“I say I teach. People tell me, ‘Donna, you preach,’ ” Joyner says.
Her sermons often circle back to mind-set and motivation. When there’s something you want, “you make a way, not an excuse.” And when things get difficult, she says, that’s when you turn to a higher power for help.
With the book, Joyner got an assist from her pastor, T.D. Jakes, who wrote the foreword. Joyner is one of the 30,000 members of his Dallas church, the Potter’s House, where he strives to make physical health a priority for himself and his congregants.
That’s a relatively new stance for churches, says Joyner, who found at the beginning of her crusade that places of worship were reluctant to address weight problems. Now, folks are embracing the idea that there’s no better place to take care of your personal temple.
At church, people feel a connection to God and to a fellowship that can provide invaluable support. “People often think, ‘I’m in this alone.’ They go to gym and see all those beautiful bodies,” Joyner says. “But at church, you’re going to see yourself. There’s accountability and comfort like a family.”
It’s why Joyner believes churches and other places of worship are critical partners in fighting obesity in America. She’s on the front lines of that war as the longest-serving member of the President’s Council for Fitness, Sports and Nutrition. (She started during the George W. Bush administration and was asked to stay on under President Obama.)
As soon as first lady Michelle Obama introduced Let’s Move, Joyner volunteered to push the program’s faith-based initiatives, and much of her constant travel is with kids at churches, introducing them to the joys of movement and encouraging them to bring these lessons to their parents.
Just as Joyner always asks people to try something different to get them moving, she is embarking on a new exercise program herself. When it comes to activity, there isn’t much Joyner hasn’t tried. Growing up, her family visited a roller rink in Rockville every weekend, and she was a star athlete at Montgomery Blair High School. These days, she likes bike-riding, hiking, Pilates, weight training, swimming and golf. When she’s visiting her mom, they’ll go out hand dancing until 3 in the morning. (“But we still get to church on Sunday,” she says.)
But despite participating in numerous 5Ks and half-marathons, Joyner has never been much of a runner. This year, the power walker is picking up her pace.
The goal is to be ready for August’s Hood to Coast, a 200-mile relay in Oregon, where she’ll be heading up a team of 12 African American women.
“I don’t know how these buns of AARP are going to handle it,” she says.
With months to train and faith to spare, Joyner’s sure to reach the finish line and then keep on going.
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