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Making a Change: Taking Advantage of Drexel’s Fitness Opportunities

October 27, 2015

For Jerome Wilson, the journey to personal fitness started with a story in DrexelNow.

In August 2011, Wilson joined Drexel’s Bursar’s Office as a loans and collection representative. Shortly after, he started getting his twice-weekly employee DrexelNow emails, one of which highlighted a new project run by the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Psychology called Mind Your Health. The project needed volunteers for a study of how psychology can be factored into behavioral techniques for fighting obesity.

At that time, Wilson was roughly 330 pounds.

“When I started here, I was still feeling uncomfortable being over 300 pounds,” Wilson said. “Climbing these marble stairs here in the Main Building, it was tiresome. It hurt my knees.”

And then that email came.

“When I saw that, I thought, ‘I need to do something,’” Wilson recalled. “I gave them a call.”

Mind Your Health

At the start of the summer of 2011, Wilson was volunteering at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center. A Mantua resident and Navy veteran, he walked to and from the hospital, more than a mile each way. 

After taking his job at Drexel in August, that regular activity was no longer possible. That’s why the email featuring Mind Your Health was so serendipitous.

Mind Your Health is an ongoing study that compares standard behavioral techniques for obesity, which just includes dietary and physical regimens, with acceptance-based intervention, which focuses on developing coping techniques and understanding of food cravings, emotions and fatigue. That understanding can allow for healthier decisions to be made. 

“It was a psychological thing about food and how we eat and why we eat. That was more intriguing to me than anything else,” Wilson said. “That’s where it all started for me: Mind Your Health. And then, the next part of that is, “We can help identify the psychological barriers that you may face with your eating, but you need to do the physical side as well. You’re going to have to get moving.”

The Rec Center

Starting out was not easy.

“It was a little difficult there for the first six to seven months there,” Wilson said.

The Drexel Recreation Center played strongly into Wilson’s fitness goals. When he joined, Wilson did a fitness test with a trainer, during which he said he struggled to do two push-ups or five sit-ups.

“I was experiencing pain in my joints after being sedentary for so long,” he said. “Just the muscles, getting them back and active again, it was painful. But I just had to persevere.”

Between doing exercise at the gym, Wilson also began biking along the Schuylkill River and using battle ropes to exercise on days off.

“I still get into the center four times — if not five times — a week,” he said. “Every now and then, I’ll go on Saturday morning. Sometimes I’ll do my ride around the river on Saturdays.”

At one point, Wilson dropped down to as few as 185 pounds. But he found that lighter didn’t necessarily mean healthier.

“I’m at my goal weight now of 190 pounds,” he explained. “I feel that I have more energy. At 185, I felt really lethargic.” 

Andrew Case, manager of memberships and programs at the Recreation Center, saw Wilson near the beginning of his workouts.

“What a dedicated individual,” Case said. “He’s the type of member that we, as a staff, love to have here at the Recreation Center. Jerome has a story that is so inspiring to others as a reminder that nothing is impossible. Witnessing his transformation and seeing Jerome stick with his fitness routine creates a sense that we are on the right path to success here at the Recreation Center.”

The Same Jerome

Wilson credits the knowledge he gained about the psychology of eating and activity from Mind Your Health with allowing him to maintain his new fitness level.

“My hat is off to those guys,” Wilson said. 

The research by Mind Your Health found that the volunteers who incorporated mindfulness and psychological acceptance-based principles into their regimens, like Wilson, lost a significant amount more weight than the group that did not. 

Additionally, the availability of the Recreation Center “provides an avenue to get that activity level up” for anyone looking to improve their fitness level.

Since he began working on his health at Drexel and at home, there have been a number of times when close friends and family haven’t even recognized Wilson.

“I have a neighbor who had been sick for awhile and I hadn’t seen. I saw her out and about in the community one day,” he related. “I said, ‘Hi.’ And she said, ‘Who are you?’”

During a party for his niece recently, Wilson was manning the grill. When his neice’s father came, he stopped and hugged Wilson before proceeding into the house to see other family.

“His son said, ‘Dad, did you see Uncle Jerome outside?’” Wilson laughed. “My niece’s dad was like, ‘Where? I hugged somebody but I didn’t really recognize who that was.’”

Many times when a person goes through a change in fitness, they’re labeled a “new person.”

Wilson doesn’t see it that way.

“I always tell my wife, ‘I’m still me,’” he said. “To me, I’m the same person.”

This piece first appeared in Drexel Quarterly's Fall 2015 issue.