In the beginning, it was brutal. One lap was an immediate emotional release; 39 more offered an abbreviated sense of freedom from the confines of the six-by-nine cell he called home at Fort Dix, a federal prison in New Jersey. Running became his escape from reality.
Hector Guadalupe, 42, grew up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, during the crack epidemic that swept New York City. An ill-fated youth led him to start selling drugs at age 13. He trafficked cocaine up and down the East Coast for years. When he was indicted for drug distribution at age 23 in 2003, he was immediately overcome with—of all things—relief.
“I was finally able to allow my mind and soul to rest for once,” he says. Prison offered an opportunity to rebuild.
A cellmate taught him meditation, which pulled him through close to 31 months in solitary confinement. He practiced yoga and worked out three hours a day, weightlifting followed by a run of up to ten miles. And as his Timberland boots repeatedly thumped on the track, he thought about how he could use his connection with wellness to “disrupt the fitness industry” after his release.
In prison, Guadalupe enrolled in a correspondence program to become a certified personal trainer. He started training fellow inmates IRL, then their friends on the outside remotely.
He left prison in 2012, 90 pounds lighter at a ripped 190, landing back in New York, confident and ready to put his skills to use. “I thought I’d be hired fast. I was young and in really good shape,” he says. “I was shocked that all of the health clubs in New York kept turning me down.” Eventually, he was accepted at the New York Sports Club in Manhattan’s Union Square. Guadalupe worked from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. five days a week and several hours on weekends without taking a day off for four years.
He founded A Second U Foundation in 2015 with the goal of helping people just like him. It prepares formerly incarcerated men and women for careers in the wellness industry. The nonprofit takes them through a six-week curriculum about movement and physiology as well as business-development skills. The foundation has 13 employees and has certified 196 trainers. Zero have re-offended.
Their personal sessions have all become virtual since the COVID-19 pandemic, which has only helped growth. “When it comes to being locked down or being limited on movement, that’s our specialty,” Guadalupe says. “The pandemic is what we flourished in. We quadrupled in business.” Guadalupe intends to expand A Second U Foundation to major cities across the U. S. and Europe.
He’s optimistic about the future. “I’m trying to be the best version of what I’m here to be: a motivator, someone that inspires people and someone that’s supportive of humanity,” he says.
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