Fitness and healthy living are strong passions of mine, but this has not always been so. In fact, the person you see today would have been nearly unrecognizable six years ago.
I grew up in a loving family with parents who worked hard to provide. I learned a great deal from them, like the importance of education, a good work ethic, and treating people with respect. What I had to learn on my own was how to lead a healthy and active lifestyle. No other time in my life taught me the significance of doing so better than my first semester of graduate school.
In those five months, I struggled to adjust to a new, rigorous academic program where I was the only student of color.
I also ended a long term relationship, worked part-time in retail management, and adjusted to living in a new city. I’m sure you can imagine the stress. Each day I was fighting an uphill battle, and the pressure never let up.
Before the end of my first year, I began to feel the impact of mild anxiety symptoms. I was heading down an unhealthy path, and I watched several other students do the same. Although I didn’t pick up smoking, excessive drinking or drug use, I was starting to allow myself to do something equally harmful—I held it all in.
I lost my appetite (I’d always had a hefty one—I LOVE food!) and I stopped eating regularly. My weight plummeted and my stress levels continued to rise.
When a friend surprised me with a Gap gift card to buy jeans “that actually fit,” I knew I had to make a change. Sure, I liked the weight loss, but I hadn’t dropped it in a healthy way. Either I was going to allow life stresses to literally consume me or I was going to commit to a healthier lifestyle and a better me. I chose the latter.
That spring, I tried Shaun T’s Insanity program for the first time. It was difficult, but I enjoyed the challenge and it was a positive distraction from academic life. After I completed the program, I was able to run 3 miles without resting, a feat I’d never accomplished.
Running soon became my thing. I signed up for a few races and committed to the challenging training schedules. It didn’t take long for me to notice the changes in my body. My cardio endurance increased, I got stronger, I ate cleaner, and I leaned out.
But what I noticed most were the changes in my mood. I was less stressed during and after my workouts. The endorphins were working!
The physical activity gave me a much needed stress outlet and added routine to my hectic schedule. More importantly, it reminded me of the active person I was in college, back when I was a dancer and my interest in running was first sparked. I didn’t want to lose her. So, I took steps to incorporate physical fitness back into my life, no matter how busy I became.
The following summer, I registered for my first professional certification, and over the next several years, I’d earn two more. Though my graduate school years were rough, I learned some invaluable lessons. I learned to be patient with myself, to say no when on the verge of overcommitting, and to avoid energy environments that are too taxing for my wellbeing.
The things I learned about my body and the significance of wellness were so inspiring that I wanted to share that knowledge with others. So I created Yellow Optimist Fitness (@yellowoptimistfitness), which aims to empower people, specifically women of color, through various forms of physical activity.
As a black woman, I know how stressful it can be to navigate a society that is often hostile to people of color and women. I also know that maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle is key to preventing many of the diseases that acutely threaten our lives (cardiovascular disease is the #1 killer of women and impacts black women at disproportionately high rates).
It’s imperative that we take care of ourselves and I believe we do that best when someone we can relate to holds us accountable. Therefore, I strive to create supportive spaces that are free of judgment with each fitness class I teach. I also try to provide my clients with diverse fitness training to meet their individual needs.
Each day I remind myself of where I’ve been and how far I’ve come. My fitness journey is ongoing and I’m thankful for every lesson I’ve learned. More importantly, I’m excited for those to come.
Remember, no matter where you come from or where you may find yourself, change starts with you!