Only one of these kids actually belongs to Karen, but she has been known to squeeze all 3 of her kids in the stroller when necessary.

Did any of you happen to read this article in the Gazette Times a few months back? Apparently Benton County is the healthiest county in Oregon. The findings were based off of several different factors. According to the article, “In addition to rankings of how healthy the population of the county is and how long people here live, the study focused on obesity rates, smoking, binge drinking, access to primary health care providers, high school graduation rates, the incidence of violent crime, air pollution, unemployment and the number of children living in poverty.” Go us!(On a bummer/surprising note.. the county I grew up in was ranked second to last ). For this week’s feature, I would like to focus on a mom who in my opinion puts the capital H in the word Healthy .May I present to you my friends, “Karen DeWolfe.”
I actually met Karen the day that I was in labor with Gabe. I was still in the denial stage of labor when I chatted with her at the park. In fact, I can’t even remember if I happened to mention to her that I would be having a baby that day. Anywho… Corvallis is a small town, and our paths have crossed many times since, and  I always enjoy every time that I chat with Karen. Karen can also be spotted on almost a daily basis running or biking around town with her kids in tow. Every time I drive by her, it reminds me of how lame my exercise efforts are and how I wish I could make fitness a bigger priority in my life. You almost hope that Karen is really mean so that you can at least say to yourself, “She may be a rock star athlete, but she sure is a scrooge.” The thing is, it’s just not possible to dislike Karen, because she is so dang nice. I was definitely feeling inspired after I finished interviewing Karen, and I hope you will be too after reading this! 

Me-Were you surprised to see Benton County ranked as the healthiest county in Oregon?
Karen-No, it doesn’t surprise me. I feel like Corvallis has many heath conscious and active families. When I got to the pool here, most of the kids look healthy. It makes me sad that obesity in children is rising so much around the country. It is also very accessible  and easy to be active here. There are bike lanes and running/hiking trails all over.
Me- You may not know this, but you are a bit of a legend in the Corvallis mom circles. When your name comes up in a conversation, if people don’t know you well they may say, “Oh Karen, is she that crazy mom who is always running around town with her kids in the stroller?” So please tell me a bit about how you evolved into this exercise goddess that you are today.
Karen-I always was active as a kid (ran x-country). I had to do endurance sports, because I wasn’t very good at ball sports. As a kid, I biked everywhere. My parents used to give my brother and I change and tell us to go and get treats at the store. We would sometimes be gone for hours riding bikes.
When I met my husband, he got me into mountain biking. When I was a poor college student, I found that I could make a little money in mountain biking competitions. It was often enough to buy food. I eventually made the national team and got to go to the world championships.
Then after I had my first baby, I continued to be very active with a friend of mine. We would go on 5 hour bike rides, just stopping along the way to nurse and rest with our babies. We would ride to the swimming pool and then ride back home. My friend was awesome and really showed me that it was still possible to stay active after having a baby. Having someone to do it with helped so much.
Me-What happened when you had number 2?
Karen-I upgraded to the double chariot. My distances got smaller, but my load was bigger. I would always try to time my workouts around naps so that the kids wouldn’t be sitting in the stroller without a stop for more than 30 minutes.
Me-Most of us are just trying to incorporate enough exercise in our lives to feel good and stay in decent shape. You on the other hand have incorporated exercise as a normal part of your everyday lifestyle. Can you give me an example of what an average day might look like for you and how you incorporate movement throughout your day?
Karen-I run Ava (she is on her bike) to school (about a mile away). I then might run downtown and go to the library and read books for awhile with the younger two while she in in kindergarten. Then I load them back up, run back to Ava, and we walk/ride home together. If everyone is tired on the way home, I have found a way to push all 3 in the stroller.  During the week, I get almost all of my workouts done with the kids in tow. On the weekends I get out both days by myself (she is getting ready for the Macdonald Forest 50k coming up).
Me-I know that you genuinely love being active, but are there ever rainy nasty days when the thought of dragging your kids in the rain does not sound appealing?
Karen- I usually still get out, but on days when it is really rainy, I tend to want to run more than bike. I find that I don’t get as wet with running as I so when I bike in the rain.
Me-What things do you do as a family to instill in your kids a love of outdoors and exercise?

Karen-Most days Ava rides her bike to school. Once or twice a week we go hiking (our backyard opens to a hiking trail). We try to do that year round. My husband is a wildlife ecologist, so nature is really important to us. It is rare for me to go to a gym, because one of the  the most important parts of working out outside is enjoying nature.
I do not care so much if my kids are into racing/running when they are older, but I do hope that we help to instill a love of nature in them.  In the summertime when the wildflowers are blooming, we hike up iron mountain to see them at the beginning of July every year and take butterfly nets. We go at the kids’ pace, which usually means that it takes us a long time.  To keep the kids excited and motivated, every once in awhile one of us will run ahead and hide a few jelly beans or m&ms for the kids to find along the way.
Me-Almost every time I see you, I see your Chariot Stroller/bike trailer. Are there any complaints you have in its’ performance? What do you love about it?
Karen-The chariot is the best machine a person can get for moving around with kids. It is completely waterproof, so they are always dry in there. It’s really safe.The double chariot has tons of storage to fit groceries inside since we often work our chores into my workouts. It is also nice when I go in the store that I can just keep the kids in the stroller inside the store if I just need to grab a few things.
Me-People who are big advocates of getting outside and getting children outside more often say that there is no bad weather, just bad clothing. Do you have any rain gear that you love?
Karen- We have MEC one piece wetsuits for the kids. They are made in Canada and are awesome. I usually just  run in running shorts as it usually doesn’t get too cold here. I bring extra clothes to change into if I know I may get wet. I find that I get too hot for almost any rain coat.  The dry tech shirts will be your best bet, and definitely avoid cotton in the rain.
Me-You are the mama of 3 beautiful children. How did you stay active during your pregnancies?
Karen-I just never stopped doing stuff. With Ava I had full intentions of going back to being a professional athlete. At 5 months I couldn’t run anymore. I have been able to ride through my whole pregnancy. Swimming is always comfortable throughout my whole pregnancy. You may have to be a little more conservative, but you can keep doing what you used to do. Listen to your body. My body definitely tells me to stop running at a certain point. When my body feels pain, I don’t push through it.
Me-I think that many of us want to incorporate health and fitness in our lives like you are, but it seems overwhelming, almost like an unattainable dream as most of us are not nearly as athletic as you (or motivated). It almost seems overwhelming to know how to even start. Any ideas for the average Joe wanting to be healthier, starting at a lesser scale than what you are doing?
Karen-Take one of your kids nap times and exercise during that time. It is such a key to stay happy and  healthy as a mama. Make a destination to get your groceries or to run another errand so you feel like you are accomplishing many things at the same time. It’s also great if people can get up early before the day starts.
Also, it can be important to have a goal to help you stay motivated and follow through.. The weather is usually never that bad here, and it is always beautiful in the forest. Make a commitment to walk/ride with your kids to school. My kids feel better when they get their energy out. It diffuses them.
Me-We know that you are a rock star mom in many ways, but just so that people know that you are just human like the rest of us and not a super hero, what is something as a parent that you struggle with?
Karen- I really struggle getting out the door with my kids. I am always late everywhere I go. I am starting to try to get organized the night before by packing things for the kids that I will need the next day. I also get angry and frustrated when I don’t know how to deal with my kids’ behavior, like when Miles (her 3 year-old son) gets aggressive.
Me-What else are you passionate about besides being active and staying fit?
Karen-I am passionate about music (she is the lead singer in a band). I love to read and learn, and I love nature!
Thank you Karen!
nancy - April 20, 2011 - 7:59 am

What a great interview! I have a good story about Karen: About two years ago I took my kids to storytime at the library by bike, only to realize that I had forgotten my bike lock (another organizationally-challenged mom). I was about to give up and go back home when Karen pulled up and offered to lock our bikes together with her lock so that I (a complete stranger) could stay. Then she told me her lock combination so that I could retrieve my bike whenever I was ready to go, without waiting for her! Definitely one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. :)

kara - April 20, 2011 - 12:39 pm

Yep, there are lots of great Karen stories floating around :).

Anita - April 20, 2011 - 1:45 pm

I loved this post! Because what I like most about Karen was her make it happen attitude. The truth is if you want to be active, you have to stop focusing on the excuses of why you can’t and start focusing on how you can and do it! That’s what I am going to try and do. I may not live In Cool Corvallis Oregon, but I can still be happy and active in hot, smothering hot Texas! :)

adrienne w - April 20, 2011 - 2:58 pm

Wow. Inspiring. It’s true what Anita said about making excuses, because I was making a million of them while reading this interview!! And some of them I think are legit, but when it comes down to it, it’s obvious that Karen has made her healthy lifestyle a priority for her and her family. P.S. For the record, I refuse to be active outdoors all year round where I live. I don’t care what anyone says, it’s not fun to be out when it’s -35 or worse!!

kara - April 20, 2011 - 5:34 pm

Go Anita!! It’s true, it needs to become a priority.
I have a million excuses too. I think we all do. Oh, but I definitely would never be caught running in -30 weather doing anything but drinking hot chocolate :).

juliette - April 21, 2011 - 2:39 pm

I love this!
Karen is my biking inspiration especially since she biked across town and up my hill 7 months pregnant, with two kids in tow, without breaking a sweat (or getting off her bike, as I would have). She played it off as her bike having more gears, but the truth is, SHE has more gears! A lot more.
Excuse me, I need to lie down now because I just went for a three mile bike ride pulling the trailer. I feel like a hero.

Christina - April 24, 2011 - 5:56 pm

Love this interview. I am inspired – thank you!