Sheila Cluff, founder of the Oaks at Ojai, a spa and fitness retreat deep in the valleys of Ventura County, uses her background as a professional figure skater and health expert to help visitors achieve their wellness goals.

In her book, "Living Your Dream: The Inspiring Story of Sheila Cluff," the 76-year-old mother of four tells how she came to open the spa.

The Oaks was one of the first spas to blend exercise and spa treatments. Tell me what you do there now.

The average stay is four nights and five days. ... The manager on duty will meet with all the guests and hear what their goals are, and will explain everything that is available — hikes, walks, treatments, facials and so on.

Our newest treatment is using the famous pixie orange. We try to use things that are natural and local as much as possible, so we are always inventing and doing something new. But we are known in the industry as the place for fitness and health, and the treatments are secondary.

Why is relaxation so important in a healthy lifestyle?

I believed very, very early on, when women didn't have credit cards in their own name or bank accounts in their own name, that there was this emerging woman who tried to do it all. She tried to be the perfect businessperson and mom and wife, and I saw that woman needing to stay strong and healthy to tackle the situations that she had to take on.

The financially independent woman that is stressed out and going up the corporate ladder needs to stay strong and fit but also sometimes needs someone to cook for her, make her bed and massage her and relax her.

Can you talk about the connection between fitness and emotional well-being?

There is a relationship between your fitness level, your aerobic capacity and your ability to do and get what you want emotionally, physically, financially and creatively. I really believe that being fit has helped me overcome some really deep valleys in my life. For instance, when we lost our 3-year-old son, I didn't want to be a fundraiser for the hospital, I wanted to crawl under a bed and die with him. But I got through that with fitness, faith and friends — not necessarily in that order.

What is your personal fitness routine?

I take about 15 hours a week of exercise, and after an absence of about 50 years, I returned to competitive figure skating. So I train at the ice rink eight to 10 hours a week. I also keep 10-pound weights by the sink, and every second day I have a routine. In figure skating, you need to have strong biceps and triceps, so you need to lift weights more than the normal person does.

How do you eat to stay healthy?

Eighty percent of the time, I make really good food choices; 20% of the time, I have my favorite dessert, which is cheesecake, or I will have a glass of wine. I am not a total vegetarian. I do eat a little fish and chicken. If you're too strict, then life is not fun.

health@latimes.com

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