Time for a Change

Crossfit trainer Emily Beard.

The new year is always the best time to start fresh and begin new and healthier ways of living. These professionals make it their business to keep us southerners in shape both mentally and physically.

 

Claudia Deen on an early morning rum.

Running with Claudia Deen

After walking away from a promising career in advertising, Claudia Deen has reinvented herself as a self-made health and fitness guru, and she wants to inspire you to make healthier choices in the new year.

Even as a 24-year-old graduate student, Claudia Deen couldn’t avoid the dreaded “freshman 15” when she left her native Venezuela to study at Savannah College of Art and Design in 2010.

“I had access to all these things when I moved here, things I never had access to in Venezuela,” Deen recalls. “I could go to Kroger and get all these snacks and eat whatever I wanted.”

After gaining 16 pounds – a significant amount for her petite frame – and experiencing frequent skin breakouts, she decided it was time to dump the junk food. Almost two years ago, she took the next step and adopted a plant-based diet. When she cut out dairy, the breakouts stopped, and she believes leaving behind meat has helped reduce the symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome, which she was diagnosed with in her early 20s.

And despite her concerns that moving to a mostly vegan diet – if you’ve connected the dots from Deen to her famous butter-loving mother-in-law, you’ll understand why it’s only *mostly* vegan – she didn’t experience any setbacks to her distance-running training. In fact, she has completed five marathons since making the move away from meat, and she’s training for another one in Jacksonville in December.

“It hasn’t had any negative effect,” Deen says. “It’s been all positive. I just feel good.”

Deen feels so good about the life changes she has made that she’s carved out a career helping others do the same. When she married celebrity chef Bobby Deen in 2013 and left her advertising career to return to Savannah, she was looking for something she was passionate about that would offer flexibility to travel as much as she wished.

She started by earning a health coaching certification and has steadily added to her repertoire from there, becoming certified to teach indoor cycling and yoga sculpt and earning her USATF certification as a running coach. Now she’s working on another certification to teach TRX suspension weight training.

“One thing led to the other,” Deen says, “and now that’s what I do.”

It’s not all she does. She’s also a brand ambassador for Lululemon, representing the athletic apparel brand in the community and leading “Sweat Club” sessions, and she has a blog – The Trendy Smoothie – that she uses to inspire others to take care of themselves by posting recipes, fitness tips, and other keys to a healthy lifestyle.

Put it all together, and you’ve got a health coach – someone who helps clients identify their health and wellness challenges and develop a plan to address them, whether those struggles are losing weight, reducing stress, eating better, exercising more, or some combination of them all.

Of course, Deen has to maintain her credibility, and one look at her website or blog bears that out. She’s a brown belt in karate, has completed 11 marathons, 13 half marathons, and two 70.3-mile Ironman triathlons.

And she’s not done yet. Her goal is to complete a marathon in each of the 50 states, and she will be one-fifth of the way there when she adds Florida to the list in December.

As for what’s next for the small health and fitness empire she’s building in Savannah? You’ll have to wait and see.

“I have some things in mind, but they’re still very raw,” Deen says, “not ready to be shared with the world.”

 

Weight trainer Sam Carter

Weight Lifting with Sam Carter

Sam Carter has one question before he invites a young athlete into his gym, “Do you want to change your life?” At 27:17, the Proverbial adage that as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another transcends the weight room to develop the total person.

Don’t bother looking for information about 27:17 online. You won’t even find evidence it exists. No social media presence to speak of.

And even if you know the gym is tucked inside the back of the Victor B. Jenkins Memorial Boys Club, good luck picking the right unmarked door that leads to the space where Sam Carter lays down his sermon.

Carter isn't technically a preacher, but when he’s within these walls – which are adorned with articles of clothing representing dozens of people who have molded him into the man he is – he plays the part for his willing congregation, sprinkling nuggets of wit and wisdom into his intense motivational rants.

Even the gym’s name, 27:17, comes from a verse in Proverbs – “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” – that Carter regularly repeats.

Carter is a mountain of a man whose chiseled physique would be more intimidating if not for his disarming smile and relentless positivity. Here in the gym, he is in his element.

“If you’re good at something and you love it, but you don’t get paid, that’s called a hobby. If you’re good at something and you get paid to do it, but you don’t love it, that’s called a job,” Carter says. “But if you love something, you’re good at it, and you get paid to do it – that’s a passion.”

The story of how Carter uncovered that passion begins when he graduated from Savannah High School and enlisted in the Marines Corps Reserve while attending Savannah State University on a baseball scholarship.

A devastating knee injury ended his baseball and military careers, but it set him on a path toward his passion. He enrolled at Armstrong State University to earn his teaching certification and bumped into one of his former coaches, who set things in motion for Carter to land a job teaching at Riley Learning Center and coaching at Savannah High.

Carter immediately implemented a training plan that went beyond lifting weights, incorporating the principles of his Marine Corps training.

“We got real good, real fast,” Carter recalls. “We were just demolishing people.”

Two years later, Carter landed his first paying client as a personal trainer, and his passion was fully formed. Soon after, he left his teaching job to become a full-time trainer. Carter landed a part-time job at Savannah College of Art and Design, overseeing the newly-opened Club SCAD.

Almost no one came to the gym. Carter thought pumping iron with a former Marine might not be a good fit with a tony art school.

Then Carter’s former supervisor at Riley, Jean Hayes, invited the coach to a Bible study. Afterwards, Hayes introduced Carter to Hall of Fame basketball player Cazzie Russell, then SCAD’s men’s basketball coach, and told Russell in no uncertain terms that he needed to send his team to Club SCAD to train.

When the team showed up the next day, Carter put them through the same paces he used to whip his high school players into shape. It didn’t go over well, and Carter confided in a friend that he feared he would lose his job.

“He asked me, ‘Do you believe in the training that you do?,’ and I told him I did,” Carter recalls. “And he said, ‘Then if they fire you, let them fire you.’ The next day we didn’t go outside and run with 25-pound plates, we went outside with 45s. If they fire me, let them fire me.”

A month later, SCAD offered Carter a full-time contract, and he’s still there 16 years later.

While 27:17 has virtually no online profile, Carter himself has garnered a measure of fame, thanks in large part to his professional relationship and friendship with Savannah’s famed Deen family. Carter started training celebrity chef Bobby Deen in 2002, beginning a long relationship that has landed Carter guest spots on various television shows ranging from the Deens’ shows on Food Network to ABC’s “The Chew.”

Carter acknowledges such opportunities lend him credibility, but he really doesn’t need it. The list of people he has trained over the years includes numerous professional and high-level collegiate athletes, almost all of whom stay in touch with Carter and get back in the gym with him when they’re in town.

Still, there’s a reason he keeps such a low profile for 27:17. It’s not for everyone.

“God will send the right people my way,” Carter says.

Carter looks for a specific type of athlete – one who has potential they need help unlocking and the humility, discipline and work ethic required to unlock it. He relies on his network of contacts to connect him to potential clients, then makes his pitch.

“Do you want to change your life?”

“I introduce myself to them and at first their parents have no clue, they think it’s weird,” Carter says. “They’re skeptical at first. They think I want something. I don’t want anything. I just want to help you get better.”

That extends beyond the gym, the court, or the field. When student-athletes come to 27:17 each afternoon, they spend an hour in a small classroom space upstairs working on homework before joining Carter in the gym for their training.

“I don’t want to be a strength coach,” Carter says. “I want to help people change their lives. If you don’t want to be better, then I don’t work.”

To read the full article, subscribe now or pick up the January/February issue of South Magazine.