Village Exercise Maestros
Aaron Perry, Venus Washington, and
Haywood Simmons remind us to
stay fit
Aaron Perry, Venus Washington and Haywood Simmons are on track to helping
people lead holistic healthy lifestyles.
300 pounds, his health fell apart. So I knew at 350 — and I’m shorter than he is — where my health was headed. So I did it for my dad too. And today, I get to treat and
work with him because he is dealing with some health things. I do it because of what he did for me. I weighed in this morning at 195 pounds, no high blood pressure,
no erectile dysfunction, and no diabetes, none of it.”

All three of our village exercise maestros have had to piece together different gigs to make it a go as a health and wellness instructor. Perry has had a full-time job,
while promoting health, particularly for Black men, in his free time. It has paid off.

“I have an organization, Rebalance Life Wellness Association,” Perry said. “We’re all about reducing the health disparities for men of color with the primary focus on
Black men. We do that in a number of ways. We have a Black Men Run group that we do. We run every Saturday morning at 8 a.m. at the UW Arboretum. No one gets
left behind. It’s for me of all abilities. We just incorporated a walk now, so we can do runs and walks. We had a lot of men reach out to us and say, ‘Man, you guys
look like you’re having fun, but because of old sports injuries, I can’t run anymore.’ I said, ‘Come on out and walk with us.’ Walking is just as good. And so that is
what we do. I also opened up a Men’s Health and Education Center in JP’s Barbershop and that is doing very well. The goal is if men aren’t going to go to the doctor,
then we’re going to bring the doctor to them in a place where we know they come, they respect and they enjoy. I got a call from Amber Noggle of Channel 27 News
who said that they wanted to give me the Jefferson Award for February. I thought that was cool because it’s Black History Month. Then shortly after that, I got the call
that we received the Wisconsin Partnership Program grant. It’s a four year grant for $300,000. So last month was a good month.”

Williams does a lot of different exercise activities under her umbrella company Venus Inspires.

“I partner with other organizations to give free community fitness classes,” Washington said. “I do transformational coaching, which is one-on-one coaching that
deals with emotional health, mental health and nutritional health. I have the Get Moving class. We’re having Fitness on Purpose that the African American Leadership
Part 2 of 2
By Jonathan Gramling

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.

At the age of 32-years-old, Simmons was like Fred Stanford of the old sit-com
Stanford & Son where every day he thought he was going to die. There were two
factors that sent him on the path to fitness once again.

“My daughters made me turn my life around,” Simmons said. “I didn’t want to be
a hypocrite. I had some buddies, Michael London and Kenny Dale and Ron
Dayne, and we were going to start a sports business. And I was going to be the
marketing guy. And I was in there practicing, I was going to be the coach and
the trainer. I was going to be the coach who didn’t do what he taught everyone
else to do. And I had to get off my butt and start to practice the things that I saw
from a marketing standpoint and they started to work. My daughters saved me. I
was committed to being there for them. My father had told me that when he got to
Council is sponsoring. And then I also have the family fitness classes at the
South Library and then another one at the Sequoia Library coming up pretty
soon. And I also help teachers in the Verona Area School District with mindful
practices. I support them if they want to teach that to the students or for
themselves as a resource for them. And I am also doing something with the
Access clinic where I am helping them with the personal development
program where I am doing mindful talks for them, just helping them with
awareness of self and things like that. The Get Moving class is funded by the
Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. Right now, they sponsor the
morning class here at the Villager Mall on Tuesday and Thursdays.”

Simmons is focused on the whole person through his business Phitness Plus.

“I teach classes at the Boys & Girls Club as well as the Badger Rock
Neighborhood Center,” Simmons said. “We have classes there and we do
different things throughout the community. We do our Sugar Free meeting every
Saturday at 10:30 for diabetics or people dealing with food and sugar issues
and are addicted to sugar. So we do our Sugar Free meal program every
Saturday at the Boys & Girls Club on Taft Street. And every Sunday morning at
10 a.m., we have a Master Mind group that meets about diabetes and high
blood pressure at Badger Rock Neighborhood Center. It’s two hours of Master
Minding around questions of how we want to live and why we want to live and
then looking at commitment and accountability to move forward.”

For Simmons, it really is about the whole body, mind, body and spirit.

“In the culture I came from, we started with our spirit first, our mind and our
body,” Simmons said. “And so what we do at Phitness Plus is help people
start to see their spirit and then to use that to navigate their minds and bodies.
The way we do that is to start them out with a simple introductory process,
little stuff like changing one thing and then you change a lot. When I was doing
research, back sometime back in history, fitness was seen as for the working
class people. Health was something for the wealthy people. And there is some
trauma that may be caught in the body of being fit and able to labor and able to
survive. And there’s trauma in self worth in who do we think we are. So if we
take those steps to know that you deserve it and are worth it, you will
understand. We try to peel back the onion. Our heart is where we are, but we
have to get the heart, the body and the mind to work together.”

“I like to attack emotional wellbeing, that whole shame and trauma and things
like that,” Washington added. “So a lot of my cues in my class have something
to do with attacking some emotion, to release that as we are moving.
Emotions get stuck in our bodies and then we want to eat and suppress them.
So if we are in a movement and actually feel that emotion as I am punching
something, now I learn how to release and now I know that I am empowered
and do something much more than just numb my emotions or feel
overwhelmed or feel the anxieties. I can actually release them and move
forward. Emotional wellbeing is very, very important. Mental wellbeing is also
important. In all of my classes, I like to take a moment to just center ourselves
to allow our minds to be present because it is hard for us to even be present
when we’re talking with someone, when we’re doing anything. Just think
living in your mind of trying to do all of these things at once, where you can
come to a class where you can actually be present with yourself and actually
get to feel and release. How empowering is that?”

Each of our exercise maestros have heard all of the excuses before.

The excuse that Perry hears is imbued with fear.

“I watched the Ironman for four years,” Perry said. “And every year, I wanted
to do it. But the fear of not knowing how to swim kept me back. But I still
wanted it so bad. What I tell people is you never know what is on the other
side of your fears. And for me, when I started training for Ironman, something
clicked about six months into my training. It just clicked that this was what I
was meant to do. I’m so glad that I did that because crossing the finish line
and having pharmaceutical companies tell me that I was the world’s first
African American diabetic to do an Ironman was incredible. Had I not pushed
myself beyond my fear, I would have never discovered that. That claim would
have gone to someone else. I am glad that I got it.”

Washington hears people say that they don’t have time.

“Not having time, it’s a mind overriding what is important,” Washington
emphasized. “It’s allowing the mind to run and race. As soon as you get
present and are still, you realize that you actually do have a lot of time. You are
actually wasting time thinking about you don’t have any time. If you make the
time to say that you have time, then you have time.”
And Simmons hears people say that they can’t afford the money to be healthy.
Well people pay for it one way or the other.

“To me, the underlying issue is self-worth,” Simmons said. “As a business
owner, it’s conveying the worth of the investment. We need to know our worth
and understand and see the future. We need to have a why and see our value.
‘Why is this worth something? This $90 per month or $900 per month, is that
what I am worth?’ We need to see the value of what we are worth. In Madison,
I know that income levels are always needed. But at the end of the day, it’s a
self-worth issue. We’re seeing that our health declines as we get older and we
have to pay to stay healthy.”

Aaron Perry, Venus Washington and Haywood Simmons are straight up when
they talk about health in mind, body and soul. To do anything less would
compromise their client’s future health and happiness for they know the price
of not pursuing health. Sickness will pursue you.