November Member Spotlight: Bryan Jack

We are excited to highlight Bryan Jack as our November Member Spotlight.  Bryan is one of the friendliest people around.  He has been very consistent with his workouts even when those workouts needed to be remote. A couple of months ago he competed in his first Senior Olympics.  Fun Fact:  If I ever needed someone for a music trivia team, I would want Bryan on my team.

When I asked Bryan to tell us about himself before Forward Fitness, he had this to say, “I grew up in a small town in Kansas and was always into sports—my mother was a high school PE teacher and coach. When I was in grade school, after school was over, I’d walk to whatever practice she was having (track, basketball, volleyball, golf, tennis, etc.) and hang around practice and the team. And because she was the PE teacher, my friends and I had access to the PE equipment in the summers and after school, which was cool. So I’ve always been a gym rat, but it was always about playing sports, I never really thought about fitness outside of sports. I played football, basketball, and baseball in high school, and then played center field on the baseball team at Baker University in Kansas.” 

“I was a History major at Baker, and after I graduated I went to the University of Alabama for my MA in American Studies with a focus on African American History. During my time in Tuscaloosa I worked at the Civil Rights Museum in Birmingham, and became a huge fan of the Crimson Tide (my apartment was literally next door to Bryant-Denny football stadium.) I still live and die with Alabama football every Saturday. “

“I moved to Saint Louis to get my PhD at SLU, and continued being active, playing pickup basketball at SLU nearly every day, and playing in a competitive adult baseball league. It was in Saint Louis where I met my wife, Jenny. After my mother passed away from leukemia, I became involved with Team in Training, and completed the Tampa Bay marathon to raise money for leukemia research. About this time my health began to change for the worse, as I was in my thirties, and I started having severe back pain (degenerative discs and bone spurs). The back pain meant I could no longer play basketball or baseball, or run to stay fit, and I had difficulty finding an alternative. After graduating from SLU, we moved to North Carolina where I was a History professor at Winston-Salem State University. Living in Winston-Salem was great, but the long hours at my job and my back pain meant I was much more sedentary than usual. Combining the lack of exercise with the Southern cooking and sweet tea that I love, I started gaining weight, something I’d previously never worried about. I put on about 5 to 6 pounds a year, meaning I went from 155/160 pounds to 195 pounds in about six years. It’s amazing how just a few pounds a year adds up! Stepping on a scale and seeing my weight be almost 200 pounds was a wake-up call. My doctor told me I had high cholesterol and blood sugars—I was in my early forties, out of shape, and in severe back pain—it was a bad situation that I had never even considered being possible before. At one point my sister brought my nieces to visit, and I could barely move because I was hurting so bad. I hated having them see me like that and not being able to be active with them was devastating.” 

A few more fun facts about Bryan, “I don’t know how fun it is, but it’s kind of weird—I have anosmia, which means I have no sense of smell. It’s been that way for as long as I can remember and is likely the result of an accident I had when I was two years old, when I fell down the bleachers at a football game and broke my nose and damaged my sinuses. On a more fun note, I love golf and play a lot, in the summer usually 3-4 times a week. Jenny plays too and we like to walk when we play rather than ride a cart. Not only is it better exercise, but it’s also so peaceful. One of my happy places on a summer evening is for Jen and me to walk the golf course, listening to a Cardinals game, and decompressing from our day. I love it.”

Bryan had this to say about why fitness is important to him, “I never really thought of it as fitness, it was always working out and being active because it was connected to sports. Now because of what I’ve learned from the coaches at Forward Fitness, I think of it much more holistically. And signing up for 5Ks and doing things like competing in the senior games gives me specific goals I need to focus on. I think fitness is so important because I love being active, both to be able to continue to do things I love, but also for injury prevention. The more fit I am, the better my back feels, and I have more energy, both physical and mental. Being a historian is very sedentary; there is a large amount of time spent sitting, reading, and writing. I’m a naturally active person, so I need the balance of working out. I also am around college students every day, which makes me feel old enough, I don’t need to be feeling unhealthy too!”

Fitness and health have been an important part of Bryan’s life for a long time. He has this to say about why that is, “I think part of it is just exercise and sports have always been a big piece of my identity; for most of my life I was on a team of some sort. I also grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, when diagnoses of ADHD and the like were not as common as today. I’ve never been tested or diagnosed, but looking back, as I child I was very, very active and probably hyperactive. I was the youngest of three children, and I couldn’t just sit and watch tv without bouncing a ball, rocking in a chair, etc., and my constant movement could drive my family crazy. Being active and playing sports gave me the outlet I needed for all my energy. Even today, whether on campus or in my home office, if I’m sitting at my desk reading or writing, I have a baseball in my hand that I move back and forth because I can’t sit still. As an adult, I’ve recognized that I need workouts, running, or some sort of physical activity, not just because it’s fun, but to have a balance in my life. Thankfully, Jenny recognizes it too and is completely supportive if I need to fit an impromptu workout into our busy schedules.” 

On joining Forward Fitness, Bryan replies, “In 2010, I was offered a position at SIUE, and we moved back to St. Louis from North Carolina. It was then that I decided to do something about my declining health. I went on Weight Watchers, and started swimming laps at the YMCA, an exercise that wouldn’t further hurt my back. I wasn’t the best swimmer, but I took lessons and eventually got to where I could swim a mile a few times a week for exercise. I lost about twenty-five pounds to get to 170 and felt like I was starting to feel like the old me. I also started working out at the Y, but my form was terrible, and I still was not stretching as I should. I maintained ok for a few years, but I knew I wanted to find a gym where there would be coaching and a set schedule to try to improve things even more. I tried a few places on a trial basis—9 Round for boxing workouts, Shred, Club Fitness, but nothing was a good fit. Then after a few years of searching, I found Forward Fitness and realized it was a perfect place for me.” 

“At Forward Fitness I found the personal touch that I needed, and a structure of classes that would encourage commitment to working out. The emphasis on coaching and form was very attractive, and the supportive environment was huge. I’ve been in locker rooms and gyms for much of my life and I can’t stand being around meathead gym culture. After joining Forward Fitness, my fitness improved dramatically. My form got better in my exercises, and I really began taking stretching and mobility seriously. I’m still careful with my back and my shoulder that’s wrecked from baseball, but I’m able to be so much more active than before, and my debilitating back pain is gone. Strengthening my core and improving my stretching is so much better than constantly taking pills for back pain or getting cortisone injections like I was doing before.” 

When asked what accomplishments he is most of proud of Bryan says, “I don’t know if proud is the right word, but in terms of fitness, I like that I’ve run a marathon, because I was never much of a distance runner and that was a challenge that I wasn’t sure I could complete. I was finally diagnosed with asthma when I was thirty, but I had it all my life, so I guess I’m proud that despite that and my pretty small stature, I’ve been able to have some success in different sports. Nowadays, at 53 years old, I’m happy that I didn’t just continue the health decline that was happening in my 40s. I pushed myself and didn’t settle for being unhealthy and miserable. It’s been a lot of work to reverse it, but it’s been so worth it.  

Bryan’s advice to someone thinking about starting a fitness routine, “I’d tell them to just start, and to start slowly. Don’t expect the have things happen quickly, and don’t try to do too much too fast. That’s a recipe for disappointment and possible injury. Learn to integrate fitness into your life by finding something you like to do, so that it doesn’t feel like a chore. That might be taking a walk every evening after dinner, or it might be intense classes at a place Forward Fitness. But do something every single day, so it becomes just part of who you are. I like being able to keep up with my nieces and nephews when we go for a run, play pickle ball, or just have a busy day when we’re traveling. The more fit you are, the more opportunity you have for great experiences with other people. You don’t want to miss out on doing something fun because of being out of shape. And stretch, stretch, stretch! After years of ignoring stretching and mobility, it’s finally clicked for me how important it is for overall health.

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