Queen to Queen, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 2012
By: Shevaun J.L. McGlone
In 1990, Carole Gist-Stramler did the unthinkable. She won Miss USA and became the first African-American woman to
hold the crown. Her win inspired countless girls to reach for newer, higher goals and helped to transform the image of
beauty in America.
Today, more than 12 years later, she inspires and helps countless women take back their bodies, improve their health, and
make fitness a priority through her company Royal Physique Fitness in Detroit, MI.
On March 24 Queen to Queen, Inc. talked with Gist-Stramler about fitness in the African-American community –
particularly among African-American women -- her personal struggle with weight, her faith, and so much more.
QtoQ: Well, I don’t want to keep you long so, if you don’t mind, let’s jump right into it. Tell me about winning Miss USA 1990.
Gist-Stramler: It [winning Miss USA 1990] was surprising. It was exciting. It was something great. It was something different for me. I’ve been athletically competitive for a
while so to compete in something like this was new… In the pageant, when people asked, “What did it feel like to compete against the other women,” I said “I didn’t. I
competed against myself.” Preparing for the pageant, I had Post-Its everywhere that read, “Carole Gist, Miss USA 1990” on everything. They were in my car. They were in my
room. They were on my mirror. They were on my books. Now that I look back, I think God prepared me for that moment. The semester of the pageant, I had a world studies
course where I had to watch the news every night and read the Wall Street Journal. That was a part of my homework. So by the time the pageant came around, I was up on
current events and what was going on in the world. You know they actually pay people to tell you to read up on current events at the pageant? Physically, during my time
between classes or at lunch, I’d walk a little faster to class, run the stairs, or do lunges to get in shape. When I first got to the pageant, my confidence was shaken. I looked at
those other girls and started thinking I couldn’t win. They were beautiful.
QtoQ: Wow! After all that preparation, you started to take yourself out of the game before it even started.
Gist-Stramler: Yes, but God poked me. I don’t know how else to describe it, that feeling. But God poked me and pulled me and said, “You are just as beautiful and intelligent
as anyone else here. You are My child.” If someone had a stopwatch, that whole inner dialogue would have lasted less than a minute. After getting past that, it was no problem
but Miss Texas was under a lot of pressure. I think her name was Stephanie. Texas had won five years straight. She was a really nice girl. We talked and I tried to encourage
her and help her let some of that stress go.
QtoQ: After encouraging and helping her, you broke Texas’ winning streak and won…What has life been like since then?
Gist-Stramler: Marriage. Divorce. I was a Stay-at-Home mom. Bankruptcy. I was hitting rock bottom at a time but everyone has their walk and their journey. I basically lost
sight of self and some people didn’t recognize me. When I won the title, I had all these dreams. I wanted to build a community center where the arts would be [fostered]. I
wanted to continue singing and support community initiatives.
QtoQ: It didn’t all pan out the way you wanted?
Gist-Stramler: A dream deferred is not a dream denied. I didn’t know that then and letting other people’s expectations try to define me was the start of my depression. I had
to go to bootcamp.
QtoQ: Bootcamp? You started your fitness effort then?
Gist-Stramler: Not the “workout” bootcamp but a bootcamp for myself, an emotional bootcamp to handle the trials of a 20-year marriage. Not all of it was bad you know, my
children came out of that marriage and I’m blessed to have them. Happy to have them. [During my bootcamp] I trained for a marathon and me and God would just have it out
every mile. I had a mantra, “If You can get me through this, You can get me through everything”. That’s how I look at being a physical trainer. When [my clients] are there, at
the point where they don’t think they can go anymore, I’m there to push. It’s the mental push that gets you through that burn. It opens up there mindset to what they can do to
put them on the path to wellness. If you don’t find that for yourself, you’re going to take yourself out of here. You’re going to eat. You’re going to drink. You’re going to do
whatever you do to cope. All of that you do to cope, can take you out.
QtoQ: Have you experienced weight or health issues prior to beginning a fitness regimen and your own company?
Gist-Stramler: At one point I was almost 250 lbs. I started not to recognize who I was. Not speaking in a physical sense but more on a personal level. I didn’t feel like the
queen that I am. I have to feel it, to know it, to be it. My company was birthed out of that struggle to find me. I started walking four miles a day [taking my children to school
on the weekdays], every day except Sunday.
QtoQ: Sundays, the day of rest!
Gist-Stramler: Exactly, but I didn’t stop moving. Sundays were the days where I caught up on my housework. I did the kids’ laundry, made some dinners in advance for the
week, that kind of stuff. At one point I was going to the gym everyday but wasn’t seeing the changes. I got close to 200 lbs. but not under. Going through that, other parents
saw me and I had a brigade of people walking around and they would do these four miles with me. They started to become bold enough and confident enough to do things they
hadn’t thought they could do and they started giving me gifts to thank me. You know like a gift card or something. You know a gift card is maybe $20 or $40, a gym
membership maybe $120, but a life-changing experience is priceless. That’s my Visa commercial! (We both laugh.)
QtoQ: Every time I go for my physical, I hear the same thing. “You’re overweight.” I don’t agree and on top of that, I think those charts I’m measured against are slightly off
when it comes to us [African-American women]. I also hear the excuses from other women of “My hair.” I have to admit, that’s one of my reasons… um, excuses. “I don’t
have the time.” What’s your response to the excuses?
Gist-Stramler: It’s [the chart we’re measured against] slightly off but not by much. Being overweight or obese puts stress on the bones, stress on the back, stress on the
joints. It’s not being “fluffy”. It’s not healthy. Food is not your fix. That weight is not a blanket. Take care of yourself. Every 3-4 months, do a detox.
QtoQ: What does one of your detoxes include?
Gist-Stramler: For 3-7 days, fast. Drink more water, more fruit, more vegetables, and less meat.
QtoQ Note to Reader: Although I didn’t say it, I could certainly tell Gist-Stramler was just starting to hand me my overweight behind in a very nice way. I silently braced for
the impact. Oh God, here it comes…
Gist-Stramler (continued): It’s time out for the excuses. Anything we want or value, we make time for. You make time for others but when you’re down, who’s taking care
of you? Value what God created in you. You are His crowning creation. Your body is a temple. Why are you just giving it away? Graffiti-ing it up [with tattoos]? Putting crap in
it [with less than healthy food and snacks]? We [women], emotionally and physically, are different than men. We take on those spirits and they linger. What we see, hear, and
do to it greatly impacts how we feel about ourselves. You know music is a very powerful thing. Satan was the minister of music in heaven and knew its power and how it can
move people to do one thing or another. And now that he’s been cast out, he wants us to join him so he’s using what he knows best. Music.
QtoQ: I have to agree with that. When I became a mother, well actually before my daughter was even born, I started to actually listen to the words of the songs on the radio.
There was just nothing out there I wanted her to hear on the regular [hip-hop] stations. We’ve been listening to gospel stations ever since. And now that she’s here I’m even
more vigilant. I’d hate for her to learn her worth when it’s too late, or even worse, never recognize it.
Gist-Stramler: Right. I get that but I don’t think all of it [rap and hip-hop] is bad. There are some songs that are okay. My concern comes when the music they’re putting out
isn’t cathartic in any way. You know, there’s nothing cathartic about fornication and our kids aren’t being protected against some of these things. What you’re doing is that
mature parenting that some young mothers don’t know to do yet… but, we’re getting off topic. Music is something I’m passionate about and I’m the Minster of Children’s
Music so I could talk about it all day if you let me.
QtoQ: That’s no problem. I’m enjoying the conversation. (And, I genuinely am!)
Gist-Stramler: When we can get back to what God created in us, as women… God says you are a queen. And you need to act like it. Not snooty or anything like that. It’s an
internal pride. Food doesn’t need to be your comforter. It’s not your counselor but you’ve built a relationship with it. This is a lesson I had to relearn myself. I’ve always been
an outgoing person but after I got married, I became isolated. I think my husband wanted me to be that way. Isolated from people so I would be who he wanted me to be and I
couldn’t see that at the time. Instead of eating to cope with that bad day at work, pick up the phone and call a friend. Build relationships with people to cope with those things
that drive you [to your unhealthy coping mechanisms]. You have to do a reflection on yourself. You know how you watch “The Biggest Loser”?
Gist-Stramler: And they’ll be working out hard to lose that weight and they may cry or hurt but they get threw that workout. They’re on the other side of it and can’t believe
they did some of those things. We all need to become an athlete in that sense so that we can push past those emotional challenges and breakdown those emotional barriers.
QtoQ: (I check to make sure I’m still intact… Yup! Did she just minister to my spirit with that bit on music? Yup! Time for the next question.) That’s a lot to digest and
Gist-Stramler: Size does not matter. You can look healthy and be unfit.
QtoQ: What prompted you to start your own company?
Gist-Stramler: My husband left in 2006 and then he lost his job. Going from a six-figure salary lifestyle to the unknown… and I’d been out of the workforce for 11 years by
then. I started putting out my resume and posting for jobs but the bites were less than what I needed to maintain the lifestyle we were used to. God told me to look at my
resume again. It wasn’t showing everything. I revamped my resume to show what I had done over the years instead of the positions I’d held. Almost a month to the day… no,
exactly a month to the day. July 12. I was hired for a [physical] trainer position. I was already certified as a group trainer so I became certified as a personal trainer, got down
to 172 lbs…
QtoQ: What was the timeframe? Did all of that happen in a year?
Gist-Stramler: Yes. Actually, a little less than that. I began realizing that I am a child of God. Getting in shape, being healthy was more than just the body. It’s the heart and the
mind as well. As a trainer, I help people realize what’s in them. I’m going to help impact the world one person at a time.
QtoQ: One last question. Do you have any recommendations for incorporating fitness into your regular schedule?
Gist-Stramler: Sure. Yes. Park a little farther from the door. Take the stairs or do mini office breaks. There are some exercises you can do at your desk or in your office like
glute squeezes. They’re close to kegels and what you’re going to do is squeeze those glute muscles and then release. It’s great for toning. There’s also tricep lifts. What you’re
doing is lifting yourself up from your chair with your arms and then lowering yourself almost to the floor. It’s just an up and down motion. You can do three sets of 20. Wall
sits are another way to tone in the office. You press your back against a wall and pose in a sitting position. Make sure your knees are positioned over your ankles at a 90 degree
angle. Hold that pose for 10-20 seconds and do sets of it to tone.
*Carole Gist-Stramler's company, Royal Physique Bootcamp, is located in Detroit, Michigan. For more information about Gist-Stramler and her company, visit her website at www.carolegist.com