Finance director Kevin Maples sought to reverse his diabetes diagnosis with dogged determination. And in the process, inadvertently inspired others to change their lifestyles for the better.

Photography by G. Greg Wells.

Photography by G. Greg Wells.

It was on the road home to Detroit Metro from Ohio that Kevin Maples’ vision started to go alarmingly blurry; “So I went to the Urgent Care, and they checked my blood pressure and my [blood] sugar [level], and they said ‘You need to go to the ER immediately.’” He was diagnosed with diabetes, and with blood sugar levels so high that the hospital kept him for the next seven days.

“And by the time the seven days was up,” said Kevin, “I had made up the decision that I didn’t want my kids to see me like that again, and I was going to do something about it.”

First step, after getting a gym membership at Lifetime Fitness, was realizing that his mandatory insulin injections four times a day were never meant to reverse the condition—only a critical lifestyle change could accomplish that. “I started on my program of cutting sugar, cutting carbs, cutting portions.” As Kevin got into the habit of meal-prepping his food to maintain his nutrition and portions, it earned him curious stares at work, and at times derisive hash from his family and friends; “They made me feel like the weird guy because I wanted to eat right. Because I didn’t want to eat ‘soul food’.”

“They didn’t understand, all this food we’re eating is based on what we thought we were supposed to eat, but in the end, all this food is bad for us—all these recipes that were handed down to our parents from their parents… And that’s why all of our grandparents and great-grandparents had diabetes and high blood pressure, and all that other stuff, and that’s because we didn’t know any better. And I said I was going to stop that.”

Keeping old habits at bay meant distancing himself from his old friends, and making his Friday nights—traditionally his clubbing time—his workout period. In search of some mnemonic or phrase to help keep himself on track, he tweeted motivational quotes, pictures of his meal packages, and progress from the gym – all with the hashtag: #EatCleanTrainDirty.

His first admirers were the people who watched him lose the weight day-by-day, his fellow coworkers at Suburban Ford of Ferndale; “Then I started incorporating [exercise] programs at work, for instance having all the salespeople work with me so I was never the only one. We started doing different pushups, had all the salespeople doing them after the meetings.”

And as he stuck to his regimen over the next several months, finally beating the diabetes and continuing to work to live healthy, the weight loss and concomitant hashtag began to create a story which inspired numerous Facebook fans on the increasingly waxing edge of his sphere of influence, whether Kevin liked it or not. Receiving one story of inspiration after another, he was contacted by a friend of a small gym owner, who advised him to do something about this growing momentum, invite some friends to his gym and see what they could create together. Kevin, not entirely buying the existence of this momentum, nor his own ability to rally followers, chose to blow them off for two weeks.

Meanwhile, the momentum (read: incoming calls & messages) continued to build; “And I said, ‘Man, I’m just trying to get myself together, I don’t know what I’m doing, and I didn’t know I was inspiring anybody else.’ And he said, ’No, I’ve been paying attention to your page, watching what you’re doing and I’m telling you, you’re helping me out more than you know.’”

Kevin looked back on the progress he had made, and the footwork and deep research it took to help him achieve it—talking to nutritionists, nurses, learning the art of meal-prepping, and building a circle of like-minded people around him to help him maintain focus. “If I had my own place,” Kevin said, “I’d create a space where people could get everything that I had to go look for, and just bring it all to them in one place.”

And so the kernel of what was to become the ‘Eat Clean, Train Dirty’ bootcamp began. As Kevin let people in his network know what he was up to, from trainers at Lifetime who had gone through similar transformations to Kevin’s, to nurses of the Beaumont hospital system who treated him and educated him initially, the program acquired key administrators and indispensable parts of the educative and diagnostic framework that Kevin wanted to build. In partnering with the Black Nurses Rock community, ‘Eat Clean, Train Dirty’ got a formally-trained staff who would run weekly health assessments on the bootcamp members.

Photography by G. Greg Wells.

Photography by G. Greg Wells.

Beginning amongst his coworkers and quickly snowballing over the course of a year, into an online movement tens-of-thousands strong across Southeast Michigan, Kevin is at the center of a viral fitness campaign that began as his own fight to stay alive and live healthy. Now a full nonprofit corporation, the gain in membership shows no sign of slowing down.

Kevin reminisces about the experience so far: “When it first started, everybody was real hesitant and watching from a distance. But now, this year, everybody’s losing weight, everybody I know—all my friends, my family (my mother’s been to my bootcamp) is eating right, and coming back to me and telling me stories about their progress, about the weight they’ve lost. I was just looking for other people to help me stay on track, and that turned into a whole bunch of people. For a while I thought I was by myself, now I know I’ve got my whole city with me.”

The 'Eat Clean, Train Dirty' bootcamp occurs every Friday evening at Get Some Fitness Gym in the Detroit suburb of Beverly Hills, Michigan.