By Chika Oduah
When it comes to personal fitness, Jennifer Turner says “keep it simple, start small and be consistent.”
The 37-year-old runner and Zumba instructor says she’s in the best shape of her life. She’s getting ready for her sixth 26.2-mile road race — the 2011 New York City Marathon.
For Jennifer, it’s about commitment — a consistent commitment.
But, Jennifer was not always the muscle-toned, weight-lifting, marathon-running rock star that she is today.
In an interview with theGrio, Jennifer discussed her road to better health and how more African-American women can learn to take time from their busy work schedules to get fit
TheGrio: When did you begin to actively engage in personal fitness?
Jennifer Turner: I started being consistently active when I was 24 years old. That was 13 years ago. I struggled with asthma and being overweight as a child.
When I was 13, I lost about 40 pounds in 2 months by developing an eating disorder. I eventually worked through the disorder but the pathology of yo-yo and crash dieting continued until I was 24.
I had absolutely no tools for managing my health and managing stress, which has a significant impact on health. I also had been focusing all of my energy on losing weight instead of changing my lifestyle to being more active and healthy.
At 24, I was on my way to Stanford for business school and knew I would have two years to focus on my health. I decided enough was enough. I was going to change my life. I stopped weighing myself and committed to going to the gym everyday. I focused on developing the habit of being active everyday. Two months into my commitment, I had lost body fat, my clothes fit differently, I was attracted to healthier foods and most importantly I felt great and free!
When did you start running in marathons?
I did my first marathon 11 years ago in Dublin, Ireland. A friend suggested we sign up for the marathon and raise money for cancer research with Team in Training, or TNT for short.
I had never run outside before. I was still running in my 7th grade 1986 L.A. Gear cross trainers on the treadmill. And, I was not going to do the race.
I went home to Chicago and mentioned the race to my family almost as an absurd concept (that I was secretly intrigued by, deep down) and they laughed at me.
Given the complete absence of anything athletic in my childhood (I was a dancer, violinist, and a master at scamming my way out of gym) they thought the idea of me doing a marathon was well, nuts. But, their lack of belief lit a fire in me and I promptly signed up. TNT took me from L.A. Gear cross trainers to marathoner in four and a half months. I did a lot of cross training, which is how I got interested in doing triathlons.
After Dublin, I took a break from marathons and did countless 10Ks, half marathons, and triathlons. In 2008, I did the Los Angeles Marathon. My time qualified me for Boston, which I was fortunate to run twice. I also did New York last year.
I enjoy running, but I must admit, marathon training takes a lot out of you. I prefer to cross train and soon will be focusing on triathlon and shorter distances. In terms of marathons, however, I would like to do the Chicago marathon. I am a very different person now than I was growing up in Chicago. I’d like to go back to my hometown and show ’em what I got — sort of the ultimate full circle victory lap.
What inspires you to engage in personal fitness?
When I first started on my fitness journey, I was in emotional pain about not being in control of my weight, of my body, and my emotions about weight and body.
I really just wanted some relief and wanted to get to a place where if I ate an extra chicken wing I wouldn’t: a) get immediate feedback in the form of two extra pounds on the scale and b) keep beating myself up about it days after the fact.
What has happened in the 13 years since I started down this road is something infinitely greater, more powerful, and far surpassed the original, smaller more tactical goal.
Fitness has freed me from the shackles of weight.
What do you enjoy the most about fitness?
First, I truly enjoy the process of being active. Every day, I get to get up and accomplish at least one thing for that day that improves my health.
Second, in addition to enormous health benefits (I’m in much better shape at 37 than I was at 27), I have confidence that has come from setting fitness goals and achieving them. When I cross the finish line in a race, it is an accomplishment that no one can take away from me.
Third, being active is also a great way to relieve stress. Life is stressful. That’s not going to change. You need productive tools you can use when the going gets rough to help you manage through. Being active can be one of those tools. For some people, being active is the first thing that falls off the ‘to do” list when life is stressful; that was certainly the case for me when I had attempted and failed numerous times to be consistently active. Now, for me, it is something I lean on, and is quite foundational to my life. It gives me more energy to then effectively deal with the problem at hand, energy to give to others, energy to be happy.