Black in Cincinnati: 'I love who I have become'

Welcome to the WCPO.com series, “Black in Cincinnati.” In this series, we invite people to write honest and personal stories of their life in the Queen City. Do you have a story about being black in Cincinnati? Let us know. You can scroll to the bottom for contact information.

Denise Bryers owns Bootcamp Cincinnati Personal Training and Fitness in North College Hill.

Since age 14, I’ve had to work.

I’m no stranger to hard work because I knew responsibility at a young age. As a ninth-grader at Withrow, I landed a job at Hardee's in Oakley as a cashier and front line worker. When I graduated high school, I started classes at Cincinnati State. I didn’t make it past my first year before I became pregnant.

I had another life I was responsible for and, not married, I quit school and picked up various jobs to get through. I worked in fast-food restaurants, nursing homes, anything I could find to keep from being fully dependent on public assistance. I remember sweeping parking garages Downtown and working as a housekeeper at the Omni Netherlands Plaza Hotel.

This was not the life I had planned.

'We soon lost it all'

I knew my stereotype; young, black, single mom whose life will not amount to much. For most of my life, I felt like I wore it on my back daily. This is the stereotype I knew I was working against.

Denise at 22 with her youngest son, David.

As time went on, I met my now ex-husband and father of my two youngest children. I continued to work without the need of welfare, but we soon lost it all. 

Tragedy struck our home, leaving me and my three children homeless and leaning on the support of my mom and dad for a place to live. My ex-husband was involved in car accident that left one of the passengers dead and him with an eight-year prison sentence.

'Rebuild our lives'

I had to rebuild our lives from scratch and, with much reluctance, I was forced to apply for full public assistance, food stamps, child care vouchers, and enroll in OWP (Ohio Works Program). I was made to feel embarrassed.

I went through their job training program and found a two-bedroom apartment in North Avondale within a year through the CMHA Section 8 lottery. I was awarded with a monthly stipend that paid a majority of our rent. I felt lucky to be able to get this type of help, but the Housing Authority really made me feel like less than a human being.

In 1993, I landed a full-time job at Children's Hospital and I began to regain my self-esteem. I promised myself I would never know what it feels like to be homeless and at the mercy of the state of Ohio again.

'My passion for fitness'

I went on to buy a home, get my bachelor’s degree and work for Procter & Gamble. Along my journey, I found myself 50 pounds overweight from the daily stresses of being a single mother, full-time employee and part-time college student.

I self-medicated with food, but it wasn’t until I finally landed a job with Procter & Gamble that I was forced to shop for all new work attire. It was then I realized I gained a lot of weight and could no longer fit in a size 10/12.

I knew I had to do something to get the weight off. I did some research on my own, started working out and eating right. It was just a few weeks later that my passion for fitness began. I absorbed this new way of life and began to see the weight come off.

I initially set a weight-loss goal of 30 pounds. I started walking outside or on a treadmill, following online, high-intensity interval training programs and doing workout DVDs at home. Within four months, I was back to my normal weight and within a year, I lost more than 50 pounds.

'I love what I do'

But then I wanted more. I became a personal trainer and got my start working for Fitworks in Norwood. After helping my clients achieve their weight loss goals, my interest in starting a group fitness class led me to contact the Evanston Recreation Center.

Bootcamp Fitness class at the Woodlawn Recreation Center.

A few months later, Bootcamp Cincinnati was born. My mission was to create a fun, affordable and effective fitness program in a welcoming and educating environment for people who wanted to lose weight, build endurance and become lean and fit.

My classes started with five participants, and in six years, has grown to seven personal trainers and 250 members and clients in classes in Evanston and Woodlawn, and at our recently opened personal training studio, Bootcamp Cincinnati Personal Training and Fitness in North College Hill.

Aside from helping clients reach their goals, I am bikini/figure competitor, marathoner, and I enjoy helping other athletes who aspire to compete or run marathons. I love what I do and love helping others accomplish their goals through fitness.

Through Bootcamp Cincinnati, I have volunteered my services with the Cincinnati Police Department, Children's Hospital, Woodlawn Recreation Center, Cincinnati Recreation Centers, and the City of Cincinnati. I enjoy working with youth and educating them on the importance of good health, fitness and nutrition.

I am no stranger to hard work, long hours, sleepless nights, feeling degraded, feeling harassed, and having to sacrifice. I do this for my children, for my family, for those who thought that a single mom with three little children would never amount to anything.

I have gained and lost friends along the way, experienced failed relationships, bankruptcy, and foreclosure. At age 46, I’m at a place of peace in my life. I love who I have become, the life I have created for me and my family and the fact that I make a living doing what I love.

I still struggle and we still go through rough patches. But I continue to walk my path. I realized that my journey is both a test and testimony.

Everyone’s story is different. If you'd like to share yours, you can contact WCPO.com Managing Editor for Opinion and Engagement David Holthaus at david.holthaus@wcpo.com.

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