Ashley Wright
Melanie Carvell, director of Sanford Women's Health Center in Bismarck. (Submitted photo)

Melanie Carvell cross-country skiing in 2009. (Tribune file photo)

For Melanie Carvell, a physical therapist, triathlete and director of Sanford Women's Health Center in Bismarck, health is not just physical. It's also important to focus on the spiritual aspect of the health journey, she says. Carvell describes her own physical and spiritual journey in her new book, "Running with the Antelope: Life, Fitness, and Grit on the Northern Plains" (published by the Dakota Institute, 2014). The book was a multiple-year labor of love that she hopes will inspire women to take charge of their own health, reintegrating the body and spirit along the way to a happier, healthier life.

Carvell describes her book as part self-help, part prairie memoir, and as a love song to North Dakota. What you grow up around helps form us, says the Mott native. Growing up in the harsh climate of North Dakota helped her with later life paths, and she was shaped by her small-town and faith-filled roots.

"The common themes of my book are really struggle and loss, as well as perseverance and community," Carvell says. "It was probably one of the hardest things I've ever done."

In her personal and professional life, Carvell has found women need to be reminded to take time for themselves, giving themselves permission to take care of themselves first, which will ultimately result in healthier and more engaged relationships with those around them.

These concepts fit well with the goals of the Women's Health Conference, which occurs annually in both Fargo and Bismarck. Carvell has been involved in organizing the conference for several years, and this year she will serve as a keynote speaker. The event aims to help women in North Dakota find a synergy between mind, body and spirit as true health, something Carvell has been passionate about.

"So much of being more active is just being positively engaged in our community. It doesn't have to be running or biking, it can be getting more involved in politics ... you're out doing a door-to-door and it's just really (about) being passionate and being engaged," she says.

The conference aims to teach ways to take care of yourself first and to be self-accepting of your own struggles and imperfections. Women of all ages and all walks of life need those messages and are represented at the gathering, Carvell says.

A big part of her presentations as a motivational speaker revolve around integrating activity into your day. She says that even 30 seconds of activity and exercise can make a difference now that we spend so much time of our time sitting.

"Little intervals of activity matter," she says. You don't have to think of being active as "big monster workouts," she adds.

Getting creative with integrating that activity is key -- a consistent theme throughout her book and her talks.

"We can all be such creatures of habit, and habit and routine are good for keeping us going, but switch it up sometimes," she says. "If you always run with music, take it off and listen to nature, if you run or walk solo then head over the Humane Society and be a volunteer dog walker. It's always when we reach out to others or try to serve others it pays us back a thousand times. There's a lot of ways to get creative and break plateaus and get started."

Carvell says that true success in becoming an all-around healthier person also means finding accountability.

"Find support and accountability, whether that's in a group, a club, a class, a league or just one other person that can help you be accountable," she says. "And, if you really want to be successful, pay it forward: turn around and try to help someone else out."

She says that it was people who set those examples and pushed her out of her comfort zone who really helped her in her goals.

"I never would have dreamt that my athletic career would have gone the way it did, but people along the way (helped

me), from asking if I thought about doing triathlons to pushing me to stay on the team," she says. "One person can inspire you to hang in there or try something you'd never thought possible," she says.

This year's Women's Health Conference will be held in Bismarck on September 29 at the Ramkota Hotel. Learn more and register at Find out more about Carvell's book at

Ashley Wright has Southern roots but is falling in love with her new North Dakotan home of Bismarck. She is a freelance writer, editor and graphic designer who blogs about life, style and Midwest adventuresat