She loves sports and outdoor recreation, laughingly admits to "living life vicariously" through her grandchildren and beams when she talks about the photo she captured of young male elephants, their ears flared intimidatingly as they advanced toward her during a photo safari in Africa.
At 50, Dena Mahre, an orthopedic physician assistant at KVH Orthopedics, is living a life she loves - and intent on helping others do the same. "I like helping people get back to the activities they love to do - whether it's knitting or running marathons," Mahre says. "I like the challenge of dealing with people who have been told, 'You're going to have to learn to live with that.'
"I like giving them hope. I like helping them get back the lives they had. We may not always be able to make them perfect but we can make them better."
That Mahre herself thrives on an active lifestyle is no accident.
Raised in a tiny town outside of Denver that didn't have a traffic light or fast food restaurant until she was in high school, she grew up active and athletic. "I played soccer, softball, a little basketball," she says. "My family hiked and took weeklong backpacking trips. I was the only one who skied so I hitched rides with friends."
Fast forward a few years. Mahre graduated from the University of Montana with a degree in athletic training, worked as athletic trainer at Yakima's Eisenhower High School for several years then enrolled in the University of Washington's physician assistant training program.
After working at orthopedic clinics in Yakima, Mahre joined KVH Orthopedics in 2015. Dr. Gary Bos, an orthopedic surgeon she previously worked with in Yakima, was already here. "It was a perfect fit. I liked the people and the small town feel. I liked what was happening here," says Mahre who assists Dr. Thomas Mirich in surgery in addition to her office practice.
Away from her career, Mahre - still active and athletic - says she's a much better skier than she was in the past. Credit a chance encounter in a crowded waiting area at SeaTac Airport in December 2002.
Headed back from Colorado after spending Christmas with her family, she was waiting for a connecting flight to Yakima. So were two of the Yakima area's most famous athletes - the Mahre twins, Phil and Steve - who finished first and second respectively in the men's slalom at the 1984 Winter Olympics.
When a seat opened up next to Steve she sat down and they began talking sports, a companionable conversation that continued on their "puddle jumper" flight back home.
It might have ended there.
She'd given him only her first name, not her last. But he recognized the friend who picked her up at the airport and called to get her number. The rest is history.
"We went out on New Year's Eve. We've been together ever since," Dena Mahre says. Steve's proposal came one night when he handed her a poem as he cleared dishes after dinner. Suffice it to say, he changed her skiing as well as her life.
"I was self-taught. He took me all apart and put me back together," says Mahre, who relishes her own role of putting people "back together" in a different way.
Examples? There are plenty. "There was a young gal, maybe 26, who had hip pain for a year and a half. She'd injured herself hiking and hadn't hiked since," Mahre says. "She'd been to three or four places looking for an answer."
Mahre diagnosed the problem as sports injury joint dysfunction and "working in conjunction with some good physical therapists she was able to get back in six to eight weeks doing everything she wanted to," Mahre says, smiling. "I love seeing people doing what they love doing."
Want to know more? See Dena's medical education and clinic information here.