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Essence Magazine -July/August 2020
Working It Out
When she was 46 years old, Debra D. Williams weighed nearly 200 pounds. That was the year she buckled down and lost weight, taking 50 of those pounds off. “Folks wanted to know how I’d done it,” she recalls. She decided to show them, and her company, S.M.A.R.T. Fitness, was born. S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely—criteria that had helped Williams reach her goals. In 2009 she used the same approach to establish her business, which includes spinning, yoga and group fitness classes in addition to personal training. While continuing to work full-time in higher education, Williams pursued the necessary certifications and opened her brick-and-mortar Philadelphia studio in 2017.
With a clientele that’s 99 percent Black women, Williams, now 65, was making a positive impact on the wellness of her community. However, everything came to a screeching halt after the coronavirus out-break. Her studio closed its doors in March, but that didn’t stop her creditors from calling. “This closure was unexpected,” she says. “I had no choice. I have rent to pay, lease payments on equipment, monthly software charges and loan payments. It sucks.”
Not one to wallow in self-pity, Williams searched other avenues to generate income and looked to technology for an answer. “Zumba, MixxedFit and personal training via Zoom were the ways to go,” she says. She used Eventbrite, Facebook and Instagram to advertise her virtual-class offerings. These days she has an appreciation for the silver lining of the COVID-19 cloud. “I can reach more personal-training clients than I ever could before,” she reflects. “One of my clients moved to Rhode Island, and now I have her back. The sister of another client lives in California and wants to train with me virtually. I wouldn’t have these clients if it weren’t for the pandemic.”