The macho world of auto racing seems like itd be a difficult place for a woman to feel at home. But Danica Patrick makes driving 200 mph with the guys look like a walk in the park.
Patrick is the first woman to win an IndyCar race and posted the highest-ever finish for a woman in the Indianapolis 500 (she placed third overall). The boundary-breaking bombshells latest endeavor is a new kind of challenge, however. Shes teamed up with four other celebrities for the Drive4COPD campaign, an effort to promote health screenings for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a blanket term that includes the lung diseases chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
The fourth leading cause of death in the U.S., COPD kills more than 100,000 people each year. While over 12 million Americans have been diagnosed with COPD, an equal number are believed to be living with the disease without knowing it.
Patrick sat down with Health.com and discussed what its like to be a female in a mans world, how she stays healthy on the road (and track), and why COPD is close to her heart.
Whats the biggest challenge youve faced as a woman in the traditionally male world of auto racing?
As I came up through the ranks, it was really a matter of getting people to believe that I could accomplish what I knew I could accomplish, and that I have the same capabilities as a guy. You really have to prove to people you can do it; maybe in my position I have to prove it more than once. But being a girl has also opened doors. You get peoples attention by being someone different.
How do you handle the stress of racing?
One thing I remember is to always put 100% effort in. I always do everything I can to prepare, and as long as Ive done those things, I know Ive done everything I can. Then its just a matter of experienceand a little luckand I can rest easy knowing Ive done my best.
What do you do off the track to stay in shape?
Racing is an interesting balance of strength and endurance. I lift weights a lotdriving cars is more work than it looks, and I lift weights to stay strong. I do cardio for the endurance. I like to run; Ive been a runner for a long time.
In the off-season I like to take the weight training out of my program because I think the body needs a little break from big, heavy weights and asking a lot of your muscles. I do yoga in the off-season because I think there are three really important pieces to fitness: flexibility, strength, and endurance. Working out doesnt have to take long, but it should be demanding. You should break a sweat and should be breathing heavy.
You love to cook. What do you make?
I love to cook breakfast because I love to eat breakfast. I make a really mean bowl of oatmeal. I like to make eggs and omelets, French toast, you name it. My husband and I really like to cook dinner together. If we have a day off, its fun to get out the cookbook, pick a recipe, and then get the things that we need and cook all day.
You must not have a lot of time to cook when youre on the road. How do you maintain a healthy diet with all that traveling?
Cooking for yourself at home gets you familiar with the methods, so you know that ‘pan-fried is going to be a pool of butter and oil, and that if you have something grilled its much more healthy. You know some of the tricks of restaurants, like knowing they cook vegetables in butter or oil, so you should try to get them steamed instead. I am annoying at restaurants [Laughs], but when I eat at least half of my meals out, I have to be. At the end of the day, its your meal, so get what you want! In moderation, of course.
Whats your biggest guilty pleasure food?
Pizza and desserts of any kind. My favorite dessert is cookies. Also wine.
How do you indulge in those treats and make sure not to overdo it?
You cant eat them every day. If you want pizza, have one piece and some salad and maybe some chicken on the side. You can still have pizza if you have a small amount of it. Its also better to cook it yourself. We buy a crust at the store and put all the toppings on ourselves. It only takes 15 minutes and its much more healthy.
Youre one of the celebrity faces of Drive4COPD. Why is it important to you to raise awareness for this disease?
My grandma had COPD. She was a smoker and she had emphysema. To see someone you love sick and not able to travel around without an oxygen tank is really sad.
About half of the people who have COPD dont know they have it, so theres a demand for awareness. Weve screened over 140,000 people since February, and 17% have been found to be at risk. The easiest way to ease your mind about whether or not youre at risk is to take the five-question screener at drive4copd.com. Its really simple.
Have you ever been a smoker?
No. Ive always been an athlete, from cheerleading, basketball, volleyball, and racing, of course. It just doesnt fit with the lifestyle.