— Mark Bryant is a popular fitness instructor and powerlifting
champion who lives and works in Seattle’s Columbia City
neighborhood. He’s gotten media attention over the years for
his work with seniors, but the other day he wanted to talk about
the obstacles he’s overcome on the way to success.
sent me an email saying everyone goes through hard times and he
believes his story could help someone else. He told me later
that he wants not just to help people develop their bodies, but
to improve the rest of their lives. So we talked about his
challenges and his two rules for overcoming them — find
something you’re good at, and be open to change.
57, was born and raised in the Jamaica, Queens section of New
York City, and he said he had an OK life with his mother and
brother until he was 12 and his mother met a man who was an
alcoholic. That began "10 years of hell," he said.
didn’t have a refuge inside or outside the house. Bryant said
he was robbed and assaulted by neighborhood gangs. And school,
he said, was tainted by his being assigned to special-education
classes because of learning difficulties related to his
premature birth, which also left him with limited vision. He is
constantly called Bryant names and assumed he couldn’t learn.
Bryant was around 13, an acquaintance started telling him the
names of the bones in a person’s body. The idea that the bones
could be named and that this kid knew those names struck a chord
with Bryant, and he decided to learn those names himself.
my life, being called retarded and not knowing — Mark doesn’t
know this, Mark can’t do this, and Mark can’t understand
this.’ But now, I finally know something you don’t
became increasingly interested in how the body works, and
wanting to learn more motivated him to become a better reader.
Around that time, he also took up martial arts, which gave him
more confidence and also meshed with his new interest in the
said that when he was 21, the man who made his life miserable
said Bryant could no longer live in his mother’s house, and
hit Bryant in the head with a hammer. They fought and both wound
up in the hospital, where he discovered his mother had been
admitted earlier. After that, Bryant said, the man was committed
to a mental-health institution.
of years later, in 1987, Bryant moved to Seattle, where he has
constantly met people who have helped make his life better.
He got a
job as a fitness instructor at the East Madison YMCA and earned
a health and fitness technologist certificate from a Renton
college. He moved to Columbia City about 14 years ago and met
fitness entrepreneur Bull Stewart. About 11 years ago, Stewart
got him to teach senior classes at the Southeast Seattle Senior
Center, and Bryant said, "My life took a turn for the
better." Clients have introduced him to leadership courses
and other classes that have helped him develop as a whole
completes a course he shares his new achievement with people who’ve
befriended him. "The kid in me wants to say, ‘Hey look
what I learned on my own,’" Bryant said. Their
affirmation encourages him to do more.Bryant has been honored
nationally as a fitness instructor and has won three national
championships in powerlifting. Later this month he’ll compete
for the last time. He’ll be 58 in October and he had a knee
replaced in 2008, so he figures it’s time to put the big
keep leading the senior classes, though, and he chuckles at the
thought that he’s a senior himself now. He also teaches at
Stewart’s Columbia City Fitness center and volunteers at Union
Gospel Mission, teaching kids boxing and weight training.
was one of the lucky ones, one of the blessed ones," Bryant
said. "I want to spread my message not only in the papers
but also going in person to schools and community centers
speaking about this very thing."
he’ll be good at that, too.