Written by Genise Shelton
I’d like to begin by telling you a story. About eighteen years ago, an African American woman in Chicago was living the somewhat typical life of an American married woman. Some would say that she was living the American dream. She and her husband owned their own home. His income was sufficient to take care of the family so she didn’t have to work outside of the home.
She was a homemaker and she was good at it. Taking care of her husband and children was her full-time job and she put everything she had into it. Her oldest daughter was away at college. The four youngest were at home, including a one-year old. The woman’s days were long and filled with all the duties that are required of a wife and mother…dozens of loads of laundry each week, changing diapers, running errands, caring for her husband, cooking meals, cleaning, checking homework etc. In addition to these duties, the woman had to look after her mother. Although her mother lived in her own home, she required some help due to an illness. But overall, life was pretty good for the woman, until 2003. That’s when everything began to change.
In February, the woman’s brother died of a stroke. In August, her mother passed away and in September her husband left her for another woman all in the same year. After her mother’s death, the woman moved herself and her children into her mom’s home, while her husband and mistress took over the family home.
In addition to fulfilling all the duties required of her, she had to find a way to put food on the table now. She had to go to work. This was especially difficult since she possessed very few marketable skills and little-to-no job training. Eventually, she found work at UPS during the night shift. She had no choice but to leave her baby at home with her other children because she simply couldn’t afford daycare.
The job only paid $9 an hour and obviously wasn’t enough to take care of her four children. The financial pressure was too much for her to bear, so her oldest daughter began to send money home to help with bills and food. Her daughter also drove her car to Chicago and left it with her mother to make it easier for her to get to work. During this transition, the mother was under a great deal of stress and worry…not just because she was working a low paying job and caring for the kids. She also had to begin caring for her aunt, who was childless and had developed a serious illness.
And just as it is with many mothers, this woman was so consumed with taking care of her family that she failed to take care of her own needs. After all, that’s what most mothers do…. especially African American woman. She was in survival mode and didn’t have the energy or the wherewithal to do anything other than to make sure that she took care of her responsibility to others. Unfortunately, the woman’s choice to neglect her health had far reaching consequences that she never expected.
One day in 2006, while talking to her oldest daughter on the telephone, her speech began to slur and she became confused. The daughter became alarmed and insisted that her mother call 911. By the time the mother was taken to the emergency room, she had suffered a major stroke and a huge pulmonary embolism. Her condition was so dire, she spent several months in the hospital. The effects of the stroke left her partially paralyzed, very weak on the right side and unable to walk. At the age of just 48 years old, this woman no longer was a caregiver. Instead, she became the one who had to be cared for. This story is very tragic, but it is more than that to me. It is personal. You see, the woman that had the stroke is my mother and I was the daughter who was away at college.
These devastating life altering events led to my passion of health and fitness. I began to educate myself and found that my own risk factors for obesity, high blood pressure and stroke are very high. As I thought about my family members; my mother, father, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins…all are obese!
I had seen what high blood pressure could do to a person. After all, my mother had never been treated for it because she refused to go to the doctor. And since she didn’t go to the doctor, her condition went undetected. High blood pressure caused my mother’s stroke.
I also saw what havoc obesity could wreck on an individual. My youngest brother was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure at the age of 12. My mother refused to curb his overeating habits due to her misguided guilt over the dissolution of her marriage and her now disability. She didn’t understand that she was not helping my brother by refusing to insist upon a healthy lifestyle.
I was determined to change this generational curse of obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and strokes that haunted my family. I began to read everything I could about living a healthy lifestyle. I began to eliminate various foods from my family’s diet and incorporate those foods that promoted health. We hired a personal trainer and he began pushing us to meet our goals of fitness. Most weeks, I worked out 3 to 4 times a week. However, my goals quickly changed when I saw my trainer’s girlfriend, who was a figure fitness competitor. When I saw her, I made a promise to myself that I was going to look just like her one day.
From that point, I began to train to be a competitor. Working out went from 3 or 4 times a week to 6 to 7 days a week. Instead of working out for an hour, my workouts were at least 2 hrs. Since I was small, my regimen was primarily weight lifting, hit cardio, and a strict diet. I placed second in my first all natural fitness competition. I won 1stplace and overall in my 2ndfitness competition, which promoted me to professional status where I received my pro card as a Pro Bikini Fitness Competitor!
So when I walk that stage competing, winning a trophy isn’t the most important thing for me…what’s most important, is the commitment, discipline and determination that my kids see in me to live a healthier lifestyle in return a long fulfilling life. My prayer is that through competing I can break my generational curse for the future of my children’s children and their children.
For those who do not know my story, I have a blended family. My husband’s former wife died from a rare cancer and left behind three small children. I told my husband that I was dedicated to making sure that we were healthy so that, if possible, our children didn’t have to suffer through losing another parent to illness. I hope that my story inspires you to become a better and healthier you!
Genise N. Shelton