Dr. Desirae Brinkley has always been motivated to succeed and help others. She excelled through college, optometry school, and her residency program. And for the past six years, she’s been an optometrist at the Eye Specialty Group here in Memphis. However, despite her academic and professional motivation, Dr. Brinkley often neglected her health and fitness.

She realized she was self-conscious and facing body image issues, but was initially afraid to take control of her fitness into her own hands. “I thought the fitter people in the gym would judge me for not knowing how to use the machines or starting with small weights,” she says. Because of her gym intimidation, Dr. Brinkley rarely exercised and would only go straight to the treadmill section to avoid any attention.

Prompted by her best friend’s upcoming wedding, Dr. Brinkley decided to make a change and take control of her health in her early thirties. She focused on healing unhealthy habits with food and connected with a personal trainer to teach her proper form and technique in weightlifting and cardio training circuits.

Within a few months, Dr. Brinkley could take what she had learned from personal training and apply it at her local gym, no longer experiencing anxiety or fear of judgment from other gym-goers. “Once I started going to the gym, I realized all of my previous fears were incorrect, and everyone at the gym is focused on their own experience, not judging others,” she explains.

After a two-year weightlifting journey, Dr. Brinkley has lost 55 pounds and feels more confident, youthful, and motivated than ever. She recognizes that through her training, she has proven that she can achieve goals she never thought possible, like leg-pressing 500 pounds. Dr. Brinkley also uses her time in the gym as a momentary escape.

“In the gym, I’m not thinking about the stresses of day-to-day life, like work or personal obligations,” she says. “It is a great way to focus on me and get in the zone.” She also explains that she is repeatedly motivated by encouraging words from her patients each year at their annual eye exams, who tell her how much happier she seems as she continues her health and fitness journey.

Her goals now are to maintain her stimulation and curiosity by trying new workouts, starting with getting back into running. Though she has run two half marathons in the past, Dr. Brinkley’s latest challenge is to begin training for her first full marathon this year. Through her training, she hopes to prioritize rest and crosstraining while taking the focus and determination she has learned through weightlifting and applying it to her running journey. Though she may have feared the challenge in the past, Dr. Brinkley is now excited and invigorated to continue conquering her fitness goals.

By Zoe Harrison

Photo by Tindall Stephens