I grew up in a neighborhood called Englewood located on the South Side of Chicago. Throughout my childhood, I was surrounded by people who were negatively affected by unemployment and poverty which in most cases led to an abuse of drugs, alcohol, and food. In fact, it was in my own family that I was initially exposed to the harmful effects of such bad habits.
By the age of 12 I was obese (and it wasn't baby fat). In addition, I had lost nearly a dozen family members (all under the age of 65) to disease-related complications associated with drugs, alcohol, and obesity. A year later, my mama was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes which culminated in several disease-related infections, an amputation and heart failure. Standing at 5’6” and approaching 200 pounds, I was headed down the same path that had led to the onset of disease in my family and I knew that I had to make a change.
Looking back, I ate excessively out of boredom during my adolescent and early teenage years. By the age of 13, I had moved seven times and attended five different schools. I had few friends and watched a lot of television and, due to the fact that my parents worked full-time during the day, I had little supervision which left me free to eat whatever I wanted whenever I chose to. I literally survived on double cheese burgers, hot dogs, french fries, rib tips, fried chicken, and whatever else I desired at any given time. Sometimes, I would even consume 4 fatty meals in one day (3 full meals before 6pm, plus dinner). My parents had no idea that I was eating this way and I didn’t know any better, nor did I care, until my overall appearance started to change. By the age of 14 my waistline had expanded out of control. My mama noticed and took action. Realizing that I was picking up weight, she began to prepare healthier meals and refrained from feeding me fast food. In addition, she bought me a 10-speed bike during the summer and told me to hit the road! I began riding it for hours and hours each and every day and by my 15th birthday, I had lost 65 pounds and never turned back.
Inspired at this age by the power of exercise and good eating habits, I decided to permanently implement both into my lifestyle. My mama began working out at a small women's fitness center in order to control her diabetes and one day she brought me along on a guest pass. That was it for me. We stayed there for 3 hours during which time I took two step aerobics classes and jogged on a treadmill. I lifted weights for the first time too. I told my mama that I didn't just want to work out at the center, but I wanted to teach some of those classes. She spoke with the manager who agreed to give me a try with a little training so that I could be prepared to teach by the time I turned 16. The training was a success and I began working at the fitness center after my 16th birthday. In addition to teaching aerobics classes, my job also required me to provide fitness consultations to patrons and I even dabbled in personal training.
In a nutshell, I had single handedly broken the cycle of bad habits in my family practicing healthy exercise and eating habits when many people my age didn't have a clue. I also picked up a love for running. On any given day, you could find me running around my neighborhood or on a treadmill. These positive habits beneficially affected me in my scholastic endeavors as well. I was extremely successful in high school maintaining a 4.3 grade point average while working 30+ hours a week at the fitness center. In addition, I had major ambitions for college which would ultimately lead to my becoming the first person in my family to attend and graduate. What I didn't know, however, was that my love of health and fitness would become my ticket to a successful and long standing career.
Immediately after high school I attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) for the first 4 years of college during which I majored in Kinesiology, the science of human movement. During my tenure at UIUC, I also taught group exercise classes and became a certified personal trainer. After completing my Bachelor’s degree with honors, I worked in several fitness centers as a manager, certified personal trainer, and group exercise instructor. During this time, I also pursued a diploma in Clinical Massage Therapy at The Soma Institute in Chicago. Upon completion, I launched my own business, Complete Image, Inc., for which I provided personal training and clinical massage therapy services.
Always having a desire to be an expert at what I do, I decided to pursue a Master’s degree in Movement Science (an alternative name for Kinesiology) at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). My concentration was Applied Exercise Physiology, which is the study of short- and long-term bodily responses to all sorts of exercise conditions. During this time, I worked in various healthcare settings including physical therapy and cardiac rehabilitation while still running a prosperous business. However, during my graduate studies I realized that I wanted to contribute more to my field of interest. I had a huge appreciation for exercise as a science and the reality of what a healthy lifestyle can do for an individual. As such, I became interested in research.
After completing my Master’s degree, I was accepted into the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) program in Kinesiology, Nutrition and Rehabilitation at UIC with concentrations in Integrative Vascular Biology and Exercise Physiology. During this time I also revamped Complete Image, Inc. into Complete Health Solutions, L3C with a mission to enhance people's quality of life through services, programs, leisure activities, and events that promote healthy behaviors and encourage disease prevention. Complete Health Solutions, L3C, is a hybrid nonprofit digital media and publishing firm specializing in health, fitness and nutrition-related books, how-to videos and podcasts. In addition, Complete Health Solutions, L3C is a specialized provider of health-related research solutions and consulting services to business and scientific communities.
As an exercise scientist, my goal is to continually promote health and fitness through community-based prevention and intervention research with programs that provide exercise prescription and programming as well as lifestyle, nutrition, and weight management counseling to those who otherwise would not have access to such services. Taking control of my weight indeed changed my life and now it is my true desire to change the lives of others, one person at a time.