Village Exercise Maestros
Aaron Perry, Venus Washington, and
Haywood Simmons remind us to
|Aaron Perry, Venus Washington and Haywood Simmons are on track to helping
people lead holistic healthy lifestyles.
symptoms were. And the response that I got was, ‘Oh, just drink more cranberry juice.’ And that is what I was doing. I was pounding the cranberry juice. Well, that
was compounding my problem. In essence, it was making it worse. Finally when I had enough of just feeling like I wasn’t myself, I went into an urgent care in
Davenport, Iowa and finally received that word. ‘I’m sorry, you’re diabetic.’
Really from that point, I started really getting into fitness and taking care of myself. But probably like most diabetics, when you’re first diagnosed, you drop the weight
and you just really get active. But living with this on a daily basis, 10 years later, I’m 25 pounds heavier. I have very poor control over my diabetes. And then I met
with my doctor. He was hard on me. He said, ‘Aaron, we can’t keep doing this dance.’ You’re not taking care of yourself.’ I said, ‘Well doc, what do you want me to
do?’ He said, ‘Man, you need to exercise. You need to get an old bike and maybe ride it around the block a few times. Or if you can, just walk around the block after
meals.’ I said that I did see this thing on TV called the Ironman. I said that I wanted to do that. The response that I got from my doctor was that he didn’t believe I
could do it. And 362 days from that conversation, I crossed the finish line. And so, I know what exercise can do. I went from extremely poor control of my diabetes to
having perfect control. I went from 36 percent body fat to six percent. I was a different man. And so, this is why I do it because I know what exercise can do for you
if you make that commitment.”
The road to health for Venus Washington wasn’t quite as severe as Perry’s. Washington was a UW-Madison track and basketball stand-out. And her saving grace
was she became a coach after she left UW-Madison.
“I was coaching down in Coffeeville, Kansas,” Washington said. “I was the strength and conditioning coach, so I did power lifting and all of that stuff with the kids. I
was a track coach, so I was always on the field running with them. Since I was always coaching, I never really left it. It was just the transition from coaching
athletes to coaching real people, which made it become a overall holistic type of view. Before that, it was more like looking at my body and saying, ‘Let’s get
stronger so that I can get faster.’”
But then she had her daughter and it altered her life forever.
“I was used to having a nice body and so I needed to get in shape,” Washington recalled. “And then a lot of it was me transitioning and leaving my parent partner,
going through depression and having anxiety. It was kind of an escape from all of those feelings and emotions and dealing with that. That’s how I got into fitness. I
wanted to understand myself more, empowering myself more and understanding how my body moves and functions. After having a baby, your body gets all weird
and you don’t understand it. I started getting into fitness. I was always a track coach, so I started saying, ‘I should probably teach people fitness, not just athletes.
Maybe I should teach fitness.’ So I started learning about it as well and teaching fitness classes and doing personal training.”
For Haywood Simmons, a member of the 1994 UW Badger Rose Bowl football team and a former Dallas Cowboy, coping with health issues has always been a part of
“At 16-17-years-old, I got an ear infection,” Simmons said. “They checked for high-blood pressure during their routine check-up for the ear infection. And it never
went down. I went back for check-up number one and then I went back for check-up number two and then number three. And my blood pressure was as high as
some adults, about 190/90 and that was in high school as a three-sport athlete. I was dealing with high blood pressure at that time. But I also believe it was early-
onset diabetes. I don’t know that. I wasn’t diagnosed. But I noticed that sores and things were not healing on my body. And I had a grandmother who was more of
holistic, homeopathic person. She would take care of us with homemade remedies. I recall that she would teach me some things about different oils and the power
of foods and how we would use those things.”
As an athlete, especially as a defensive end, Simmons was always encouraged to gain weight.
“I played football at the University of Wisconsin and won a Rose Bowl,” Simmons said. “At that time, I was anywhere from 265-285 pounds and had a free-agent
contract with the Dallas Cowboys. I was 310 pounds with them at that time.”
After organized sports, Simmons continued to eat like he was a star athlete.
By Jonathan Gramling
Part 1 of 2
One would think that staying fit would be an automatic for former college
athletes, but that isn’t the case. The South Madison community is fortunate to
have three village exercise maestros, people who focus on exercise and
holistic health on a daily basis. And all three are former college athletes. But the
paths to fitness have varied for Aaron Perry, Venus Washington and Haywood
Simmons. And the rest of the Madison area can learn from their life’s lessons.
Perry was a college athlete in Basketball at Marycrest University in Davenport,
Iowa. But once the organized sports were gone, so too went Perry’s regimen.
“When you’re done playing and done working out twice a day, when your career
is over, then life starts happening,” Perry said. “You start working. You don’t
focus on what you’re putting into your mouth as closely. And it caught up with
At the age of 29, Perry didn’t quite feel right.
“I talked with different nurses,” Perry said. “I was telling them what my