Three years ago, Jessica James was a top-performing national track athlete but decided it was time to retire. And with a new role as a fitness instructor, she has traded the lights of stadia around the world to be a light in the lives of people and helping them become the best version of themselves.
James is the founder of First Lady Fit and Wellness, and is a trained, experienced and certified professional athlete. She attended the University of the West Indies, Iowa Central Community College and Abilene Christian University, Texas, where she attained two degrees along with certifications in physical education, sociology, and the art and science of coaching.
When she returned home after the Olympic qualifications in 2015 she retired from professional athletics with career achievements including five-time All American Champ, five-time Carifta Medallist, Central American and Caribbean Games Silver medallist, North American, Central American and Caribbean Athletic Association Silver medallist, three-time National champion in track and field, and Miss Trinidad and Tobago World fitness winner.
In a recent interview with Newsday James spoke about her retirement from athletics.
"I left at the pinnacle of my career. I do things like the stock market; do you stay and lose all your money? I wanted to leave as a respectable senior with credentials. It is just about knowing the reality when it comes to track."
James explained she believes one can achieve anything the person wants to but there was also the reality of needing to have a lot more money to train at world-class camps.
"I knew I was not ready and I did not have the finances for that. So I decided to exit."
She noted that when she left she was Southern Conference champion and had attended Olympic trials in the Virgin Islands.
"I travelled the world. I went to lots of places. I started looking at where I wanted to leave my legacy. This was my love and my dream.
I wanted something more. Just titles and times were not cutting it for me."
While back home in Trinidad she received her inspiration for her next career move. James was listening to the radio and they were talking about how high the obesity rate was in the country, especially among women.
"I was thinking, 'What is something I can do?'"
She had coached Miss World TT 2019 representative Tya Jane Ramey and she placed third in the Miss World 2019 International Sports Day in London.
"I could show people as an athlete what I could do. I could go to the gym, do schoolwork, and be a businesswoman. I went into the Miss World competition (in 2018) and became the fitness winner. I could start changing people's lives."
After deciding to go into fitness coaching in 2018, she had to come up with a name and for that, she took inspiration from her late coach Ian Goddard who had passed away in 2013 with diabetes. She recalled she used to be a tomboy but Goddard would call her "Miss Elegant" and "he used to make me feel like a lady."
"He kept talking this into my life. To walk and talk differently. To act like a lady."
And thus she settled on First Lady Fit and Wellness.
James recalled when she began First Lady Fit and Wellness it started "really slow" with just two people.
"Anything you do you always start small. Even though I was a national athlete or Miss World delegate I still have to go the route of proving that I am worth the shot. And earn the trust to give them the body (they are seeking)."
Her first client was a friend who was dealing with obesity and had become very depressed.
"She complained so much about her body I decided to start (my journey) with her."
Her second client was someone the first recommended. James then began posting on social media.
"Once people saw the good transformations (on social media) they started asking questions and trying to find out information about how to start and to grow.
When she started she was on a low budget and focused on building strength, endurance and flexibility.
"Just work on the body alone and the (overall) transformation happens. The stomach drop and the body would tone up without any equipment."
After this level, the client would graduate with an introduction to weights and building strength and flexibility.
And how did First Lady Fit and Wellness distinguish itself from other similar businesses?
James said: "A lot of other fitness companies are doing an extremely good job. Everyone is unique in their own way. But we are totally different in our servicing of clients. We do so holistically. Yes losing weight or gaining weight is one thing, but we make sure when you leave your programme you are mentally, physically and spiritually stable."
Their service includes meal plans and detoxifying, and James added many issues begin with the colon. She said clients are surprised to see the amazing results.
"We are dealing internally and externally. It is a little more holistic (than other fitness companies)."
James explained that someone's confidence may be low because they have stretch marks.
"We've had people who wanted to kill themselves because of how their body looks."
She stressed motivation is a key factor and in their servicing of clients, they are seeking to meet all their needs and wants.
"The only thing to worry about is coming and getting results and falling back in love with themselves."
Pulling ahead in covid times
By early 2020 James had grown to about 15 in-person clients and then covid19 struck.
"When covid hit we thought it was going to be over with soon. But it kept going on. And we then had to decide how to provide for clients and ensure they are benefiting from the programme."
Fit Lady Fit and Wellness switched to online and James said the transition was hard.
"We have some of the most amazing women and men (including) Minister of Sport (Shamfa Cudjoe) and (soca singer) Patrice Roberts. It was a bit tough (going from in-person to online) as the conversations were different and the work ethic was different. We also missed the kids who would work out with us as well. It has been tough because we all miss each other."
On the positive side, with the move to online they got a small boost of about five clients, taking the total to 20. James explained that before online coaching some potential clients were unable to do the outdoor or personal training. Their clientele eventually increased to 40 and then to 100 and then more than 500 in just about a year.
The clientele is almost all women with most of them n their late 20s, 30s and mid-40s, though there were also some in their early 20s, 50s and 60s. Asked why there were so few men (they currently have just four) James speculated that men may look at her page and assume she does not coach men, and the programme was more of a "female thing."
"We have seen some of the most amazing transformations in our guys."
As her clientele grew so did her team, and she currently has two trainers and a personal assistant who ensure clients get all their goods, services and products. They also have a nutritionist who ensures they do what they are supposed to do and eat what they are supposed to. One of their team members is fellow ex-national athlete Ramona Modeste.
She said when things open back in Trinidad they plan to continue with the online coaching.
The best feeling
James said when people look at her page they may get intimidated by her videos or may not believe the transformation photos are real.
"(But) I live the fire every single day. We have real people with issues. People battling depression, obesity, high blood pressure. Once they make up their mind to fight for their lives and do what they exactly supposed to do then they will get their results."
James said their clients love the motivation and are thankful for allowing them to fall in love with themselves continuously.
"We coach lawyers, doctors, members of the Defence Force, and you realise everyone is going through something. We create a community where you can come and laugh and get the body you want. A lot of people are losing their life (at this time). We remind them to wake up and win, fight fight fight through the burn."
She stressed it was important to let people know they are blessed and highly favoured.
"To make a better version for yourself no matter your age. And it is full entertainment and we make sure persons leave after one hour with a smile on their face and closer to their goal."
She said they had a couple of covid survivors as clients who were able to recover after a week or two through helping to boost their immune system.
"We have a beautiful community. And you have no other choice but to be successful."
One of the clients Abigail Kizzy Craigwell, who also provides detox juices for First Lady Fit and Wellness, posted a video of her body transformation last month.
James said it was a very emotional feeling seeing people's lives being transformed through the coaching.
"Is a feeling out of this world. Really emotional. Every single time someone comes and tells you, 'You had no idea how I was feeling nothing about myself. You make me fall back in love with myself. Keep doing what you are doing.' It is a feeling better than winning medals and records to me.
"It makes me feel good on the inside. It makes my team feel good, and it charges us up every single time to get better and better every single day."
Asked about expansion, she reported First Lady Fit and Wellness was already coaching people from Grenada and the US, and looking at expansion into the Cayman Islands and St Lucia.
"We are increasing and moving further."
For more info: Firstfitlady_james on Facebook.