meet mary yoke …

Mary's photo

Hi everybody!

My name is Mary Yoke, and I’m going to be getting my PhD at age 63! (Fall, 2016). Right now I’m ABD (all but dissertation), and I’m collecting data for my research on physical activity trackers (AKA: Fitbits). I’ve had a crazy up-and-down life path, and a PhD at 63 feels like a big UP.

I was born in Indianapolis and raised on a farm with a 50-acre woods, which I passionately love, and in which I knew every tree, wildflower and bird. I was lucky to have been born with musical talent, starting with classical piano when I was 5, and then discovering I had an operatic voice at age 13.

For many years, I won every contest I entered, culminating in being chosen out of a thousand other sopranos for the Merola Opera Program at San Francisco Opera when I was 24. The time I spent as a little diva-starlet in San Francisco is definitely one of the high points of my life! San Francisco was an opera-crazy city where ordinary people knew their singers, and I actually had the experience — several times — of being recognized on the street and asked for my autograph by complete strangers. Imagine how this went to my head!

Devastatingly though, after my stint in San Fran I began to have unexplained vocal problems. I reeled from embarrassingly bombed auditions and a grinding uncertainty about what would happen to all my dreams and bright future. After five years of searching, seeing physicians, having a tonsillectomy and an adenoidectomy, a month of complete vocal silence, speech therapy and psychotherapy, I was still no closer to an answer. Why, after so much promise and so many amazing rewards, was I facing — nothing?

This was an existential crisis for me! Well, it’s a long story, but for now please know that I did eventually rebound and thrive! I found fitness, which led to my second master’s degree (clinical exercise physiology) at age 32, and a 30-some year career in health/fitness which has been very fulfilling. I consider myself extremely lucky. I’ve been able to travel to 49 U.S. states and 14 countries to train health/fitness professionals and I’m the author of five books, four of which are fitness textbooks.

However, I’ve had several other major life crises (e.g. several serious physical challenges, life-threatening accidents, job and parenting issues, and two divorces), and it’s often seemed as if I’ve had way more than my share. My life has truly been a zigzag of ups and downs. Yet, here I am getting a PhD! Life is truly full of surprises. I’ve come to see that I am more resilient than I’d have ever dreamed.

A little bit about the doctoral student life — so amazing after all these years! Actually, although I lived in Indiana for the first 21 years of my life, I then lived in many other cities, including Manhattan and the NY metropolitan area for 30+ years.

I returned to Indiana University in 2011 as a full-time Visiting Lecturer in the Department of Kinesiology, where I taught for three years. I then decided to finally pursue my lifelong dream of getting a PhD, and I was lucky enough to be accepted into the PhD program in Health Behavior and to be awarded an Associate Instructor position.

Overnight I went from being a full-time teacher to a full-time student! And I’m pretty sure I’m the oldest student in my department — a fact that is sometimes hard to get my head around. I dug into a rigorous academic life full of study, including three arduous semesters of statistics! I’ve learned so, so much and am grateful to many people, especially the chair of my dissertation committee.

As part of my Associate Instructorship I’ve gotten to teach stress management (four semesters), women’s health (one semester), personal health (one semester), and obesity and health (one semester), along with a group exercise activity class (six semesters).

Last summer I conducted research for my Qualifying Exams; this research focused on the beliefs, barriers and challenges faced by middle-aged women struggling with their weight. This summer I’m working on research for my dissertation, studying beliefs and behaviors about activity trackers. I’m doing data collection right now, and hope to start analyzing all the data (numbers) I’ve collected by next month. Things seem a bit daunting, as I’m doing things I’ve never done before — and, of course — I want to do it right! Wish me luck!

When I grow up, my dream job is to continue to work at a major university (e.g. IU!) as a researcher, teacher and inspirer of people. I’ll be on the market in January 2017, so I hope someone will hire a 63-year-old newly minted PhD!

what makes me thrive …

Well — so many things! Sitting here at my desk in my home in Bloomington, Ind, I’m keenly aware of the great beauty outside. I live on 27-mile long Lake Monroe and have a gorgeous sparkling blue-diamond view of the water, plus I’m high up on a bit of a hill, so I’m also in the green, green tree tops. Definitely, my connection with nature makes me thrive! It’s impossible to be down or feel sorry for myself in this beautiful place.

I’m also sustained by great music. I have my family’s heirloom grand piano (which has been completely rebuilt), and I usually play classical music for an hour or more each day. On days when I’m not home, I can feel my fingers twitch, and I feel an almost urgent and visceral need to get to a piano and make music as soon as possible. This is a must for me to thrive.

And I have to mention yoga and physical activity. I’ve taught yoga and meditation for almost 35 years, and actually Maria and I met at one of my yoga classes. Yoga, meditation and some sort of daily spiritually oriented reading is a constant source of well-being.

Having been in the health/fitness industry for so many decades, daily physical activity is of paramount importance for me. Of course, thousands of studies now show an incredible number of benefits from regular movement (and yoga), and I’m here to tell you that without my regular walks, bike rides, deep-water running, weight training and daily yoga — thriving would not be possible!

I’m grateful to my mom and my two sons, although regrettably we don’t live in the same geographic parts of the world. And I love my sweet black Persian rescue kitty! I find joy in many things, and I’m grateful for all I’ve learned, and for the friends and family who’ve supported me over the years. Life is good!!

connect with mary …

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