Life’s Journey

I’m one of the lucky ones whose passion, purpose and profession are perfectly intertwined with one another. But, it didn’t start out that way. A native of the Englewood community located on Chicago’s South Side, I was raised in a large family long plagued by poverty, poor housing, and poor health.

In my early teens, I watched my mother suffer through a debilitating work-related injury that led to permanent joint damage, excess weight gain, and eventually a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes, all before the age of 45. My maternal grandmother succumbed to the second of two strokes just shy of her 60th birthday.

I also witnessed over a dozen other family members die prematurely from preventable lifestyle diseases ranging from high blood pressure to heart disease to cancer.

In the midst of it all, I lost my home and everything I owned to a fire.

I had very few pictures of myself after my home caught fire. This is one of me at the age of 14 weighing over 200 pounds.

Living in nearly constant states of depression, anxiety and stress, I personally struggled with food addiction that led to weight gain and eventually obesity. Since obesity is linked to just about every lifestyle-related disease and I already had familial risk factors, this could have easily caused serious problems in the future.

But, I was determined not to suffer the same fate as my many loved ones.

With continued encouragement and support from my mother, who too was fighting obesity and battling her unstable and debilitating health, I was able to distance myself from negative family and peer influences and embrace a healthier lifestyle that ultimately resulted in a 65-pound weight loss in less than six months.

It was a life-changing experience that instilled an unwavering appreciation for health and fitness—A level of appreciation that would eventually unearth my passion and path to professional fulfillment.

A few years later, I eagerly left Englewood as a first-generation college student. I had no money and no plan, but I did have lofty ambitions of changing people’s lives in healthy ways.

Solely motivated by my ambitions, I earned Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Kinesiology and Movement (Exercise) Science, and simultaneously completed a Clinical Massage Therapy Sciences diploma program. I also earned professional certifications in exercise physiology and group exercise after which I launched my first health coaching and consulting company.

I was in the business of changing lives and business was booming!

Barely in my 20’s, I had a large client base, ranging from 30 to 100 years of age. They represented all shapes, sizes, colors, and creeds. Honestly, the experience of working hands-on with these folks, day in and day out, was far more valuable than any of the academic training I had accumulated up to that point.

Many opened up about their personal and professional lives, needs, values, wants and unique pursuits of happiness, which always kept me thinking of new and more innovative ways to better tailor my programs and services to meet their individual needs. In fact, this was the point at which I began to design my own personalized coaching system to support healthy lifestyle behaviors among people with various goals ranging from weight loss to disease management.

Unfortunately, this was also the point at which my mother developed a life-threatening infection after a routine knee replacement and had to have her lower leg amputated. During this time, she was also diagnosed with congestive heart failure, a result of long-term prescription steroid use.

My mother was only 53 years old.

In the back of my mind, having an ability to help so many people while being unable to positively influence my mother made me an utter failure. But, hindsight being 20/20, this perceived “failure” actually made me a better and more knowledgeable coach and consultant.

I began to explore more impactful opportunities to contribute to the advancement of people’s health within the self-care arena.

Seeking specifically to advance scientific knowledge, I pursued a Research Doctorate (PhD) in Kinesiology, Nutrition and Rehabilitation for which I largely examined the physical and physiological impacts of various lifestyle interventions (diet, exercise, and manual therapy) on cardiovascular disease, stroke and metabolic disease-related risk factors among sedentary, overweight and obese populations.

It would be a lengthy journey.

Along the way, I married the love of my life and gave birth to our son.

As an entrepreneur and PhD candidate, wife and mother, I experienced, firsthand, the many challenges of creating and maintaining a healthy work-life balance. While it took some getting used to, the experience itself further fueled my desire to help others, especially women.

After having successfully achieved balance with my family, work and graduate school life, I expanded my health advocacy and outreach efforts on a more global level by launching my very first blog and writing a women-centered self-help book focused on healthy living and weight management titled Leaving Your Fat Behind.

Six years later I completed my PhD followed by an additional two years of postdoctoral training and then accepted a full-time academic research faculty position—All while continuing to moonlight as a health coach, industry consultant, and expert blogger.

Being a junior scientist working in a competitive research environment was challenging, as there was very little collaboration or meaningful action. Nevertheless, I published regularly and worked tirelessly to further my research pursuits towards the advancement of population health.

But, just two years in, I realized I wasn’t staying true to my early ambitions of changing peoples’ lives. I was merely vetting scientific theories and mechanisms for potential grant funding, even though they had little-to-no real-life application or impact.

Happy on the outside, but hopelessly sad inside, as my research career wasn’t fulfilling and I was battling depression.

Adding insult to injury, I had begun battling depression after having suffered through three consecutive miscarriages and an ectopic pregnancy over the span of three years.

At this point in my life I realized something needed to change. While channeling all my energies to research, consulting and outreach, I had begun to neglect my own mental health needs.

I wasn’t happy inside.

I didn’t feel content.

Truth was, I actually found the most solace in the coaching and consulting I performed in a limited capacity. The continued successes of my clients were, to me, both ‘significant’ and meaningful, regardless of the relatively limited ‘sample’ sizes.

Ironically enough, after having completed one of my research studies, a participant pulled me aside to thank me.

Her exact words to me were, “Aside from all the fat biopsies and blood draws I had to go through, you changed my life. I didn’t realize it was your study and I almost dropped out until I met you and you took the time to talk to me about my personal health. People like you should work directly with the people, not behind the scenes.”

Over time, other participants shared similar sentiments.

Looking back, I always knew I could have more of an impact on the ground than I ever could as an academic researcher. Up to this point, I’d already helped hundreds of people transform their lives for the better.

Coming to grips with the fact that I’d invested over a decade of schooling into an unproductive and unfulfilling career path, I was faced with the difficult decision of having to permanently leave academia and take my life back.

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade! I’m happier than I’ve ever been, staying true to my passion of changing people’s lives.

Though frustrated, I refused to dwell on my past decisions. I instead embraced my present situation and, ultimately, decided to permanently transition out of academia.

But, not before asking myself, “What do I want to do with my life?”

It didn’t take long for me to figure it out!

I remained motivated by the same passion and purpose that’s fueled my personal and professional efforts for over 20 years: Changing people’s lives in healthy ways.

This is my true calling.

Whether I’m providing one-on-one or group coaching, conducting a small-scale workshop for professionals in a workplace setting, or speaking to a crowd at a large-scale seminar or conference, my goal is to help others discover, unearth and construct their own unique paths to optimal health, wellness and longevity.

Drawing from applied research, personal and professional insights, and an extensive background in kinesiology, integrative physiology, nutrition, wellness and rehabilitation, I help people navigate through the mazes of gimmicks, fads and quackery, equipping them with the tools they need to live healthier, happier, longer and more productive lives.

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