How one woman beat hypertension, diabetes and helped hundreds of other women along the way.
Dawn Estelle Archer can’t remember the exact moment that she broke free. She only recalls that one day, she decided she was tired of feeling bad and determined to get control of at least one thing in her life.
“Part of my inspiration was something my grandmother used to say: “accept the things you cannot change and have the courage to change the things you can,” Archer says, recalling her grandmother’s recitation of the Serenity Prayer. It was a perfect remedy for that time of her life.
“I had just gone through the break-up of a long-term relationship. I was drowning in student loan bills, unable to find a job and living away from my family for the first time,” Archer says. “I felt like I couldn’t control anything. To make things worse, I dealt with it by sleeping all day and using food as a blanket to cover my emotions.”
Finding Her Way Back
Depressed and weighing 220 pounds at 5’ 2,” Archer’s health began to fail. Her doctor told her she was pre-diabetic and placed her on medication to control her high blood pressure. She was well on her way to becoming one of the millions of black women with heart disease and she was only 27 years old.
Nearly 50 percent of black women older than age 20 have heart disease. Living with high blood pressure or diabetes dramatically increases your odds, but Archer decided she was going to change her fate.
“I didn’t know anything about healthy eating, but I’d been through diets before and they had not worked. This time, I decided to focus on being happy, more careful about what I ate and getting fit instead of trying another diet plan. Then I cancelled cable so that I could afford to join L. A. Fitness. I was determined to start exercising.”
Faced with a gym full of equipment and classes, Archer wasn’t quite sure what she wanted to do, so she followed her heart. “I discovered that I loved to dance, so I chose workouts.”
In just a few months, she dropped two pants sizes, moved back home to Richmond, VA to be near her family and found a job. Eventually, she would drop from a size 16 to a size 6.
Starting a Movement
For most people, that would have been enough, but for Archer it was just a beginning. She wanted to share the gift of good health and fitness, with family, friends, and anyone else who wanted in.
“I loved dancing and working out and eating right, so I started helping my family, holding cooking classes and outdoor dance workouts in a local parking lot. I’d just put a post on Instagram that said: “Bring $10.00 if you want to workout and meet me here.”
Archer’s first “parking lot workout” only drew six women, but soon her Instagram page filled up with requests all over Richmond and around the country. With 114,000 followers on the site, she decided to pack up her boom box and take her act on the road.
“For most of 2014, I went from city to city for my Sweat Tour and held workouts in public parks, lots and other open spaces,” Archer says, adding that her unique formula for bringing women and a few men together in the name of health and fitness includes more than exercise.
“It’s not just a workout, I call it sweat therapy. I bring as much energy as I can and I share my journey,” she says, emphasizing the importance of letting people know that they are not alone in their struggle against weight and poor health.
Bringing it all Home
This year, at age 30, Archer is back in Richmond and sharing her wisdom as an American Heart Association ambassador with family and friends.
In addition to teaching impromptu classes on healthy eating and conducting workout classes, Archer is working with the people she loves the most. “Both of my grandparents have heart disease, so now I work with my mom and my grand mom on cooking healthy. Growing up in the South, I know it’s part of our culture to sometimes eat heavy foods, but now we bake everything and salt has been replaced with Mrs. Dash. My mom takes insulin for diabetes, but I’ve helped her reach the point where she can reduce her dosage.”
Free of blood pressure medication and no longer pre-diabetic, Archer says, “for me, this is about helping people while I’m helping myself. It makes me happy.”
Sheree Crute is editor-in-chief of FierceforBlackWomen.com.
A Houston stop Dawn Estelle Archer’s 2014 Sweat Tour (www.dawn-archer.com Instagram @estellearcher)