— Little did Liz Davis know when she first started her own
sometimes painful, sometimes slow and often frustrating effort
to change her body, mind and spirit that she would end up
leading a small movement.
Seattle native lost 200 pounds — shrinking from 400 pounds
and a size 28 to a healthy size 12 — more than 10 years ago
using the lowest tech, least expensive and most accessible
tool she could find: her feet.
walked routinely through the Central District neighborhood
where she was born and raised, she became a well-known figure
and an inspiration to people who watched as she slowly slimmed
body changed, her consciousness did, too, and she realized she
wanted to help other people understand that simple, common
sense and inexpensive changes could lay the groundwork for
permanent health improvements.
invited others to join her walks, they became impromptu
community coaching sessions.
wanted to give something to people who couldn’t necessarily
afford to go to the gym, or who didn’t want to go because
they were too self-conscious about their bodies. I wanted them
to know they could literally save their own lives," Davis
friend, Jo-Nathan Thomas, a social-service specialist who had
just lost 60 pounds himself when he and Davis met at the
University of Washington, said, "She is doing incredible
work in the community.
helping bring affordable health awareness and exercise to the
masses. Once she found the courage to act, she saw that she
began to overcome her struggles, inside and out. At the same
time, she became aware of the epidemic of health issues in the
black and brown communities, and she developed a passion for
educating and encouraging people."
passion for helping others was nourished by her sister,
Michelle Hawkins, who worked at the Garfield Community Center,
and Hawkins’ trainer, Willie Austin, a former University of
Washington football player and powerlifting champion who
started the nonprofit Austin Foundation.
and Austin used to go to health fairs and festivals where
Austin would lay out fitness equipment, demonstrate how to use
it and invite others to try.
both told Davis, who at that point had just lost her first 60
pounds, she needed to tell her story.
asked me to tell folks at the health fair how I lost the
weight," she said. "He said it would encourage
people who were obese to know that I had done it."
gave me the bug for helping people," said Davis about her
sister and Austin, who have both since passed on.
has created a number of platforms, including a one-woman show
that tells of her transformation from "fat Liz to healthy
several websites and Facebook pages — Walkable CD, DeFlora
Walks — has created a get-started workshop that was funded
by a small city grant and printed pamphlets of tips and tools.
She began to sell herbal skin products, and she established a
Community Walk through the neighborhood she calls "Africatown"
— the Central District.
walk, typically held during the more temperate months, usually
starts at a local park where old and new participants gather
around Davis, who usually carries an African flag and
sometimes has green and white balloons.
on how many people show up, their interests and abilities, she
might lead them on a few laps around the park’s track or set
off on an hourlong hike that starts with a neighborhood hill.
She might teach folks calisthenics or how to do a proper
squat.And all the time, she’s quizzing people on their
motivations and using that information to spur folks on.
it so you can be a healthy grandma," she might say to a
woman struggling to finish a few push-ups.
STORY CAN END HERE)
April, Davis held her first community walk of the year, which
— although bad weather kept her usual contingent of
attendees away — was still a triumph.
Davis, 48, had knee-replacement surgery and developed a
herniated disc in her lower back at the end of last year, her
winter was filled with physical-therapy appointments, pain and
could have gotten bummed out and given up, she said, had she
not redirected her thinking with the help of her numerous
mentors, prayer and meditation.
I stopped feeling sorry for myself and started realizing that
this is a new chapter and a new challenge that I get the
privilege of working through, things began to get
easier," she said. "Now I want people to see that I
struggle, slip and fall, but I get up work through the
challenges and keep going."
spent her first few years in Yesler Terrace, where she lived
with her 11 siblings and their single mother.
learned early, she said, that severe poverty can create
situations in which children who are not even of school age
have to subconsciously perform a cost-benefit analysis with
a child do, for example, if there is sexual molestation in the
family by a trusted provider?
the child learns to keep quiet so that there is milk in the
refrigerator," Davis said. "That’s real life,
perceived short-term advantages turned into long-term
liabilities for Davis, who grew up feeling hurt, abandoned,
unwanted and disconnected from herself.
athlete and good student, Davis was accepted at the University
of Washington but chose to leave when her siblings’
addictions to alcohol and drugs threatened her family’s
already fragile foundation, she said.
was trying to be there for my family," Davis said.
"There was a lot of dysfunction, addiction and even
crime, and my mother could not deal with it alone."
night after a difficult showdown with a sister, Davis called a
man 16-years her senior, who had worked as a custodian at the
school she attended.
thought of him as a father figure, a godfather, a mentor, even
a friend, but he had other ideas, she said. He assured her
mother that he would take Davis to his house for a chance to
cool down, but once there, he threatened Davis and told her to
get upstairs and into his bed or else.
at that moment, she said, that her spirit collapsed.
faith in herself — the thing that had kept her working for
opportunities, that made her believe that justice could be
achieved and that ordinary people had a chance for happiness
— also died, Davis said.
completely gave up," she said. "I finally accepted
the message I had been learning since I was a child — that I
have to give in to people and give them what they want in
order to be safe," she said.Regardless of what she tried
to tell herself, however, her unhappiness, insecurities and
fear exploded, and she began to use food for comfort, for
distraction, for an endorphin high.
was really the only thing I had control over in my life,"
she said, "though I did not realize that until
pounds and not yet 30 years old, she had a litany of health
problems. Her doctor told her she had high blood pressure and
was at risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Her joints
were damaged and she was going in monthly to have fluid and
blood drained from her damaged knees.
didn’t heed the warnings until she saw a video of herself
after her son’s birth.
honestly could not see how huge I was until I watched that
video," she said.
1999, she was involved in a car collision that left her with
nerve damage and partial paralysis.
and the image of herself in the video, made her realize that
it had been a long time since she had valued her life. The
next time she prayed, she heard God telling her to "start
wanting to live."
that, she found the courage to begin doing the things she knew
she was supposed to do, including making an appointment to see
a therapist for some of the deep issues she knew held her
a key moment because there is a big difference between knowing
what you are supposed to do and choosing to actually do
it," Davis said.
happen overnight, but she began her journey toward health,
starting with "baby steps."
a strategyHer first walks were only a half a block long and
incredibly painful, but she persevered, and over several
months, she slowly began to add distance, building up to a
half-mile, then a mile until she could walk for several hours.
pored over everything she could read about getting fit and
strong, sought advice from fit friends, experts and coaches,
and began to assemble, through trial and error, a plan that
worked for her.
example, two of her steepest battles involved drinking water
and cooking, things she does not love doing.
the water dilemma, she collected some beautiful colored Mason
jars and glasses, stocked a few fresh and dried herbs and
fruits and set a Sharpie within easy reach.
that ginger aids digestion, reduces inflammation and builds
the immune system. So on a day she’s feeling physically low,
she might start her morning by grabbing a mug, filling it with
water, dropping a nice, fat piece of dried ginger in it and
writing an affirmation such as "Health and
Happiness" on it and then enjoying her "Sexy
Davis two years to lose 200 pounds, and she still struggles,
even after a decade of keeping the weight off. She has never
overcome her dislike of salads or plain water.
since been invited to conduct workshops and perform and speak
at community centers where she talks about the secrets that
made her sick, her decision to confront her fears and improve
her health and the nitty-gritty of how she did it.
successful at motivating people because she’s been
there," said her friend Jo-Nathan Thomas. "She knows
the pitfalls and how hard it is to get out, but she’s the
light at the end of the tunnel. She’s the person at the
finish line, waving you on, cheering, saying, €˜Come on!
Come on! You can do it.’"
who is the community outreach coordinator for the R.O.A.R.
Farm Stand, says the payoff for her comes when she helps
people find their reason for wanting to be healthy, be it
children, grandchildren or a job they love.
isn’t about vanity or someone else’s idea of beauty,"
she said. "At the very core of it, the way we take care
of ourselves impacts how well we can take care of others. I
want to use my life and my success to show people that they,
too, can grab some courage and change their lives."
DAVIS’ WEIGHT-LOSS TIPS
Realize you are not going on a diet; you are changing your
lifestyle one step at a time from the inside out.
Understand that 80 percent of every pound of fat is lost
through food, so you’ve got to make your food work for you.
high amounts of protein every day.
leafy green vegetables every day.
half your weight in ounces of water each day.
6. Go to
your doctor and do what he or she tells you to do.
people in your life who encourage you in the changes you need
to go through, even if it is just one single support person.
15 to 20 minutes of aerobic exercise every other day.