TAHLEQUAH – When the COVID-19 pandemic closed businesses in 2020, including local gyms, Cherokee Nation citizen Damon Ford said he had to find a way to continue exercising. 

Ford, 46, said he has always been into fitness, but had to take control of that part of his life with gyms closing.

“Whenever COVID hit…all the gyms shut down,” he said. “So I was like man I can’t go without working out. I started in my garage and I was able to do the very basic. I had a very basic squat rack and I didn’t have very much room. I had just a few weights.”

With his garage becoming too crowded as he acquired more equipment, he expanded by building a pole barn for a home gym.

“I didn’t want to be in a situation in which who knew how long the pandemic is going to last or whenever the local gyms would open up,” he said. “So I wanted to take control of this part of my life and I was like I’m just going to go for it. I had this built and it’s been about maybe a year-and-a-half long process of adding everything I’ve gotten. And I still continue to get stuff all the time.”

Ford said as he’s aged he’s learned more about the benefits of nutrition and cardio.

“When I was younger I just wanted to lift weights. I didn’t care about any cardio or any nutrition,” he said. “I guess the older I got I guess I matured and realized that nutrition is so key to health. Also, it’s not just about lifting weights, you got to have a good cardiovascular system for endurance in able to achieve optimal health.”

He said he can’t eat just whatever and attempts to make healthier food choices and getting enough rest. “First of all as I get older I can’t eat whatever I want. That’s the biggest thing. I really try and eat lean meats. I try more vegetables now more than ever. I always try to get an X amount of protein per day, my daily serving of vegetables, my daily supplements. Everything I do I try to do regularly. I feel like consistency is the key in health whether it be talking about your diet, talking about exercise, habits, routines. It’s super important to get enough sleep. I try to get at least eight hours a night.”

Ford said working from home is also an advantage to keep up his lifestyle.

“I make my own meals. I work out in my backyard. It’s probably one of the bigger advantages I have over most people who don’t work from home. I have a more flexible schedule as far as working out,” he said.

Ford said he’s lost a brother and father to poor health and that seeing the downfall and bad side of health motivates him.

“Historically, Cherokees have a high rate of diabetes,” he said. “So that’s one thing with eating correctly, now I’m going to lessen my chances. My brother passed away when he was 47. It started with diabetes and then he had kidney failure. He was on dialysis. So him being Cherokee as well, that was kind of an eye opener. Then just people I see. I see people my own age that aren’t doing very well. I want to live the fullest life I can for as long as I can.”

In addition to keeping himself healthy, Ford helps friends who want to live healthier by sharing his gym and things he has learned through the years. 

“I want people to live a healthier lifestyle,” he said. “I feel like I want to surround myself with alike-thinking people. If they have better intentions than mine, if they want to better their life, I’m all about it and I’m there to help them out. Hopefully they will help me out in some aspect of my life. So I’m all for helping anyone out that needs any help because I’ve been there, done that before. I’ve been a beginner as well so it’s kind of like a pay back.”

He has also started a Facebook group called Cherokee County Fitness Motivation for local exercise enthusiasts to share workouts and support one another.

“I know I’ve personally learned things from other on there, by either asking a community question or learning from others on workouts,” he said. 

One goal Ford has is becoming a mentor rider for the CN’s “Remember the Removal” bike ride with his daughter. “I’m really trying to get her into biking with me. I started biking recently. The goal being I want to do the removal ride with her. I would be a mentor rider and she would be a participant.”