When Others Go Low, South Seattle Fitness Coach Goes High

When Others Go Low, South Seattle Fitness Coach Goes High

By Amber Campbell

Mark Bryant had a very rough childhood, suffering more than a decade of physical and emotional abuse from his stepfather.

“I know how it feels to grow up in a dangerous and cruel home,” he said.

But he never let himself be defined by his challenges. Instead using them to deepen his empathy and connection to others also faced with seemingly insurmountable hurdles.

“On the surface, Mark comes across as an ex-New Yorker with a tough exterior,” said his friend Justin Wells-Driscol who recommended him for this column. “As I got to know a little more about him I learned of his incredible commitment to the senior community at the Southeast Senior Center and the youth community down at the Union Gospel Mission.”

Indeed, when he’s not working as Senior Fitness Instructor at Southeast Seattle Senior Center, Fitness Expert and personal trainer, Mark volunteers at the Union Gospel Mission, teaches power-lifting to disadvantaged and homeless youth, and offers guidance to those in need. He also tutors kids in anatomy and physiology once a week.

“I have used fitness as a tool to focus mentally, physically and emotionally to overcoming that upbringing,” he says. “I want to show others that have come from, or are in that situation currently, that they are cared for. To show them that they too can change their lives and overcome.”

Mark has won three world championships and — earlier this year — was inducted into the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) and Washington State Powerlifting Hall of Fame.

“Mark carries with him a message of overcoming struggles through fitness and self discipline, something he has practiced his entire life,” says Justin. “He is one of the hidden gems of Columbia City.”

This week, he was kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions for our People in Your Neighborhood column — a series of interviews with some of South Seattle’s most interesting and engaging people.

Name:
MarkBryant_AAU First Place AwardsMark Bryant

Age:
58

Neighborhood:
Columbia City

How long in South Seattle?
13 years in South Seattle, 25 years in Seattle

Where from originally?
Jamaica Queens, NY

Day job:
Senior Fitness Instructor at South Seattle Senior Center, Fitness Expert and personal trainer

What do you like most about your day job?
Seeing seniors improve physically, mentally, and emotionally. Helping them get their independence back.

Tell us about your work in the community.
In my personal time I volunteer at the Union Gospel Mission Tuesday and Thursday nights. I also teach correct powerlifting to disadvantaged and homeless teens/young adults and offer life guidance to those of them in need. And on Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings, I lead and coach a group ranging from 21 to 70 years old in correct weight training for a lifetime of fitness. I also provide tutoring in a one to one session for anatomy and physiology once a week.

What motivates you to do this work?
Seeing others improve and prosper.

I had a very rough childhood, from age 8 thru 19 I lived with a very physically abusive stepfather. I know how it feels (physically and emotionally) to grow up in a dangerous and cruel home I have used fitness as a tool to focus mentally, physically and emotionally to overcoming that upbringing. I want to show others that have come from, or are in that situation currently, that they are cared for. To show them that they too can change their lives and overcome.

What are you passionate about?
Fitness

What are your hobbies?
Graphic Design, I enjoy making DVD covers, video and photo editing, and updating my website.

Tell us about your family:
Just my Mom and Brother. 8 years ago brother passed away. My Mom now lives in Georgia.

What’s your most favorite thing about South Seattle?
Originally I moved to Columbia City because of the School of the Blind. Due to failing eyesight (I am legally blind) I qualified for the programs at the school and assisted housing expenses through a contract they held with my apartment building. I am comfortable here, many parts of South Seattle remind me of where I grew up in New York. The gym I use is nearby and the bus takes me directly to work.

What’s your least favorite thing about South Seattle?
Nothing really, it is improving every year. When I moved here it was a questionable area, but not nearly as dangerous as places in New York I had spent time.

Where is your favorite place to go in South Seattle?
The Senior Center

If you could live anywhere besides South Seattle, where would it be?
I don’t want to live anywhere else.

If there was one thing you could change about South Seattle, what would it be?
Rent Control

Who inspires you?
Todd Christensen – In the early 90s I was teaching martial arts in a gym downtown when I met Todd. He was the first trainer to inspire me with his knowledge of physiology, anatomy and love of the powerlifting sport. It is that same passion that I share and want to introduce to others.

Matthew “Mr. J” Jones – I first met him 7 years ago after he had suffered an injury. He asked me question after question about rehabbing his injury until I finally agreed to work with him. Over the years I have shared as much knowledge with him as I can and likewise he has coached me through many situations I would not have otherwise been able to deal with on my own. I look up to him as the father figure I never had growing up and hold the deepest respect for him.

What was the last thing you read?
Anatomy material. I am always reading about the anatomy. I even carry flash cards with me at all times.

Tell us something about you that not many people know:
I am actually an introverted person, I enjoy my personal time. I like to sit in a quiet place by myself and think, or sometimes doing nothing at all. Not many people see this side of me. When I am out in public I am very extroverted. I enjoy being on stage and performing. I often joke around with close friends and act a fool. I also have a full hip replacement.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Helping people.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Letting others take advantage of my giving personality.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Dishonesty

What is your greatest regret?
Not having the correct education as a kid and young adult so I could become a doctor. I was a preemie baby, and when I was born it was commonly thought that premature babies would be slow or retarded. During my childhood I was not given the opportunity to be more than that assumption.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?
My big beautiful, fluffy German Shepherd Napoleon. He stayed with my mother and brother in New York and later passed away.

What is your current state of mind?
Good

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Fitness! My life would not have been successful without it. I hold two awards:

  • Three (3) world championships
  • AAU and Washington State Hall of Fame

What is your most treasured possession?
My Mickey Mouse collection

What do you most value in your friends?
Respect and Love

Who are your heroes in real life?
My Mom – even though we don’t talk that often, she will always be my hero.

What is it that you most dislike?
Dishonesty

What else should we know about you?
If there was only one thing your readers take away from my story, I would want it to be that, where you came from does not determine who you are. I had a hard upbringing, I was not given a proper education, I am a black man.

I have chosen to educate myself, to devote myself to fitness, and to help others. Don’t use the past as an excuse.

And, drink water! Always drink your water.

MarkBryant_Hall of Fame Award and Medals

Is there a South Seattle neighbor you’d like to know more about? Nominate them for our People in Your Neighborhood column — a series of interviews with some of South Seattle’s most interesting and engaging people. Send your suggestions to gosouthseattle@gmail.com. Photos/Mark Bryant

 

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