As a black female from a poor neighborhood, life wasn’t destined to be easy for Roquita Williams. She was born with a degenerative spine condition that resulted in chronic neuropathy. She had a 15-year-old’s face with a 70-year-old’s body when she was diagnosed at 25.
Despite her struggles, 41-year-old Roquita is a wife, mother, train conductor, world traveler, published author, and leader in the community. She has been recognized internationally and nationally for her work in the transportation industry. She sits on the Board of Commissioners of Memphis Transit Authority, was the first African American President of the Memphis World Trade Club, and was awarded Memphis Business Journal Super Women in Business in 2016. Triumphing over adversity has become her way of life.
She initially relied on traditional methods to help her through her medical issues, but they often didn’t work or made the pain worse. A friend suggested hot yoga.
“Hot yoga, for me, was a turning point,” says Roquita. “Seeing the difference between how my body moved before and after—there was a measurable difference.”
She began practicing Bikram (hot) yoga five days a week. It revitalized her inside and out. With less pain and freedom from many of the medicines that had become a regular part of her life, Roquita was ready for more and began her railroad career at age 30.
She’s one of a few women who’ve earned a conductor’s certification on a Class 1 railroad in the United States. Being a conductor is hard work for men twice her size. At just 5-foot-2 and 135 pounds, she must walk the length of a hundred railcars while carrying tools to reconnect the 100-pound knuckle between two cars, and then walk back—no small task.
Working for a Canadian company, Roquita was inspired by her coworkers’ big sense of adventure. “They work to travel, which is sort of the opposite of what we see culturally.”
She was determined to stay healthy, not just for her job and her family but so she would be able to see the world. She’s visited places such as England, Bali, France, Hong Kong, Brazil, Belize, and more.
Roquita bought her first pair of Vibram shoes for a trip to Costa Rica in 2011, which would include wet conditions and a variety of terrains and off-road trekking.
“That was the first time I integrated travel and adventure into my overall lifestyle,” she says.
In 2017, she and her son, Jaime, became ambassadors for Vibram, the international outdoor and adventure brand, and have committed all the proceeds from their ambassadorship to St. Jude’s Children Hospital.
To continue her active professional and personal life with minimal pain, Roquita starts each morning with 30 minutes of moving meditation, which consists of focused breathing and maintaining a meditative mental state while running, walking, or doing yoga. She attends Bikram Yoga Memphis in Overton Square.
“When the weather is nice, I’m outside,” she says. “I bike, I walk. When the weather is cold…I go to the sauna or steam room for 30 minutes at least four days a week to stretch to keep my back loose and help with mobility.”
“If I can’t find a meal that is gluten-free, not fried, and has some fresh vegetables or fruits, then I will drink my meal,” she says. “Beet juice is a go-to.”
Roquita eats her biggest meal at lunch and her smallest at dinner. She starts off the day with hard-boiled eggs, oatmeal, and toast. She gets her carbs in early because she has the rest of the day to walk them off. Dinner is typically vegetables and a lean meat.
Roquita’s desire to stay active and to help other women overcome the challenges motivated her to publish her book, “Storealities.” Young women who want the benefit of her knowledge and experiences can reach out to Roquita.
“I never turn down a call, and there are tons of women in Memphis who are just like me,” she says. “Now is a good time to bring together empowered women and their stories.”
To learn more about Roquita Williams, or her new book “Storealities” that hits shelves on March 1, go to Storealities.com or RoquitaCWilliams.com.
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By Curtis Speller