Molly Brake of Biddeford started exercising during the pandemic, first by walking every day and then jogging and going to the gym. She has lost 175 pounds since. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

BIDDEFORD — Molly Brake never used to run or bike or practice kickboxing. But after losing 175 pounds during the pandemic, she now leads an active life full of adventure, curiosity and an enthusiasm for new challenges.

“I started this journey as a coping mechanism during the pandemic, and found it has enriched my life in so many ways. Mentally, physically and spiritually I’m in a great place,” Brake said.

At a time when many people make New Year’s resolutions to exercise more, Brake’s story and those of several other Mainers offer some clues on how to embrace an exercise regimen as part of a healthier lifestyle. The pandemic set these Mainers on a path to improved mental and physical health that led to finding joy and pride in their determination to prioritize self-care.

Gym owners, yoga instructors and personal trainers around southern Maine agree: The challenges and uncertainty of the pandemic motivated some people to improve their mental and physical health. And those who stuck with it experienced significant benefits.

Brake, 55, a Biddeford resident who works for Habitat for Humanity of Greater Portland, experienced the empty-nest syndrome when the youngest of her two children went to college in 2019. Finding herself isolated at home when her office closed at the start of the pandemic, Brake began walking more to be outside and healthy. Walking soon turned to running. Then the gym membership that went mostly unused for years started getting used. As Brake lost weight, she started eating healthier. She stopped going to fast-food restaurants.

She lost 175 pounds and is now down to a slim 130 pounds. And Brake isn’t quitting.


Most days she runs, walks, or goes to the gym or kickboxes. She found mixing up her workout routine keeps her inspired – and injury free. Some days she goes to the gym first thing in the morning – then goes home after work to run on her treadmill. When her two daughters visit, she now goes running or biking with them.

As Brake’s clothes sizes dropped, she kept a pair of pants from each size as a visible reminder of her progress, and success. 

“I don’t fear trying new activities, and I don’t fear walking into a room of strangers,” she said. “I welcome new adventures and challenges now. I wanted to live for my children and my family. I wanted to be an active participant in their lives. I can do that now.”

Lindsey Horowitz, a teacher at Greely Middle School, began volunteering as a track and Nordic ski coach to help foster a supportive community of friends and peers for students. She also found the activities to benefit her own wellbeing and has kept up a daily exercise routine. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Others found a healthier fitness routine almost by accident during the pandemic.

Lindsey Horowitz of South Portland practiced yoga before the pandemic, having given up running years ago. A teacher at Greely Middle School in Cumberland, she watched as her students returned to school but still struggled a year into the pandemic. Horowitz sensed they needed a supportive community of friends and peers, so she volunteered as a track coach in the spring of 2021. In the fall, she volunteered as a cross country coach, and started running again so she could run with her students.

Last winter, Horowitz joined the Nordic ski coaching staff as a volunteer, even though she didn’t ski. Eventually she took up skiing herself. Now Horowitz challenges herself every day to either practice yoga or run, to embrace a daily movement ritual every day. She drives around with skis and ice skates in her car to be ready when snow arrives in southern Maine. 


“If you told me in 2020 that I would be a volunteer ski coach, I would have laughed because I had never skied,” said Horowitz, 33. “Coaching kids really inspired me to be more active. If I’m telling them to work hard and push themselves, I should do that. It was transformative.”

Brie Beaudette, who attends the same Biddeford gym as Brake, started working out during the early months of the pandemic when she had more time alone and was facing more uncertainty. And her life changed. 

“It improved my body image. I started seeing results for the first time, and kept at it. I changed my eating habits, as well. I plan to maintain it,” said Beaudette, who now goes to the gym five to six days a week and exercises in some way nearly every day.

Deb Arthur, the head trainer at NXGen Fitness Center in Scarborough, works primarily with people in their 60s and 70s. She said many of her clients realized during the pandemic that exercise gave them resilience and better immune systems to combat viruses.

“Most people I see simply want a better quality of life,” Arthur said. “They want to be able to pick up their grandchildren and get down on the floor with them. They want to be active longer. I work with people who want to be resilient.”

Gretchen Campos, a manager at Greener Postures Yoga in South Portland, said self-care became a critical need during the pandemic when people had to be “teachers to their children and nannies and everything to everyone.”


“A lot of people tried to do exercise at home with Peloton bikes or yoga on Zoom, but being with people is definitely a motivator,” she said.

Campos said the accountability of being in a group class or on a fitness team can be a huge motivator. 

“If you paid for a pass and packed your bag in the morning and know you’re going to see your friends, what’s your excuse?” Campos said 

That’s been Drew Graham’s experience.

The Saco resident found that, like many, he needed a healthy outlet during the pandemic. He asked a buddy from work if he was interested in working out together at the gym. Graham wanted to make certain he’d go. They meet at the gym every Tuesday and Thursday at 6 a.m. to lift weights and exercise.

“When we plan to meet, I feel worse if I say no and I feel better when I say, ‘Yes, I’ll be there,’ ” Graham said.

The two men have talked of adding a third day to their weekly routine, Graham said, but he laughed when asked if that would happen at the turn of the new year.

“I’m not sure it will happen. But I like to stay optimistic,” he said.

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