The journey to better health is often paved with many different roads to travel by. Everyone has their own unique story to tell. Black Fitness Today had the pleasure of chatting with Los Angeles-based IFBB Pro and CEO of Soma Fitness – Summer White – about how she restored her health and her life; from working as a bottle server for a famed entertainment company to becoming a pro bikini competitor and changing the lives of so many through fitness and nutrition.
BFT: What was life like for you before you began your health and fitness journey?
SW: Growing up I competed in soccer, track, and equestrian events. (Yes, I said equestrian events! I grew up in the country!) However, I had zero understanding of healthy eating. Many days when I had a track meet, all I consumed were a couple Gatorades and packets of energy gel, then I wondered why I was fatigued and not running at my best!
After high school I focused less on athletics and more on school and traveling. After I graduated from UC Davis in 2005, I moved to Los Angeles with plans on taking my MCAT and going to UCLA medical school. However, I ended up getting seduced by LA’s infamous nightlife, and began working as a bottle server for the famed SBE Entertainment Group. Partying became my certified job and I was making tons of money doing it. However, the long hours and vodka shots took a toll on my body and complexion. We also had the pressure to stay thin because certain events called for us to work in swimwear, so to stay slim I just wouldn’t eat! The life was fun at the time, but it was far from where I came from and I knew I needed to make a change.
There’s a misconception that being thin equates to being healthy. Although you were 107 pounds, it was not necessarily a healthy weight for your height and you were confronted with health problems. What were you experiencing at that time?
Back then I didn’t eat regularly; I drank a lot of sugary juices like guava and orange juice and never water. I also loved cinnamon graham crackers and salads with lots of cheese. I thought my health issues were genetic, so I treated the symptoms and left it at that. In reality, all the sugars in my body caused me to have chronic yeast infections, skin issues, eczema on my elbows, and insomnia at night. I used creams, pills, patches, and whatever else I could to calm things down. I didn’t think there was any other way. I was eating far below what my body needed to perform at maximum capacity so I was suffering without even realizing that my eating habits were the cause of my problems.
BFT: What led you to want to change your life?
SW: My girlfriend Brooke Mora (who is now an IFBB Bikini Pro) entered a fitness competition through the National Physique Committee (NPC). I really didn’t pay attention to her training or progress until I saw her photos on competition day. At that point I was astounded! I had never really known any woman that actually had abs and muscles, and I thought it looked amazing! She was like a real live super hero! I immediately wanted to know everything. I started training and did a few shows in LA where I did pretty well. A few months later, I transitioned out of my job as a bottle server to a day job in sales. This freed my evenings up to start training, and I became hooked! Exercising made me feel truly alive! All my health issues cleared up and I loved seeing my body transform. I wanted to see how far I could take my body and competing in fitness shows gave me a goal to work towards.
BFT: Congratulations on earning your IFBB pro card! What has changed for you now as a bikini pro vs. a novice?
SW: Competing as an amateur was a lot of fun. I loved the stage. I competed in about 7 shows before I turned pro in 2011, but in a way I feel like everything happened overnight! That’s not saying that I didn’t work really hard and spend a lot of time educating myself and sculpting my physique, but the thing I love about fitness is you can get amazing results in a relatively short time if you focus on the right things.
When I turned pro, people started treating me as an expert. I started getting a lot of Facebook messages from friends, family and strangers that were asking for help on how to lose weight and I got to do other cool stuff like being featured on Good Morning America and in fitness magazines like Flex and Muscular Development. As an amateur, I wanted to turn pro so bad that there was a lot of stress and nerves involved. As a pro I focus more on competing as a way to celebrate myself and my hard work and don’t worry so much about the other competitors. A lot of my focus as a pro is in helping other people achieve their fitness goals.
BFT: We learned that there are only a handful of African-American IFBB Bikini pros. Why do you think this is the case?
SW: Good question. I think there are a few reasons. First, the NPC Bikini Division is relatively new. It was first introduced in 2009. Classes went from being a handful of girls who liked to work out, wearing regular swimsuits from the beach on stage to huge classes where everyone has a professional coach. As the industry grows, we are seeing more black women compete in the amateur division, which is where everything starts. So I think awareness of the sport is important.
I also think popular culture plays a role. Between celebrities, rap stars or urban magazines, big booties are big business and women with these shapes get attention. Many women think they will lose their curves if they train too hard, so they’ve turned to brazilian butt lifts and injections.
As I trainer, women come to me all the time saying “I don’t want to lose my booty, can you just help me have a smaller waist?” The answer to this is yes and no. If you train for a bikini show you’ll lose fat but you’ll gain muscle and naturally lift saggy areas by doing squats, lunges, and plyometrics. Take a look at the the pros in our league, and you’ll see that many have curves and tiny waists!
BFT: Have you experienced any difficulties on your journey and if so, how have you been able to overcome?
SW: In the beginning of my journey my social circle wasn’t exactly supportive of my goals. In a way you could say they were killing me with kindness! When I was working in bottle service, people would either criticize me for not wanting to partake in the drinking, or they’d want to celebrate my success with drinks! If I had a dollar for how many times I heard “you’re working out, you deserve this cake, drink, candy, fried food…”
I also self-sabotaged. After each show, or when I hit my weight goal, I’d have a big celebratory dinner and literally make myself sick with all the junk food, alcohol and sugary treats. My weight would rebound in a major way, and nearly all my skin infections and digestions issues would resurface. It was only when I changed my mentality and relationship with food that things started to change. I have realized that many auto-immune diseases stem from the food you consume, so when I targeted the foods that challenged my immune system, I cut them out of my diet. These days, I choose to eat foods that work with my system or eat cheat foods in moderation. Now I try to celebrate my results with foods that are of the highest quality rather than gorging on foods that give me issues!
What was the inspiration behind starting Soma Fitness? What services do you offer?
SW: A few years ago, I had the incredible opportunity to train clients in South Asia and the Middle East for 5 months. During this time I was traveling a lot and training for my pro debut at the same time. I was doing my best to maintain a competition diet but it’s not exactly like you can head down to Whole Foods when you’re in Turkey or India! I ended up encountering several food borne pathogens that landed me in the hospital.
It was pretty serious. I was in and out of emergency rooms for a total of two weeks, hooked to IVs and I lost so much weight I looked like a skeleton. After this experience, I decided to come back to the states to get healthy and back on track for my pro debut. The process of getting my broken body back to working order was a team effort. I had my competition trainer but also employed the help of a holistic nutritionist and a naturopath. Through these three experts, and countless months of my own research, I gained so much knowledge and was inspired to become credentialed in nutrition, a field I was interested in back in my undergraduate years as a genetics major.
I started to better understand the connection food has to performance, but also to health, and I wanted to share my information with the world! Through Soma Fitness, I create online training and nutrition programs that transform the health of my clients from the inside out. I offer programs for men, new mothers, ladies counting down to their wedding day, competitive clients, and people just looking to get fit. Through diet, training, and natural supplementation I help clients reach their fitness and wellness goals.
BFT: What is the most rewarding aspect of being a trainer and fitness entrepreneur?
SW: I don’t have children, but the feeling I get when clients begin feeling confident about their bodies or can finally perform more advanced exercises in the gym or win trophies on stage is the excitement of a mother seeing her children’s achievements! When people come to me with serious digestive issues, or thyroid and sleep anxiety and I’m able to change their quality of life from changing their die,t it makes me feel like the path I’ve chosen for my life is the right one. It is so rewarding to do what you love and bring happiness to people while doing it!
BFT: When you are not training, how do you keep your body in shape? And, what is your typical nutrition regimen?
SW: Staying healthy and fit is a lifestyle for me and whether I’m doing a show or not I stay active. When I’m on vacation, I make sure to book hotels with fitness facilities or do outdoor workouts like hiking or rent bikes. I enroll my friends and family to join me to keep it fun. I also never travel without Sun Warrior, my vegan protein powder!
At home I generally start my day with an egg white veggie omelette and a matcha almond milk latte. I hit the gym or exercise where I can, then have a yummy protein smoothie and one of my famed protein oat bran muffins. For lunch, I love to eat a huge salad with heart of palm, sauteed tempeh and avocado. Later I may have another shake with added unsweetened acai fruit or shredded coconut and almond butter. For dinner, roasted veggies, and a salad with added organic non-gmo vegan pesto sausage is my go to, and if I’ve been consistent in the gym, I might have a small bowl of stevia sweetened coconut milk ice cream!
BFT: What are your favorite indulgences?
SW: I just mentioned them! Haha. I actually have a pretty serious sweet tooth but I stay sugar free most of the year! Find a bakery with stevia or xylitol sweetened dessert and you’ll probably find me hanging out. Really though, I am a lover of great food without all the added butters and sugars. Sure, those foods taste good but they don’t coincide with my goals so I love eating at restaurants that don’t use those ingredients in their dishes. I live in LA so there’s an abundance of healthy food choices. Sage Restaurant in Culver City is a favorite, the Erewhon Juice and Tonic Bar is great. [And, I love] any restaurant serving a great guacamole with organic corn chips, or a cafe serving a scrumptious omelette.
BFT: Do you believe the state of health in the African-American community is improving or declining? While every ethnicity is in need of better health education, what are your thoughts on what needs to be done to end so many of the disparities that are plaguing our community?
SW: As a whole, black men are well represented in professional athletics. I think there are more African American male athletic role models than female. It seems the popular role models for females have very unnaturally shaped bodies that aren’t easy to attain without surgery. That’s not great and we’re only now starting to see some of the problems associated with some of these procedures.
In the black community, we’ve grown up on foods that are carb heavy and quite rich in saturated fats and sugars. Targeted commercial advertisements in the black community for fast foods, alcoholic beverages, and sugary sports drinks have contributed to poor nutritional choices. We’ve seen the epidemic proportions of diabetes and heart disease in our communities.
I think people need to be educated. So it is my goal to provide the information. I think well educated people make good decisions for themselves and their families. On a happier note, a huge portion of my client base are black women with serious goals of either losing weight to get healthier or competing in fitness shows. These women are health evangelists and they play a really important role. I think women really set the standards for any community because they are buying the food for their families and doing the cooking which shapes the next generation.
BFT: What advice would you give to the BFT audience as well as other women who are looking to improve their health or even become a competitor such as yourself?
SW: I really want to let people know that today is the day to get started! Don’t compare yourself with others and their progress. Make each decision for your health and wellness!
BFT: How can people learn more about you and what you are up to at Soma Fitness?
SW: I send out free monthly newsletters with nutritional tips, recipes, exercises, and client highlights that you can sign up for by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org I want to also provide each BFT reader with a free diet evaluation to get you started on your fit journey! Just send me an email to the address mentioned above to get started!
How Atlanta’s Andrea Riggs is Helping Millions ‘Get Body Beautiful’
Andrea Riggs, President of Body Beautiful, has a long history of promoting healthier lifestyles through corporate and community health initiatives. The launch of her now signature Get Body Beautiful program in 2007 garnered over 30,000 participants in its first year alone. The St. Louis native but now veteran to Atlanta focuses on three key areas – lifestyle, nutrition and fitness. As a trainer, former track & field athlete, entrepreneur, media personality, author, motivational speaker and more, Riggs knows that life’s demands can make achieving a healthy lifestyle difficult, but she has helped so many realize that better health can be achieved with the right tools and the right people behind you, no matter where you are in life! Her systematic approach has allowed her to leave her mark as one of Atlanta’s most trusted fitness experts, and one of the most influential in the African-American community.
Read our exclusive with Andrea about how Get Body Beautiful is making an impact.
BFT: So give us a brief introduction, Andrea!
Andrea: I am Andrea Riggs! I am a 20-year health and wellness advocate. I have been involved in intercollegiate athletics and with a background in business. I [wanted to see how I could] correlate my skill sets and choose a career that I really enjoyed, and I realized that health and wellness was really the career of my dreams. So I’ve somehow made that a reality over the last 10 years.
BFT: With you being a former athlete and also holding a degree in business, how has that foundation allowed you to build on your dream of creating a career in health and fitness and be successful at it?
Andrea: I think for me, it has really been a part of my systematic approach to developing my company. When I created Body Beautiful, I was very clear about wanting to create not just a business, but a brand. And when I say a brand, I wanted to create a brand that would be able to appeal to not only individuals, but I was looking at a platform where I could reach out for corporate and community support as well. And so, from the very beginning, I had a vision of an organization even though it started with one person; I had the vision of an organization where I could create expertise that would apply to a large group.
BFT: For the readers and listeners out there who may not be familiar with Body Beautiful, what exactly is Body Beautiful?
Andrea: Body Beautiful is a wellness company that was launched over 10 years ago as a platform to inspire and motivate individuals, corporations and community to achieve that health. I kind of found my sweet spot in 2007 and 2008. I had the opportunity to be the TV trainer on Atlanta’s Biggest Loser. And through that experience, I realized that you know what, I could train six or or seven people, but I can impact thousands more just by watching and just by the interactive feedback I was [receiving from] all of these people who weren’t even on the show.
From that experience, that really supported my vision and from there, I started Body Beautiful with the three principles that have been there since the [beginning] that we create all of our programming and tools and workshops around. My three most favorite words are lifestyle, nutrition and fitness. And so that’s the three-legged tool that I started with. Get Body Beautiful is all about teaching people a successful formula to lifestyle, nutrition and fitness.
BFT: Lets discuss one of your latest campaigns, “It’s Not Your Weight, It’s Your Waist” challenge in partnership with Morehouse School of Medicine and Mercedes Benz. How did that impact the greater Atlanta community and what were some of the things that you were focusing on during that time with the challenge?
Andrea: Any time I do a corporate and a community partnership, I always bring my signature Get Body Beautiful approach. So, during that challenge with Morehouse School of Medicine and Mercedes Benz as partners, we still took them through the three-part approach of lifestyle, nutrition and fitness. And so that is like the get Body Beautiful curriculum that we always integrate that in.
Every time we do a challenge, whether it is in the city of Atlanta or anywhere else, we always follow that format, which is the Body Beautiful stamp. I think the impact, because we put such a huge prize on it, created a lot of interest and a lot of awareness. And so all of a sudden people saw the shiny car and they wanted to know, “How can I be a part of this?”
I think the big impact was that it was a challenge but we didn’t focus on weight loss. We focused on inches lost. And that was based upon medical and clinical support because it was with Morehouse School of Medicine [and research] that showed that a person’s health and predisposition for chronic illnesses is based largely on their waist size.
Once you surpass a specific waist size, you are putting yourself at a much greater risk for every disease in the book. And so for us, it was all about getting people to shift their focus away from weight and understanding that you could be healthy and you shouldn’t worry about what you weigh and you should worry more about how much fat is in your abdominal area or around your organs. It was such a different approach because it was a huge challenge but it wasn’t all about weight loss.
From working with celebrities such as Dr. Oz, Dr. Ian Smith and Angie Stone, and serving as a McDonald’s healthy living spokesperson – what has been the highlight of Andrea’s career? Find out on the next page
TrainersVault CEO, Cortney Woodruff Changing Fitness Through Technology
Cortney Woodruff is young, smart, ambitious and the CEO of Los Angeles-based fitness technology company, TrainersVault. Still in his 20′s, Cortney has already made a name for himself around the globe. Earning a degree in economics and internships at hedge funds meant a career destined for Wall Street. However, after applying and being accepted into the world’s top business school’s five-day summer program (IESE Business School), his passionate business proposal of creating a fitness technology company earned him formal acceptance – without applying — into the school’s business college where his classmates included top executives of global companies. Woodruff has since turned his idea into a reality where he and his staff help trainers increase their reach of potential clients from locally to globally through his website TrainersVault.com.
Cortney Woodruff, TrainersVault CEO”]”Personal trainers do have the opportunity to be branded and looked upon and admired and respected, the same way nurses and physicians have done for decades. I don’t think anyone is really focusing on that.”
BFT: Tell us a little bit about your background and how you found yourself on the path to being a CEO of a tech startup.
CW: I could talk all day on that (laughs). But, just to give you a little background on me because I don’t really think that I necessarily shared this with you guys when we first met. I’m from Jackson, Mississippi which has a population of around 170, 000 people. Ironically my grandparents had a family business which was one of the first African-American-owned grocery stores in that city. And it was actually in the same neighborhood that Medgar Evers was assassinated in. I grew up watching my family run the business, and I think that’s where I get my entrepreneurial “bug” from.
Entrepreneurships has just always been part of my DNA I guess. Anyways, growing up I was always into academics and sports; I had a passion for soccer. I played Select soccer all around the country. And I remember being quite young and having a lot of opportunities. And I ultimately ended up going to Division I and playing at Alabama A & M in Huntsville. So I went to an HBCU because I graduated from a prep school in a class of 70 with only 4 African-Americans and I thought that it was going to be quite important for me to go to college and continuously pursue my love for soccer, but also to have a diverse experience.
I remember going there for medicine and taking a zoology class. And I was like, “Woah,” I don’t want to be a cardiologist anymore. I cannot be in school for eight years. So I switched over to economics. Ironically, I quit playing soccer after my sophomore year of college and I fell in love with business. So I went home during the summer after my freshman year, I did an internship with Trustmark Bank which is the largest bank in Mississippi, and after that every summer I went looking for Wall Street internships. And I think that was when my passion for entrepreneurship began because Facebook had just kind of become popular. And you saw the story of a 21 year-old kid that created a company worth millions of dollars.
I remember thinking about how hard it was for me to get my internship as a minority coming from an HBCU with a prominent financial institution on the East Coast. So once I finally obtained one I came up with an idea to create this website called Intern Wall. The idea was to give students a free resource where they could literally go to our website, select a city, choose a job category and always see the logos of various companies displayed like the shape of a wall which were offering internships.
And I remember being in these large financial institutions and half of the day I would work on the banking stuff and the other half I would work on my business idea.
But that was very important because as I was in these corporate business settings, learning how to effectively communicate my ideas to people that were senior to me. I began to learn how to take candid feedback from them, which ultimately gave me the confidence and ability to go around presenting various ideas of mine.
And I would say that over the course of my four years of college I interned with five different companies. One summer I went back to Mississippi, one summer I went to Boston and one summer I went to Denver, Colorado. And I was always the only minority in these institutions because they were large banking institutions. And coming from an HBCU and going back to those institutions in the summer kept me balanced. It afforded me the opportunity to see different perspectives, and really made me appreciate being prepared to for foreign environments when necessarily the environment that you were in everyday isn’t the one that you’re going to ultimately be challenged the most.
BFT “Life Changer” – Veeve Holtz of FKS Training
We recently shared the amazing transformation of Chantell Johnson from ABC’s Extreme Weight Loss. But behind her story, was another big influence, personal trainer and owner of FKS Training, Veeve Holtz. Meet Veeve and get to know what it was like training Chantell, how she is changing lives and gives advice on beginning a career in the fitness industry.
BFT: What inspired you to begin a career in the fitness industry?
VH: My husband is the reason why I am in the fitness industry. He worked as a college football coach for over 13 years and at every football program he coached, he was the strength and conditioning coordinator. During his last year of coaching, he had an urgency to leave football and try something different. His reasoning was to spend more time with me and our son who was 23 months at the time. A few months after quitting coaching, he was approached by a family/friend to be his personal trainer and he discovered this approach to helping someone reach their goals was worth making this a full-time career. Before opening our business in 2011, we were in search of a female trainer and couldn’t find one. I felt that I would have to step into this role after having extensive experience with weight training. I did this with the mindset of supporting my husband’s dreams until we found someone. I am astonished how this career suites me, it enhances how I see life and affirms my core values.
BFT: What has the career been like so far?
VH: As a fitness trainer the career has been rewarding and challenging. I absolutely love helping people reach their goals in having a higher quality of life. I feel it’s my moral obligation to educate many women of all ages on the importance of having an active lifestyle that revolves around working out, especially with a fitness professional. It has been challenging owning a business; I’m always on the hunt to create ways to push clients forward, constantly marketing, and finding new clients. The highlight of being in this career was working with ABC Extreme Weight Loss and being able to be exposed as a fitness professional on a national platform.
BFT: Working in a career field where you have to invest so much energy and time into helping others achieve their goals, what do you do to maintain balance in your personal life?
VH: I must always have life priorities in order, I first take care of my spiritual well-being by taking time to be in prayer and read the Word of God daily. I believe we are spiritual beings having physical experiences. Therefore, taking care of my spirit is number one. Second, I take care of myself physically so I can be effective for my family, clients, and church family. Third, taking care of my husband, he is my inspiration that has pushed me to be the best in whatever I put my mind to. Fourth is raising my children and nurturing them in the way they should go so when they are adults they will revere and serve the Lord. Lastly, is taking care of the job God has given me as a trainer, educator, teacher, listener, friend, encouraging every person that needs a little boost in the right direction.
BFT: What advice do you have for someone looking to begin a career as a fitness professional?
VH: Just enjoying fitness is not enough to pass the litmus test of being a fitness professional. The key is being a master at your craft, guiding clients with detailed instruction, rather than just making someone sweat. You must have a deep respect and love for people no matter what. A fitness professional must have compassion that represents an urgency to help someone change and lead them to true transformation, while teaching them how to live healthier.
BFT: You recently worked with Chantell Johnson, whose story was featured on ABCs Extreme Weight Loss. How did this opportunity come about and what was the experience like?
VH: I got a call from Heidi Powell, the wife of Chris Powell about working with Chantell for the remainder of her year long journey, which was going to be about nine months. The show found out about our personal training center through a former colleague who is the Athletic Trainer at Truman State University. She highly recommended [us] for Chantell.
BFT: What type of fitness training are you personally doing at the moment?
VH: I am a traditionalist when it comes to working out. I love the classic weight lifting with free weights, calisthenics, and body weight exercises. Thanks to Chantell, she has inspired me to take on her 66-day 2 mile run challenge and I am starting to fall in love with running.
BFT: As a successful fitness professional, what is the number one reason you hear from people in regards to being inactive? What is your response?
VH: Number one reason for being inactive is that they are too busy. It is important I make them aware that they need to make themselves a priority and invest in their health. I encourage them to schedule working out as “Me Time” and help them view fitness a benefit rather than a punishment so that they can be the best role model for their family, friends and more efficient in their careers.
BFT: Where can people find out more about you and the services that you offer?
VH: For more information about FKS Training personal training or online fitness training with Veeve Holtz, visit www.fksfitness.com or www.facebook.com/fkstraining, I have a FB fan page: VeeveHtz, Instagram: veeveholtz, phone contact: 660-851-4578 or email FKS at email@example.com
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