Finding Health, Finding Wealth: Two Valley women renew their lives after 50

Audrey Martinez founded Audrey’s Chia Cookies, all-natural, non-GMO cookies that center around the superfood chia seed. (Photo courtesy Audrey Martinez)

By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

After a long corporate career and a 27-year marriage, Nancy A. Shenker was yearning for something different.

“I drank the Kool-Aid,” she says. “The women of the ’80s were told we should have these big jobs and kids and we can do it all. I did for quite a while. I just reached a stage in my life where it was no longer about the money or ego, it was just about being happy. When you work full time and you’re a full-time mom, you always put yourself in last position.”

Shenker founded a marketing consultation business and started writing the column “The Silver Hair Playbook: How to Be a Badass Over 50.” The Scottsdale resident also began a workout routine.

“I’ve made my physical and mental health more of a priority,” she says.

“For the first time in a long time, I’m able to indulge in a certain level of self-care without feeling guilty about it,” she says. “We’re the first generation of women who had economic independence and are going to live close to 100.”

Shenker is one of many who aren’t following the typical playbook for those older than 50. She checked all the boxes required of women of the ’80s and wanted to discover what was next.

“The sad reality was Katie Couric was put out to pasture at a certain time,” says Shenker, 64. “We’re wondering as a gender and age group, ‘What comes next? What do you do between the ages of 50 and 100? It’s a whole second lifetime.’”

Before the COVID-19 pandemic/quarantine, Shenker was weight training twice a week. Now she works out occasionally in Chaparral Park but walks daily.

Nancy A. Shenker isn’t following the typical playbook for those older than 50. She switched careers. (Photo by Pablo Robles)

“Truthfully, I never loved to exercise,” she says. “I always struggled with my weight. As you get older, you have to work at it. I eat relatively clean. I eliminated sugar, dairy and gluten. I go to a naturopath for vitamin supplements.

“I’ve become my own guinea pig. I’m trying different things to see what leads to peak performance. If I eat sugar in small doses, I have a mood swing. I recently started tracking my macros and I dropped even more weight.”

Working it out

There’s some credence in that.

As the fitness and wellness director of Robson Ranch in Eloy, Lois Moncel has seen the homeowners at her master-planned community change.

“Even if they keep going to tai chi, chair yoga or regular yoga, they see changes in their body as they progress,” Moncel says.

Before making any changes to a fitness program, Moncel advises her clients to check with their health professionals.

“We want to make sure there are no limits,” she says. “You don’t have to start out gung-ho crazy. Start out small and work your way up. If you’re not a walker, walk 10 minutes and gradually build up. Ask for help, too. I think a lot of people are afraid to ask for help.”

Moncel has a sage piece of advice for those over 50 considering a fitness program.

“Fitness can do so much for people, if they would just give it a chance,” Moncel says.

“It can boost your mood if you’re depressed. It helps control your weight. You can fight off health conditions and diseases. May is High Blood Pressure Month. Even if they’re running a little high, there are natural ways to bring that down. You can’t just avoid it or overlook it. It helps you sleep better. It does so much to your mental state. Working out makes you feel 100% better.”

Chia power

In 2014, Audrey Martinez gave herself a 50th birthday present—her first marathon, the Phoenix Marathon, now known as the Mesa Sprouts Marathon.

“My son had been doing marathons and triathlons. He was a big athlete,” Martinez says.

“My daughter runs like it’s nothing. I thought, ‘If they can do it, I can do it.’ I started running when they were still in high school. I trained and was running like 20 miles every week. When it came to the marathon, I was able to finish.”

She prefers half marathons, but the Phoenix run was the hardest thing she’s ever done.

“It’s really a mental game,” she says. “It’s more mental than anything. You put some headphones on, get your thoughts going and build yourself up mentally and just run. You don’t have to run fast. I’m a slow runner.”

Post-50, Martinez also founded her own company, Audrey’s Chia Cookies. The all natural, non-GMO cookie recipe centers around the superfood chia seed. Each tiny seed is packed with nutrients like proteins, vitamins, amino acids and antioxidants, which have strong immune-boosting properties and help reduce inflammation, making them a powerful tool when preventing and fighting viruses.

The cookies come in four flavors—almond, lemon, peanut butter and chocolate chip—and are available for purchase online or at select AJ’s Fine Foods, Sprouts and Fry’s, as well as several independent grocers.

“I just fell in love with chia when I found out how amazing it was,” says the 54-year-old Northeast Mesa resident. “I came across it when I was looking for increased energy to run the marathon.

“I started ingesting it during training. I would do one week with and one week without. The weeks I did use chia, I was so much more energized. I felt like I could keep going. I was noticing all the other benefits—digestive health, my hair and nails were healthier. I just felt better overall.”

She wanted to share her discovery with others, but she wasn’t sure how. Then it dawned on her: Everybody loves cookies.

“We wanted to create delicious cookies that people would still eat but get that added health benefit of chia seeds,” Martinez says.

“Who doesn’t eat cookies every once in a while? We got our first bag of cookies two years ago. They were barely on the shelves of grocery stores less than a year ago. Now we’re at AJ’s, Sprouts, Fry’s and a lot of independents. We’re in 400 stores across the United States right now.”

Martinez and Shenker did a lot of soul searching before they entered a new business and a renewed health regimen.

“It’s a whole new career opportunity for me,” Shenker says. “It’s made my life whole.”