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Get Fit With The Pros! N'DIGO New Health Columnists


Proper Diet Fuels Her "Wellness Journey" to Health and Fitness
By David Smallwood

One day when she was 40, Norma Rixter laid on the couch the entire time her kids and husband went off to work and school until they returned home.

She was too weak to get up and had been diagnosed as suffering from diminished lung capacity and the onset of multiple sclerosis (MS).

Today, at the age of 56, Norma Rixter is a world-class stair climbing champion who averages 90 to 100 stairs a minute. She can complete a 100-mile bike ride in seven hours. She plays tennis competitively.

Now a health and fitness expert, certified personal trainer and nutrition consultant, Norma teaches 240 one-hour cardio bicycle spin classes a year.

Spin classes are the most aerobic and highest intensity classes in terms of heart rate of all the fitness club activities. Rixter teaches five of them a week, or 20 a month, 12 months a year.

And that's just her cardio classes. She also has her own fitness studio where she conducts personal training with 35 clients.

As principal of S.O.A.R.thru Lifestyle Management Consulting (Strength and Optimism through Action and Responsibility), and V.I.T.A.L. Fitness (Variable Intensity Training for Active Living), Rixter is Chicagoland's premiere lifestyle wellness coach for women.

"This wasn't on the radar, this wasn't even remotely possible, when I was 40," she says.

What's the difference for Norma between then and now?

Basically, and in a nutshell, it was a change in her diet, Rixter says.

"At age 40, I was diagnosed with diminished lung capacity and the onset of MS," Norma says, beginning her story. "I had always been kind of sickly, meaning a regular with anti-acids and having headaches.

"I was on medication by the time I was in high school for migraine headaches and was sent home on a regular basis all through grade school. My sister was a jock; I was the one cheering her on. I never participated because I never felt like I had the energy.

"As time went on, I started to feel weaker and weaker, and winded. I got pneumonia. That day when I never got off the couch until my family came back home, that's when I realized that if I didn't do something, I really felt I wasn't going to be around.

"That's the physical condition I was in. I had a bag of antibiotics and other medication -- I was on medications to counteract the other medications -- but couldn't seem to get my strength back, to get stronger, and it wasn't running its course. It was literally just running me down. It began affecting my brain. Vertigo. It became neurological and not just physical."


Help From A Friend
Around that time, a friend called and told Norma she didn't sound so good, and offered the contact information for a holistic nutritionist the friend had been working with.

Continuing her story, Rixter says, "Working with this holistic nutritionist, I started with a series of fasts, and she put me basically on a raw food diet where I could eat as much as I wanted -- vegetables, fruits, juices -- but nothing that was processed, and basically really nothing that was cooked.

"Within six months, I was off all medication and all the symptoms of MS were gone. My doctor didn't know what to say, and just said, 'Whatever you're doing, just keep doing it.'"

The 5'4", 130-pound Harlan High School and Chicago State University graduate says, "I'm not a doctor -- though I am certified as a nutritionist -- but I believe it was the food. It's absolutely your diet. Everything in our body depends on what we ingest to keep it alive.

"As human beings, we basically force our bodies to take on poisons, and the body is a miracle; it can pretty much adapt to anything you consume.

"There's a consequence to that, though. Your major organs don't function properly, your liver overworks, all the things that are supposed to cleanse your blood aren't working properly, but you'll continue to function -- for awhile -- and maybe even without outward symptoms."

Today, Norma says, "I feel amazing. No medications, blood pressure and everything else are just perfect, and I don't get sick."

Once Rixter's health stabilized, she felt an energy she never had previously and got heavily into exercise and working out, which made her feel even better.

"Changing my diet restored my health, exercising restored my energy," she says of what she calls her "wellness journey."

"Wellness is integrated. It's not just one thing," Rixter explains. "Not just physical fitness. Not just eating right. It's all of the above, including well-being -- how you're managing stress, how much rest you're getting.

"Because stress will negate all that good stuff. You can be in the gym two hours a day and eating just salads, but stress will knock all that out. It's a balancing act, a delicate balancing act."

Rixter says she got so comfortable in terms of not feeling well that it was almost like normal.

"Most people have no idea how good they can feel on a regular basis," she muses. "Before I changed my diet, I had no idea of what it was like to wake up every day and feel good.

"I would have an occasional good day, a lot of bad, some okay days, but never everyday, like now. Everyday now, I'm on. I know that I'm not going to have stomach pain, or headache or anything."

Norma says the thing that disturbed her most is that "those doctors didn't tell me anything. They didn't say, 'Well if you start exercising, it might make your lungs stronger.' Or, 'Are you eating a lot of food with preservatives and chemicals?' They were just, 'This is what you've got, take this medication, and good luck with that.'"


Spreading Her Gospel
An unintended, though serendipitous consequence of her health decline and re-birth was that Rixter became an outspoken proponent of a wellness lifestyle.

"People started seeing a difference in me -- my skin, my energy -- and would ask about it," she says. "At the same time, during the six months I was with the holistic nutritionist, I was given homework.

"She required me to read a book every week on natural health, natural foods, fasting, cleansing, detox -- every way that you could look at the human body in terms of wellness, I was reading.

"I had an incredible library at the end and knew a lot. So when people would ask why I seemed better, I'd tell them to try this or that, and they came back and said it worked."

So Norma took it as a mission to start spreading the word.

"I believe this is my purpose," she says. "I believe the reason I was cured was so that I could become a living walking talking testimony of what's possible in terms of our health and wellness. It wasn't just about Norma getting well."

The lady who previously had been a teacher and realtor now gives food demonstrations, develops corporate wellness programs and has a cookbook coming out this month titled Norma Can Cook!, which features 70 pages of her tasty vegan recipes.

She's been a vegan for about 16 years now and you wonder if the craving ever comes up in her for Harold's or some greasy barbecue ribs.

"Nope," she replies rather cheerfully. "I don't forget now, don't get me wrong. Mac & cheese was one of my favorites. Ribs. I liked that kind of stuff. But because of what I went through, I look at it, smell it, no effect.

"The reason is because I always remember how sick I was. I can recall so vividly what was happening to me. You're so sick that the fear of God comes over you.

"Making that change in my diet was fundamental to my health being restored. I believe if I go back to eating that kind of food, those same conditions are going to reoccur for me.

Rixter says that if there's one message she'd like to get across, it's that it's never too late to change. "You're only as old as your health," is her motto (and to her, she's only 35!).

"Our bodies are such miracle machines that at any point in time regardless of the condition, unless it's in such a weakened state that it can't recover, short of that, it will recover, if you just start to work with your body.

"But it is work," she cautions. "It doesn't come in the form of a pill. It's not magic; you can't lay there and chant. You're going to have to do some things, but once you raise that consciousness around your food and make certain dietary changes, tweaking, I call it -- you will immediately start to see differences.

"Whatever you want to do in life, what makes that possible is taking care of your health. It's about being well enough to enjoy the things you want, to have the stamina and energy and wellness to do the things you really enjoy, no matter what it is."

(For more info or to contact Norma, go to www.soarthru.com, and look for her upcoming N'DIGO columns, where she will explain what she calls "The Four Cornerstones of Health!")



Siddiqu Muhammad: The Fitness Factor!
By LaToya Cross

Siddiqu Muhammad is more than just any personal trainer.

His teachings lack the gimmicks and tortures seen on reality TV weight-loss shows; instead they embrace the art and make-up of the individual, and engage them in a way that makes them look forward to workout sessions.

After an early-morning training session with a client, Siddiqu's energy is still blazing on a breezy but comfortable stroll through Millennium Park.

"I'm never tired. I'm a former athlete so I'm easy to get pumped up," he smiles. And it makes perfect sense; the former track star thrives off physical activity and the ideology of helping others achieve their fitness goals.

But to be trained by "The Personal Trainer," which is his tagline, it takes a little work to make it official.

"Just because someone asks me to train them, that's not enough for me to train them. It takes a bit of persistency," says the 27-year-old co-founder and face of Chicago Fit 4 Life, a personal training service that provides health and fitness resources.

"Before I train anybody, we have a consultation and we spend almost an hour and a half talking about certain things -- family history, where you are mentally, the real reason you want me to train you. It's deep man, it's deep!

"What happens with a lot of trainers is that they don't make exercising enjoyable. A lot of times we're intimidated; we see this stuff on television and you think I'm going to be like a military sergeant and it's nothing like that. We chill, we go have fun ... exercise is fun!"

That may truly be why in just four years, Siddiqu's clientele has accelerated to A-list celebrities, CEOs, athletes and everyone in between -- that and of course, the physical results after an hour of constant motion exercise, which consists of all three exercising aspects.

"We're doing everything! You have an individual that goes to work out on their own and they will only highlight one aspect, so I do all aspects every single workout; cardiovascular, strength training and stretching, not one is more important than the other," he advises.

The connection with physical fitness and a proper mindset allows another individual to join in on the motivation, and when training with Siddiqu, you're in for a committed relationship, full workout, and undeniable results.

"You can't stay self-motivated about exercising without nobody helping you," he says. "Exercise ain't that fun! We don't realize how natural it is to be with someone else. A relationship. Even me, I need workout partners in the gym next to me."

Penning his first book, Confessions of a Personal Trainer, at the age of 22, an impressive athletic background, booking a state record for track and field at 16, an outstanding scholar and becoming an expert of his craft as a certified personal trainer, the health regimen is something instilled in Siddiqu's vision of life.

"I've trained clients for the Sears Tower run. Some of my clients, I'm there sweating with you. I'm not standing there with a stopwatch, we're going up and down these stairs together," he says.

The Brand: Chicago Fit 4 Life
Chicago Fit 4 Life is a high-intense fitness organization that was formed based on reports that Chicago is one of the fattest cities in the country.

"With Chicago Fit 4 Life, me and three other guys said, 'How about we market fitness?' Let's just do everything to make Chicago the fittest city and not the fattest city," explains Siddiqu.

"The objective was to go into the church, schools, radio, television, publications, and really just make exercise and fitness cool because to be perfectly honest, there's not a lot of Black faces appealing to our demographic. That was the science behind it."

The fellas set out to become personal trainers, aerobic instructors, and fitness gurus with a helluva marketing plan -- one inclusive of professional speaking, fitness commentaries distributed through various online media publications, and broadcast radio.

"Once I saw the appeal of making exercise fun and cool and I had 60-year-old people boxing or 55-year-old people running a 5k, I was like, 'Man let's just take this to a whole other level. That's when I started getting into radio, TV, and writing."

Siddiqu, being the face of the brand, spreads his wings across all arenas, contributing commentary to publications such as AllHipHop.com, diet.com, and Muslim Journal; also appearing on the morning programming for radio stations Power92 and WVON.

"I started with Roland Martin on WVON; they were like, we're going to take a chance with this kid. At the studio, I was so nervous," Siddiqu laughs. "But every question somebody called in on, Roland was like dang, you got something for everything!"

When it comes to working out, people question the best way to lose weight, how to stay committed to their work out plans, and the golden question: "What can I eat?"

To help with that, part of Siddiqu's strategy is having his clients maintain a food diary that entails everything you eat on a daily basis. The key to this plan is having the ability to structurally monitor what causes your weight gain, along with observing what needs to be subtracted and/or added to your diet. Your level of activity and sleep intake are important factors as well.

"There's no right or wrong," he says. "Three square meals a day, that's cool. What you're eating in between your meals, that's cool. Now, we just have to look at what's taking place in your diet. And the only way I know that is by looking at you.

"All my clients keep a food diary. I'll look at the stuff -- and they don't even know what they've eaten -- so, I say, when's the last time you had Wendy's? And they'd have Wendy's written down two times."

The idea of working out is to burn fat, strengthen muscles, and work-up energy; the results you want will not happen without releasing sweat and putting your all into the workout, he believes.

"By constantly moving, you're sweating and as you're sweating, at the same time, I'm stretching you out and elongating your muscles," says Siddiqu. "So by the time you get out of my High Intense Training (HIT) workouts, you feel great and energized, but at the same time, you don't feel exhausted."

"I tell people if you think you're fat, I've seen somebody fatter. If you think you're out of shape, I've trained somebody way more out of shape. I don't allow you to have excuses.

"I want you to feel like this is something you're looking forward to, so my training style is variety. You never know what to expect, so it's exciting to you. We're constantly going from one exercise to the next, I'm never having you sit on the machine for more than 10 seconds," he says enthused.

Feel Good ... or Look Good?!
The aesthetics of working out is an essential part of why people want to work with Siddiqu.

Ironically, though the reality shows and the advertised pressures of losing weight are said to be relative to producing good health, which holds truth, Siddiqu also points out that in retrospect, wanting to look good plays a major role as well.

"Everything is about aesthetics. I'm not obsessed with my body, personally, but my clients ... you damn right they are!" he says. "It's always about looking good. If somebody comes to me about health, it's because their doctor sent them to me. But if you look good then you feel good."

By staying committed to making a positive change whether it is solely for the sake of looking good, health reasons, or both, comes a nice incentive from Siddiqu and the Chicago Fit 4 Life crew. "I do photo shoots for my clients and all types of different things to keep them feeling good and motivated," he explains.

The speaking engagements, training sessions, photo shoots, and the high-profile list of clientele for Siddiqu and Chicago Fit 4 Life are great, but there's an urge for expansion and progression -- possibly their own television show.

"My ultimate goal is for people to see that exercise and fitness can be done in urban communities, it's fun, cool, and can be a lifestyle," Siddiqu says.

Visit www.cf4life.com and watch for his column in future issue of N'DIGO.