By Jasmine Shaw
For the Birmingham Times
After Tamika Harris reached her heaviest weight of 235 pounds, she had a chance encounter that proved life-changing.
“I was coming home from work one day, and a group of teenage boys started mooing at me as I crossed the parking lot,” she said. “It hurt my feelings so badly that I went inside and started crying, wondering if I looked that disgusting.”
Harris had reached her heaviest after finishing her senior year at West End High School and enrolling at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) as an early childhood education major. She knew she needed to make a change but had no idea how to make her weight-loss dreams come true.
“I knew I needed to [exercise], but I didn’t know what a squat or a jumping jack was,” she said. “I had no idea how to manage portion control or create a balanced diet, but I knew I needed to get moving.”
She began by taking classes at Ladies Riviera gym. As her passion grew, so did her desire to help others.
In 2018, the 40-year-old Birmingham native would go on to open Get Fit with Tamika, a fitness facility that offers group exercise classes, one-on-one personal training, and nutrition coaching. She also holds certifications in group exercise and Pilates through the Athletics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA), as well as certifications in Zumba Fitness, Turbo Kick, and Schwinn Cycling.
“Before I could ever imagine helping others, I had to become dedicated to myself,” Harris said. “I gave up fried foods, sodas, and candy because you’ve got to give up something in order to get the results you want. Now, I want to share that philosophy with as many people as I can.”
Physical fitness is important because it improves one’s quality of life, Harris said: “I lost a substantial amount of weight without the aid of any weight-loss surgeries or special diet plans, and I wanted to help others achieve the same success.”
Harris brings the same energy to her classes that she brought as an active member of the West End High School Class of 1998; she was in the marching band, Red Cross club, and Future Business Leaders of America.
“’Get Fit with Tamika’ classes are fun and super-energetic,” she said. “We offer Zumba, Tabata Bootcamp, kickboxing, Pilates, and CrossFit to name a few. The warm, inviting atmosphere also benefits my community by providing an unintimidating workout environment for everyone.”
She hosts 10 fitness classes per week and encourages attendees to challenge themselves and learn to appreciate their bodies. She also hosts monthly family-friendly events like glow-in-the-dark Zumba, self-defense classes, and fashion shows to raise money for and awareness about the organization. In January, she launched a 40-day weight-loss challenge, during which participants exercised together, completed daily homework, learned new recipes, and modeled teamwork for young girls.
“I always tell my clients, ‘Don’t try to be skinny. Work to be healthy.’ Your best may not be 110 pounds. Your best may be 160 pounds with some nice muscle definition,” Harris said, adding that she wants to encourage fitness at all ages, particularly among young girls.
“Helping girls take ownership of their health will empower them to be confident in other areas,” she said. “I don’t want a girl to have to wait until she’s 21 years old, overweight, and unhappy to finally go searching for answers. I’ve lived that life. If I can catch [a young lady] while she’s 12 and teach her how to love herself inside and out, why not share that knowledge?”
With more than 80 members enrolled at her Adamsville studio, Harris works to maintain a collaborative environment that celebrates progress at all levels.
“I had my daughter not Iong after I lost my first 60 pounds, so I ended up gaining it all back,” she said. “About 18 months after she was born, I started working out hardcore again and got down to around 120 pounds. There will be ups and downs in your fitness journey, but every day that you don’t give up is another step forward.
“Being fit gave me the confidence to feel good about myself,” she added. “Nowadays, social media will have you thinking you need to have a flat tummy and a big booty to matter, but being beautiful isn’t just about being skinny.”
Before opening Get Fit with Tamika, Harris taught classes at the McAlpine Recreation Center in Ensley and at the downtown YMCA branch. Now, in addition to running her own facility, she leads weekly onsite classes for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama employees to further her reach and help build healthy families.
She credits her husband, Janson, for keeping her focused when she grows weary. Although he’s deemed the fitness studio as his wife’s territory, she’s very thankful to have someone to lean on as the business grows.
“My husband is very supportive. He’s my backbone,” she said. “We do a lot of tag-team work to make sure someone’s always at our daughter Jordan’s band performances and to manage household responsibilities.”
After facing several painful challenges as a child, Harris has developed an admirably resilient work ethic.
“My brother and I were in the foster care system for about 40 days while my mom struggled to beat her alcohol addiction,” she said. “I lived with my mom for only four years of my life. I pretty much always lived with my aunt.”
Harris is fond of the stability that being a trainer provides and cherishes the opportunity to take charge of her own health and well-being.
“Fitness is important to me because out of everything else in your life, you can control it,” she said. “I know a lot of women that feel like so many things in their lives are out of their control. Unless you have a chronic illness, your health is in your hands! You decide how often you exercise, what foods you eat, and how much food you consume.
“Through my determination, dedication, and discipline, I can proudly say that I have been blessed to have kept the weight off for 13 years.”
Being fit gave Harris the confidence to feel beautiful—and she shares that sense of confidence through My Beauty is Mine Inc., a nonprofit organization she founded in February 2019 to empower women and girls to embrace a healthier lifestyle through group exercise.
“We are driven by a single goal to do our part in making the world a better place for all women and girls,” she said. “I want women to know that your past doesn’t dictate your future. … With hard work and determination, you can achieve anything you put your mind to.”
For more about Get Fit With Tamika visit https://www.getfitwithtamika.com/ or call (205) 249-7982