I remember my mother uttering that aforementioned phrase to me as a chubby teenager. This wasn’t her first time lecturing me about taking initiative. Of course, as with most teenagers, it went in one ear and out the other. I just wanted to be happy with the skin I was blessed in.
Before I continue, please know that this isn’t your typical before and after, I went from not to hot fitness story. It’s sooo much deeper than that. With that said, let me take it back to the beginning.
As you can see by my mother’s attire, this pic wasn’t taken yesterday. I was born on January 25th, 1986 in Jackson, Tennessee. As you tell by my legs, I was a chubby baby. My mother said she had no idea why I was getting fat until my aunt, who use to babysit me, told her that she fed me “real food” whenever I started whining. Gerber baby food didn’t satisfy my raging appetite.
Besides my aunt, another person who gave me food when I whined was my dad. Being his first and only child—my mother’s only child too—he made sure that I got whatever I desired. Besides toys and Nintendo games, the main thing I wanted was food! If I wanted ice cream, he got it for me. If I wanted pizza, he got it for me. Pretty much any bad food that you can think of, he got it for me upon request. No wonder I was a chunky baby!
“Give me one pushup and I will buy you a Sprite.”…
One of my older cousins offered this bet to me when I was ten years old. In Jackson, he is regarded as one of the best high school football players of all time. Even though his playing days were over, he still was in tip-top shape.
During the Super Bowl game of that year, he bet me a Sprite—my favorite soda as a kid—if I could give him one pushup. Just one! Did I accomplish such an easy physical feat? No sir/ma’am! I went down for the pushup, but was unable to come up. It felt like somebody put a ton of bricks on my back.
I was so embarrassed that I almost cried. My cousin looked at me with a stern face and said, “Crying won’t do anything about you not being able to do one pushup. You just got to get in shape.” Another potent thing that he said was Emmitt Smith and the other football players don’t drink sodas, they drink water. This experience stuck with me ever since, motivating me whenever I don’t feel like going to the gym. My road to finding fitness has just begun.
“Hey Marcus. Whatever you decide to do in life, make sure you do it to the fullest.”…
This is some of the last words my father uttered to me. He died a few months later in December 2002. After he and my mother divorced in 1991, his life kind of spiraled out of control. I remember visiting him for the weekends from 1991 to about 1994. Suddenly, I was unable to go visit him anymore. My mother told me that he became ill, thus would be unable to watch after me. When I got older, I learned what made him so sick—his unhealthy lifestyle.
My father had always been a skinny guy. Looking at old photos of him and my mother back in the 1970s, his afro was nearly bigger than his body! My father was a hardworking man who provided for my mother and me. He worked at Proctor & Gamble, while earning additional income as a car mechanic and electrician. He was the jack-of-all-trades—except when it came to his health.
Recalling stories from my mother, dad had his vices. His three main vices were alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs. I’m still unsure—nor do I care to know—what drugs he indulged in. Yet, what I did witness was his heavy alcohol and cigarette usage.
I remember visiting him one time over at my late grandmother’s house around 1998—keep in mind that I haven’t seen him since 1994. I noticed two things that really disturbed me—he gained a ton of weight. I never seen my father as an overweight man, yet he appeared to put on at least one hundred pounds.
Secondly, there was a pile of cigarettes sitting in a large ashtray. The sight of those cigarettes made my stomach churn—not because my dad allegedly smoked all those cigarettes, but because of the after-smell of them. If there is one thing I wish had never been invented, it would be cigarettes, a.k.a. cancer sticks. Those things cause so many people to die prematurely.
Visiting him planted a seed in my head; I don’t want to end up like that. That summer, I played basketball, baseball—even though I hated it—and football to shed some weight. I also was a member of the Boys & Girls Club. Being a chubby kid wasn’t cutting it anymore.
“Basketball is my favorite sport…I like the way they dribble up and down the court.” —Kurtis Blow from his song “Basketball”
The one sport I loved playing the most is basketball. Football is my favorite sport to watch, but having my brain caved in never appealed to me. I had a small basketball court in my backyard. Growing up, my friends would come over to my house and shoot hoops.
When I was shooting basketball by myself, I use to emulate all my favorite basketball players: Allen Iverson, Michael Jordan, Penny Hardaway, and several others. I always saw myself as a person that was destined for greatness. I thought my ticket to greatness was being a pro ball player. Unfortunately for me, I only grew to be five-foot-six—five-foot-seven with high-top shoes on—so my NBA aspirations were quickly dashed.
While my hoop dreams didn’t come to fruition, one thing that it did bring me was physical fitness. Playing basketball throughout high school helped me shed weight and get stronger. By my senior year, I could do over thirty pushups and I drank water most of the time. My older cousin was so proud of me! The most important thing it helped me do is overcome the death of my father. Without basketball, I would have went crazy!
“Marcus, you got to get on these weights so you can attract these college girls.”…
Another cousin of mine uttered this to me after seeing a flock of girls swoon over a muscular football player. He was helping me and his twin brother move into our dorm rooms during our freshman year of college. To this day, his comment resonates with me. Not to get too in-depth with my love life, but I wasn’t quite the ladies’ man that I envisioned myself to be. Entering college, I only had sex once.
Being a young man in college, having fun with the ladies was a top priority. Unfortunately, my self-esteem didn’t agree with me. The main reason for that was that I didn’t like my physique. Sure, I shed some weight from playing basketball in high school, but it wasn’t on the same level as that football player’s body. I wanted the females to swoon over me too!
Heeding my cousin’s advice, I utilized the student recreation center to start lifting weights. Let me be brutally honest—I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT THE HELL I WAS DOING! Prior to college, I took a weightlifting class in high school for half a semester. While I learned a little bit in that class, I still was clueless about how to properly lift weights.
I would go into the gym and perform random workouts on gym machines. I would play basketball throughout the week as well. After my first year in college, I made some bodily progress, but not enough for swoon status. I quickly realized that in order for me to take my body to that level, I needed to learn how to both weightlift and eat properly. In other words, I needed to become my own personal trainer.
“The mind will quit a thousand times before the body will. So don’t run away from fear, run towards it.”…
I remember hearing this quote as I remained steadfast with my body-transforming goals. The mind is the strongest muscle in the body. The mind will make you accomplish things that seemed impossible. I quickly learned this as I decided to get serious about weightlifting during my sophomore year in college.
Instead of working out aimlessly like I did my freshman year, I invested in a monthly subscription of Men’s Fitness magazine. I remember reading my first copy of that magazine when I was an adolescent. At an early age, I was always fascinated with the chiseled physiques of the male fitness models. Now as a nineteen-year-old young man, I was determined to transform my physique to fitness model status.
Utilizing the workout programs in the magazines, I started to see significant results towards the end of my sophomore year.
I took a gazillion pics like this one and posted them on Facebook—back in the good old days when Facebook was just for college students! Now I have my mama on there messaging me whenever I log in. I remember the praise I got from people, especially the ladies. I loved it! My hard work was finally paying off!
After I earned my bachelor’s degree in Business Finance in May 2009, I knew I didn’t want to work in a bank at all. I knew what my passion was—FITNESS! That fall, I enrolled in graduate school with the Health & Sports Science department. It was time to take my fitness endeavors to the next level.
Around this time, I did a few fitness modeling gigs. Above is one of my favorite photos during that era.
I couldn’t believe how lean and defined my physique had become. In fact, I had become so in-shape that people around the gym start inquiring about my personal trainer services. But here’s the thing—I wasn’t a personal trainer. Training other people for profit never crossed my mind. The closest I have come to that was teaching my old best friend some exercises and giving other people fitness advice when they asked me a question.
Suddenly, the light bulb came on—I have been a personal trainer all along! With so much experience gained, along with reading countless health and fitness articles, I was meant to become a personal trainer. In 2011, I started my personal training business, Freewill Fitness. Since then, I have helped hundreds of men and women live a healthier lifestyle.
“You know I’m a true believer that if you get anything out of life you’ve got to put up with the toils and strife” – Bobby Womack from his song, “That’s The Way I Feel About Cha”
I love old-school seventies songs that were a part of my mother’s generation. Songs like this one had a lot of meaning and truth to them.
These past few years, I have dealt with numerous toils and strife. My grandma, who kept me a lot as a kid, died suddenly in 2014 at the ripe age of 92. She had always been a highly-active person who walked without the need of a cane or wheelchair and had always been a source of inspiration when it came to longevity. I prayed that my fitness lifestyle allowed me to make it to my nineties without a cane or wheelchair.
Also, my mother was diagnosed with type-2 diabetes back in 2012. I was there when the doctor delivered the unexpected news. It was devastating but I knew that my mother could overcome this illness with my assistance. Thankfully, as of January 2017, she no longer needs to take any insulin medicine. She started eating better and being more active.
Lastly, I recently overcame a breakup with my long-time girlfriend back in late 2015. After all the fun I had as a college bachelor, I was finally in a committed relationship. Even though our relationship didn’t work out, I am proud that I helped her lose over fifty pounds and live a healthier lifestyle.
The stress of the breakup made me gain some unwanted weight. Looking in the mirror one day, I barely recognized the guy who inspired others to live the Freewill Fitness lifestyle. I wasn’t terribly out of shape but my physique didn’t meet my standards.
Fast forward to today, I am not only back to being lean but ten to fifteen pounds bigger! Unlike my fitness modeling days, where I would fast for several days to stay lean, I eat when I’m hungry. In fact, I consume more calories now than when I was a chubby kid! Food is here to help, not hinder you. Besides, starving yourself actually does more damage to your body than overeating long-term.
Overall, my fitness story is a tad bit unconventional, but relatable. I can’t help but laugh at my older photos. The ten-year-old and twenty-year-old Marcus would be astonished by the thirty-year-old me. If I could share a conversation with them, I would tell them to just relax and let life take its course. The chiseled, optimistic man you see right here wouldn’t be possible without you two.