Wilhemenia and fitness model Stephanie Voelckers paid GlobalGrind a surprise visit and the energetic German beauty had a lot to say about diet and exercise before heading to Central Park for an afternoon game of volleyball on one of this summer’s hottest and stickiest days.
Voelckers has been physically active since she was 6 years old, running track and playing sports with her sister and classmates in her small German town.
The volleyball champion turned fashion model, who studied first at the University of Hartford for three years before heading west to the University of San Francisco, told us about her new book, “The Men’s Health Big Book of Sex,” an exercise manual designed to help men and women improve their sex and health lives, her surprise at being the first volleyball player to be inducted into the University of Hartford’s Hall of Fame in 30 years, her love of fitness and much more!
Here’s some of what was said.
GlobalGrind: You’re from Germany!
Stephanie Voelckers: I’m originally from Germany, a small town in East Germany called Schwerin.
How long have you been a fitness model?
I have only been a fitness model for five years now, but I was an athlete before. I played collegiate volleyball at the University of Hartford then transferred to the University of San Francisco.
This is Hartford in Connecticut?
Yeah, it’s a small school, Division One volleyball. I did three years there and I was Freshman of The Year for my first year. In April I was inducted in the Hall of Fame for Volleyball.
My last year of eligibility, I transferred to the University of San Francisco and I played my last year there. I also finished out my fifth year of Track and Field because I was going to grad school getting my MBA. After my school and collegiate athletic career were over, I got into fashion full time and, naturally, got into fitness modeling. I do a lot of fitness but lately I’ve noticed fitness and health and recreation is moving towards fashion, meaning that a lot athletic companies that I shoot for ― I just came back from a shoot for Athleta and I just shot the campaign for Ecco shoes ― they all have athletic products coming out but look more and more fashionable.
I always think about Venus Williams and Serena Williams, the two tennis players. They caught my attention when they started to wear their own fashion during the games at the US Open and Wimbledon.
They started to wear really crazy fashion in a games where it’s more conservative and very serious. At least it used to be the tradition. The Tennis Federation had to have a talk with them and told them they had to tone it down and, in my mind and life, it was one of the early signs where I see sports, fashion and apparel move towards more fashionable looks.
Playing beach volleyball, obviously it’s a very attractive sport because we mostly play in bikinis. I see more fashion brands coming out with sporty cuts so they still look feminine and sexy, but they are also functional. For beach volleyball, it’s important to have a secure and tight top so you don’t find yourself shifting around after every rally. So the brands that I shot for, like Athleta, who was just bought by Gap, I see the merging.
What fitness publications have you worked with?
I shot for most major fitness magazines, Women Heath; I had a feature in Men’s Heath as well (laughs), an intimate story but it came out a year ago. I shot for Shape Magazine and I’ve been on the cover of Runner’s World. I’m holding off on Self Magazine. I actually met one of the editors for Self Magazine at my Hall of Fame induction and they offered me a 12 page feature story, but I turned it down because the framework just wasn’t there. But, hopefully, that’s something I will do in the future as well.
Can you talk about the book for Men’s Health?
I shot the “Big Book of Exercises” last year. Women’s and Men’s Health come out with a Big Book of Exercises once a year and I shot the cover for that. It was very successful. I did two chapters inside the book as well. I’m actually doing the exercises which makes them very long and tiresome shoots. I’m very comfortable doing those exercises because I’ve been doing them all throughout college and since I was six years old, really, but it’s different for pictures because you actually have to hold it. For that one, they really got me good! They put extra weights on it and you had to hold the squat which made it a long day of shooting but it was fun, fun, fun! I love doing it! I love promoting health and fitness and being in shape and resting your mind while you’re letting your body work.
For me, one of the places I feel most beautiful in is the gym when I get down and dirty and sweaty. When I first started modeling, I really had to find a way to tone it down a little bit because I’m really competitive and I really get into the game and obviously don’t care so much about what I look like. But then I started modeling. When you try to be a model, and you try to create a nice picture where people can relate, it looks beautiful and you, hopefully, get people to follow what you’re trying to do. For me, exercise means beauty and health and happiness. So, I had to tone it down a bit just so it looks pretty and approachable and relatable.
So are these exercises accessible? How easy can they be done by the average person? Because you’re an athlete…
I am an athlete, yes! The good thing about it is there are hundreds and hundreds of exercises in the book. There’s not only exercises in it; there’s also nutritional plans or diet plans. There are exercises for men and women and you pick what you feel most comfortable with. I always have this theory. People ask me all the time for workout advice and I would never say there is one single exercise that I do religiously that makes my body looks the way it looks and makes me feel in-shape. There are a few things I do repetitively since I do play volleyball, I do a lot of squats and lunges which keeps my legs strong and my booty tight which is always important, I actually do squats everyday. I do them at my house. I do 30 everyday plus three! I do little leg lifts when I brush my teeth. This is just little exercises, but in terms of going to the gym, say you’ve never been to the gym. I would always say, start doing light exercises with light weights with a trainer and have them show you stuff for your arms, for your core, for your glutes and hamstrings and calves if you want to. Then really, really, really zoom out and take the exercise on and see how it feels. If you feel good doing it, most likely you are doing it right.
There’s nothing more important than doing an exercise right. You can do an exercise that someone told you that worked for them and you do it for your body and it hurts. You still do it because you believe it will do you good. You believe the other person has great legs or something and you keep doing it and it doesn’t feel good, it will not work on your body. So, for me, the biggest advice that I would give would be to listen to your body and have your body tell you what feels good and just stick with that routine as well as trying different stuff.
What about diet?
Oh diet (sighs)!
What if you’re a vegetarian or if you’re a meat eater? Is there a specific diet that will help you through these exercises?
Lots and lots of protein! Within half an hour after your workout, have some protein. It could be yogurt, egg whites, chicken, beans, Power Bar, protein shake, pudding, nuts, anything that has protein so your muscles get fat right away. Protein is the nutrition for the muscle and you just train them. It needs nutrition right away! When you feed it protein, it goes straight there and it prevents you from being really sore. You’re not going to be so sore if you eat protein right after the workout and keep it up! Eat healthy! I eat fries or a burger when I feel like it but, most likely, if I have a choice, it’ll be something healthy because you can always make a healthy choice. I’m really, really lucky. I love carbs! I eat bread, I love pasta, I love rice and I eat all of that. The thing is, it’s actually okay to eat that. It’s good for your body because it’s easy carbs, it burns quickly but you have to put the exercise in. Either you talk as much as I do or you run around fast to your castings like I do or you make time to go to the gym and feel your body.
Once you start doing that, you have a better appreciation for your body and your body will automatically give you healthier information or healthier messages. You just have to decide for your own body and listen to it. I think the best approach to living a healthier and body conscious life is to make small changes. Don’t make radical change. I never believed in radical diets, skipping this and not eating that and only focusing on bananas or doing a shake diet. I think anything you can’t keep up on a regular basis is not worth it. I don’t have any experience for it. Maybe you’re really craving a burger that day but you’ve already make that conscious choice, so you get a salad with a little pasta on the side. You start making these choices more often because your body gets healthy. You just have healthier thoughts and you won’t crave the fatty stuff anymore.
The book is divided between men’s exercises and women’s exercises. Are there exercises that both sexes can do?
There’s a few exercises that men do as well as women and you would just alter the weight. The good thing about the book is there’s not so much weights involved, it’s mostly free body workouts. The most you need are some dumbbells or a bar and have some weights on there. Most of the exercises use your body weight. When I go to the gym, I use three machines at the most. It could be lat pull down, inside and outside of my thighs and the leg stretcher. Those are the only exercises I do on a machine, everything else is free. Squats, lunges, abs, bicycle twists! I do a very dynamic workout, but you can do a lot of exercises with just using your body weight.
How much time do you usually spend at the gym?
Never more than hour. Never! Anything you do after an hour, you’re not doing at 100% because you can’t possibly focus being at the gym for more than an hour. It won’t be effective and you get bored. I usually do 20 minutes of cardio and then move into my exercise and it’s just never more than an hour.
And you have a second book?
Yes. So the Men’s and Women’s Health board decided to come out with a book about very much related to fitness, exercise, health and happiness but it’s a men and women’s big book of sex. So, it’s about sexual well being and what you can do as a female or a male, on your side of the relationship, what you can do for your body and how you can feel the best about yourself and the physical condition that you’re in and then bring that to the partnership. That way, you enjoy the greatest pleasure that you can have when men and women are together. If you’re on a physical level feel, you feel more confident about yourself and your body, you automatically feel more attractive and you also automatically become a better lover.
You get confident.
You get confident and you just feel good about your body, you have more sensation. On an emotional level, when you’re in shape and you’re healthy and you eat healthy, you just feel better about your body. Sex is about how you feel about your body and how the other person feels about your body. If you can put your 50% of feeling the most desirable about your self and your body and the other person does the same thing, well then you have 100% guarantee of great sex! (laughs).
Do you come from an athletic family? Or from a family where you were active as a child?
I was! I started running track and field when I was six and ran till I was 12. I was very successful at it. I have lots of cross country championships from my small town where I grew up. I loved it, but my coach or trainer was inappropriate at times. I hated him. I told my parents what he would say and what he would do and they took me out really quickly and I never looked back, unfortunately, because it’s still my passion. But my dad, my mom and my sister all played volleyball and since I was so long, skinny and tall, my dad automatically put me into volleyball and I stuck with it. I still play it, I love it and it’s a passion. I’m fortunate that he put me in it because it’s a sport that I can still play. Track and field would have been a bit more difficult; I would have to do it professionally. Volleyball, it doesn’t pay that much money also but I play it for fun. I play in tournaments on the beach, on the weekends and my family is sporty. My dad, mom and sister played also but not at the level that I did.
How does it feel to be inducted in the Hall of Fame at Hartford?
I was in Germany when I got the email. I was staying at my sister’s place and she just moved out. There wasn’t any furniture in her apartment! I was sleeping on a little air matress in the middle of the living room, it was just my suitcases and the air mattress and I was lying on it. It was the early night and I was going to bed and something told me to check my emails. So, I opened up my email. The current coach had been trying to get a hold of me and, for the longest time, I thought they wanted donations or they probably have an alumni game coming up. They invite me, they wanted to call me and I said, ‘I’m out of the country, just email me with anything; then I can get to it when I can.’ Sure enough, that night when I went to bed, I checked my email not really thinking of anything important that could be there. I opened it and it was the Athletic Director of the University of Hartford with some great news! “Stephanie we would like to forward the invitation for you to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.” I heard ‘Hall of Fame’ ten times and I could not believe it! Out of the blue, out of nowhere! I actually looked around the room to see if anyone was there! It was such a surreal moment! I was happy and grateful and couldn’t believe it! They were so appreciative about me being there. It was a great three years but I didn’t know how much of an impact I had made when I was there. So, I guess, looking back, I am the first volleyball player in 30 years to get inducted into the Hall of Fame!
Wow! That’s amazing!
So it was quite an honor and when I showed up, a grown woman, living in Sydney doing the fashion thing, their reaction was so funny. They were talking about what everyone was doing now and they said, ‘we have a fashion model here, a fashion model’ and it kept coming up and I was like, ‘Guys, I do fashion now but I also do a lot of fitness.’
It’s not only sports and then fashion separately, they are emerging. You can have a beautiful female and she can be competitive and play a sport that is rough and dirty and she doesn’t care and then she gets out and gets dressed up. I love where it has taken me and how it has transformed me. I’m still competitive as shit though! I’m about to go to Central Park now to play beach volleyball. I play with the guys there.
How did you make the transition to fashion? Did you get scouted?
I got scouted when I was 19 after I moved to the States after High School. I was a lot but I was so into sports that I said that I don’t want to get involved, I just turned it down. I had no time when I was going to college. I did a shoot here and there but no serious agency or anything like that. I didn’t start until I was done with my college work and my athletic career.
What do you think about the level of consciousness about health in Germany versus the States? Because we’re in a terrible situation here with obesity and poor nutritional choices. What commonalities or differences do you see between Germans and Americans in terms of fitness and health?
It’s funny that you say that obesity and all of that. First of all, the U.S. is a bigger country so, of course, you have a much wider variety of people living here and a much wider variety of lifestyles because, at the end of the day, it’s all about your lifestyle. Are you making time for the gym? Are you making time for your body? Are you making time for your health? Those are choice that you make and you have to actively make it. Once you start making it, hopefully, after a while, you get great feedback from your body, your mind and other people. You body and your mind should be your greatest and your most intimate feedback. It should feel so amazing that you keep wanting to go back that you continue with the routine. I believe sports, fitness and health are more promoted in the U.S. than it is in Germany so I have no idea why the Europeans look skinnier than the Americans in general. German food is not that healthy. You have a much healthier choice in the U.S. for food than you have in Germany. When I’m in Germany I find myself looking for healthy choices. There’s a lot of pastries going on, a lot of potatoes, a lot of pork. I actually get bigger when I’m in Germany (laughs). In Germany people will look at you if you’re big and they will give you “the look” and it’s going to make you feel bad. Socially, you are less accepted when you are bigger whereas when you had a lazy time in your life where you didn’t make the best choices for your body, people just accept you. Nobody gives you feedback. They may think, ‘I really want to take you to the gym next time I go,’ but they don’t say it or they pull you on your hand or they don’t care as much. It’s a culture thing. In Germany, we are so much more open, we tell you, ‘You got fat’ and you may respond, ‘Oh my God, I did! Let me go back to the gym.’ So, I think the feedback system is more internalized in Germany so automatically people are more active, they do more for their body. In America, you have to be strong about making your own choices and being the best that you can be.
When you were growing up in Germany, when you were younger, you were really tall for your age. What was that like? Was it difficult for you? Was it odd? Did you have friends who were tall like you?
That’s a good question! I grew up in East Germany and in gym class, there was a very strict regime in third grade. We always had to line up, boys on one side and girls on the other side in the order of our height. So, the tallest guys were very much on the right down to the smallest guy. The tallest girl standing right, starting going down to the smallest girl. I was standing next to the smallest guy in my gym class who happened to be my best friend at the time. I was very self conscious about how fast I grew and how skinny I was. I was bones and skin when I was little. I was very, very self conscious. They would make fun of me. One of the jokes that I’ll never forget that hurt me at the time (I laugh about it now): we were talking about going to the lake one day to feed the ducks some bread, a field trip, and the kids said, ‘Stephanie, you shouldn’t throw your bread to the ducks, the ducks will just throw it back at you!’ (laughs). That just gives you a sample of how honest and open the German culture is.
Now that you’re an active adult and are a successful model, are your friends as active as well?
I have friends from all different categories and fields of work. I love my friends in sports because there is, obviously, a very strong connection. It’s something you cannot put into words. It’s just something that you take on over the years when you’ve played competitive sports in your life and when it meant something or when there’s money involved, somebody paid you maybe for college or maybe professionally afterwards, it became your job somehow, it is also your passion. Great friends and great athletic friends, professional athletes as well as my ex teammates from college, I’m very close with them. Some of them are active and others have moved on to have a job and do a little less of exercises. I always try to get them back or make sure they exercise because they know. Anybody that played on the team with me, they know it’s the greatest way you can feel when you are actually in tune with your body and you feel your body. You feel exhausted and all you want to do after a long game is come home and sit on the couch and watch a movie and you know your body is just resting but your mind is awake because you have so much oxygen going through your blood and you’re awake! You just feel good about yourself. You just let go and feel good! That’s one of the best feelings. I have friends in business and they do less exercises but they do other things. I don’t think less of them. For me it’s a passion! Exercise has helped me tremendously in every area! I approach things that I learnt, like discipline, teamwork, communication skills, patience – still working on that one (laughs)! It helped me with everything in my career in business and fashion and just relating to people.
What projects are you working on?
At the moment I have a big shoot coming up. My agency has been a bit mysterious lately.
What agency are you with?
I’m with Wilhelmina, I’m on their Sophisticated Board but I’m also on the Fitness Board as well. I’m with them in L.A., Miami and New York. They cover me mostly in the U.S. I have a couple agencies in Europe but I spend most of my time in the US. Shooting catalogues, hopefully. I would love to shoot the Women’s Health Cover sometime soon! Other than that I just shot for Puma and Ecco campaign and it’s all beautiful, big, sports fashion brands. Ecco, a Danish shoe company, just came out with the first leather shoe for men’s and women’s golf. The first full leather sports shoe. I didn’t shoot the golf stuff; I shot the running and gym stuff! Beautiful shoes, beautiful foot attire. Very comfortable and light and sexy! Makes you feel good. And that’s one thing: when you go to the gym, you want to feel good and look good so it’s important the way you dress.
You said you’re on your way to play volleyball in Central Park.
I’m meeting this guy, Tim, he’s one of the best volleyball players on the East Coast. He wins all major New York and New Jersey beach volleyball tournaments and he’s waiting for me right now.
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