This article appeared in a January 2018 issue of the student newsletter.
Close your eyes and think of three words: husband, father, student.
What image comes to mind?
Now think of three more words: veteran, homeless, obese.
Has the first image in your mind shifted?
Can all of these words coexist, or are they in some sense opposites?
Ok, last phrase: gym rat.
What if I told you every single one of these words describes the same person: Dameyan Sargent. Some of the words have been erased – like homeless and husband – while other words have been rewritten, like student (now graduate) and obese (now a gym rat).
You see, Dameyan's story has ups and downs. Like all stories, the protagonist has faced conflict and unforeseeable hardships. But, with the determination and focus of a true hero, Dameyan has been able to take control of his story and write an ending he is happy with.
Dameyan Sargent was a man who appreciated stability. His eight years of experience in the military had taught him routine was everything. It provided a strong foundation for your life.
“The organization and structure of being in the military, the way things are run, it was very balanced,” describes Dameyan. “We'd all get up early – as a group – and do our physical training, our calisthenics, our shower and shave. That structure instilled a strong work ethic in me. It also helped me understand the importance of finding balance in your life.”
But in 2008, Dameyan began to lose his balance. First, he lost his job. Then, he lost his home. And over the next few years, he began to lose his sense of self (while moving his family between local shelters). The final straw, however, was when he heard he could also lose his life. Weighing 330 pounds, Dameyan was terminally ill. His doctor said he might not live until age 40. And if that all wasn't enough loss for a married man raising three children, he had now also gotten lost in the higher education system (failing out of the Art Institute of Dallas due to an inability to pay for much-needed school supplies).
Dameyan knew he needed to regain his footing and provide stability for his family. It was at that moment he decided to transfer schools and attend El Centro College. The classes were affordable and the schedules were more accommodating to nontraditional students like himself. Upon touring the school, he saw it was exactly where he needed to be.
“The first thing I asked when I entered the building was, “Where is the gym?” remembers Dameyan. “I knew it was a place for the mind and the body. And being the weight I was back then, it was really important to me.”
While the gym was somewhat small at first glance, the staff were friendly and welcoming. The college's intramural basketball coach was sitting at the front desk of the gym. The two began a conversation, one Dameyan still remembers vividly.
“I'm gonna change my life with this,” said Dameyan, speaking to the coach. And he meant it. This gym was going to help him take back control of his future.
Within his first year attending El Centro College's gym, Dameyan lost 80 pounds. No trainer. No fad diets. No workout plans. No coaching. Just Dameyan and good ol' fashioned grit.
“That first year I kept checking myself mentally,” remembers Dameyan. “I had to flip the switch and talk well about myself. When I was homeless, my thinking became very negative. My self-esteem was low. Now I had to begin thinking positively. I needed to change outside and inside."
Thankfully, Dameyan was not alone on his journey. He also made new friends at the gym who helped encourage him. One gym buddy stands out: Deraymouse Rose. The two met in 2012 at El Centro College, and still find time to work out together today.
“When I first met Dameyan he was quite large,” remembers Deraymous. “Often when you see a larger man at the gym he is strong too, but Dameyan was weak at the start. Anyway, some time went by where our gym schedules were different, and by the time I started seeing him again in the gym he looked totally different. He was way stronger! I couldn’t believe it. That motivated me to take my fitness to another level.”
Deraymous was one of many stranger-turned-friends that Dameyan met at the gym. The two began scheduling their gym times and forming workout plans together. There were moments where Dameyan was dealing with a lot of adversity in his personal life, but through it all he stuck to his gym routine. And that impressed Deraymous who was used to people using hardships as an excuse to working out.
Other gym members also became friends with Dameyan and began to encourage him on his weight loss journey. Everyone at El Centro College was very friendly and approachable, so Dameyan felt comfortable approaching a stranger and asking to work out with them. Within the year, Dameyan applied and was hired as a gym employee. The pay wasn't much, but it was work he was passionate about (and still is).
“I want to experience all life has to offer,” says Dameyan. “And if this is what I need to do – to work out, eliminate processed foods, build friendships – that is exactly what I will do. You know, I have been through hell; I'm not going to lie. I'm only 37 and I've been homeless, divorced last year from someone I'd been with for 20 years. And we have three kids together. I've been failing classes, didn't think I'd make it, didn't think I'd graduate. But I told myself I was going to change my life. I was going to find balance. And I was going to look good and live long, too! My grandfather is still alive today. And that is one of my bucket list goals: I want to live to see my great grandkids.”
As Dameyan's love for physical fitness grew, in the back of his mind he was hoping for more. He knew how to get in a good workout at the gym, but he wished there was something more for other students. So he started praying. Literally.
“I was actually praying about it,” says Dameyan, laughing. “Then I found out the Texas Health Club right across the street was closing. I wanted us to have it so badly! I thought how amazing it could be if we could have a legit gym. And next thing I hear, El Centro College is leasing out the facility.”
Dameyan didn't go to the opening of the new El Centro College Wellness Center. But it didn't take long before he'd found his new hangout. At first, a lot of work needed to be done to get the gym ready for all its new members, but now – two years later – it's shiny and full of equipment. Members can work out while enjoying a view of Dallas' downtown skyline, or enjoy the 66-inch TVs that line the main room of treadmills, rowers and elliptical machines. There are group fitness classes, basketball and racquetball courts, a lap pool, an indoor track, and a full locker room with towel service. In fact, the El Centro College Wellness Center even has special resistance machines that use compressed air (in place of weights) to help those with injuries and athletes who need specialized training.
“Lawyers, doctors, surgeons, millionaires – people from all walks of life come to El Centro's Wellness Center,” explains Dameyan. “They are working out up there on the 15th floor right next to the students. It doesn't matter what skin color you are, what clothes you wear, or what your home looks like – we all come up here for the same reason: to be a better version of ourselves, to be healthier and to live longer.”
While a lot of members at the college's Wellness Center enjoy the group fitness classes, Dameyan is a fan of the free weights. He can be somewhat loud when he works out hard – grunting or letting a cuss word slip out. But what matters most is he gets things done.
Dameyan also inspires others in the gym (although he says they are the ones who inspire him). He is there most days working out. Maintaining his physical health has become part of his identity. In fact, he even created a YouTube channel in 2014 to share his story and encourage others.
“I am obsessed with it,” laughs Dameyan. “I love it. I cannot go one day without it! The gym, working out … it's a huge part of my life.”
Another big part of Dameyan's life: his college certificate. He graduated from El Centro College in May 2017 with a certificate in web application development. Part of the college's Internet Development Technologies program, the specialized training emphasizes object-oriented programming tools to construct interactive, multimedia-rich websites that offer database-driven solutions.
“Life is hard,” notes Dameyan. “Actually, it can be very hard. But if you find something that you enjoy, and you pursue that, then the hardships of life are easier to deal with. You can live with those hardships.”
Dameyan's passions for web design and working out weren't the only factors that got him to graduation. There was also a mentor at El Centro College who encouraged him to keep going when he was considering leaving school.
“Shanee Moore is the reason I graduated,” says Dameyan, referring to the college's dean of student life. “I was ready to quit. I felt like I was failing as a father to my kids. My grades were not strong. But she told me, “You're so close, you need to finish." And I did! I graduated and was part of the 50th anniversary graduating class.”
Today, Dameyan is in a much better place than he was in 2011. He has his health, his degree and a bright career path. Life isn't perfect – he still works two jobs, rides the bus, and is living in a two-bedroom apartment – but he makes things work.
If Dameyan's story teaches us anything, it is probably the sheer power of human will: how much one person can accomplish when they put their mind to reaching a goal (and put in the work).
It also teaches us about taking steps, and how sometimes “you get ugly before you start shining,” as Dameyan would say, “but you have to start somewhere.”
However, more than anything else, this story has a whole lot of identity wrapped up in it. How a military tank driver can become a web designer. And how a morbidly obese man can go from being “terminally ill” to deadlifting 565 pounds.
So, as you set your resolutions and goals for the new year, remember Dameyan. Because it's not about surviving, it's about living life to its fullest.
“If the me of today could talk to the me of a few years ago, I would tell myself, 'You have to take care of yourself because life goes on and you have a whole lot in front of you. Don't dwell on the past – you can't control that. Spend time trying to control the things you can: losing weight, going to work, enjoying what you have.'”
Interested in learning more about the El Centro College Wellness Center? Check out their web page, including the most recent schedule for group fitness classes. The college also offers a gym on campus and intramural sports.