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Fitness coach: For better life, learn and grow

September 12, 2016


SEATTLE — 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.

Bryant 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.

Bryant, 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.

Bryant 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 legally blind.

The man constantly called Bryant names and assumed he couldn’t learn.

Then, when 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.

"All 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 know."

Bryant 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 body.

Bryant 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.

A couple 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 person.

When he 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 weights down.

He’ll 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.

"I 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."

I’m sure he’ll be good at that, too.

 

 



Associated Press