Danica Patrick steers Naperville hospital patients through the gym
Don't ask Danica Patrick if she's "OK."
The up-for-anything, ultracompetitive NASCAR driver already has done side kicks and leg raises -- all while balancing on black-heeled boots. And then Edward Hospital nurse Jenni Rimkunas gently asked if she was ready to move on to weights.
"I'm in. Why not?" Patrick replied.
As the face of Edward-Elmhurst Healthcare System's Healthy Driven campaign, Patrick is more fitness instructor and lifestyle expert than spokeswoman. She worked out with cardiac rehab patients at the Naperville hospital Wednesday morning, offering exercise tips and motivation. And she pens a down-to-earth blog for the campaign, where she confesses it's not always easy to find balance and slow down.
"It's working hard, then taking it easy," Patrick wrote. "Eating really healthy, then having a little chocolate (and wine). Pushing back, then giving a little."
Patrick entered the gym, followed by a line of cameras, and coached patients on the elliptical machines and a long road to recovery after a heart attack or major procedure.
"Keep at it," Patrick told them. "Keep digging."
Flanked by Rimkunas in front of a floor-to-ceiling mirror, Patrick demonstrated routines and put patients at ease.
"I feel like I'm in a barre class right now, and I don't mean the drinking kind," she said. "I mean ballet."
For patients who sometimes teetered lifting their legs, Patrick instructed them to find their "focus point," narrow their eyes on one spot and remember to take deliberate breaths.
"Show off," teased Denis Stefango, who had stent surgery.
"It's all my yoga," Patrick said.
In 2014, Edward-Elmhurst Healthcare System launched the campaign and a website where visitors can accept challenges for their emotional, nutritional and physical health.
"She is a strong, feisty woman who believes in Healthy Driven," CEO Pam Davis said of Patrick.
That's exactly why Ava Fantozzi wore a shirt with Patrick's image and her mantra: girl power. The 8-year-old daughter of Mary Fantozzi, a speech language pathologist at the hospital, presented her with a handmade card and pictures from Patrick's last visit.
"I just think it's so cool that's she's the only female NASCAR driver," Ava said.
Look beyond that feisty image, ask her about Dallas and Ella, and Patrick gushes.
"They help you reestablish what's important," Patrick says of her miniature Siberian husky and Belgian malinois, both a "handful" that keep her in shape with long walks and hiking. "They don't really care how your day went. They just want to make you happy."
The dog lover ended her whirlwind visit by greeting Edward's therapy dogs and volunteer handlers. And the celebrity didn't mind a few wet noses.
"Kisses!" Patrick said.