Trae Staggers has not had it easy. At 28, he has already endured many lifetimes of adversity. He was born with both a lung and a heart defect and spent much of his early childhood within the walls of a hospital. Those walls remained as he got older, and his reality of isolation would worsen. Childhood obesity kept him socially rejected, making it hard to have friends and feel “normal.” He wanted to confide in his family but felt as though he did not have a voice among them, some of whom were emotionally abusive. These circumstances sent him into an aggressive state of depression, which would last for decades. “It was to the point where I would literally just sit in my room in complete darkness with no TV, windows closed, all day, every day, and this happened for about 20 years.” 

The hope for relief came when it was time to move to college, but it was short-lived. Although he was lifting weights occasionally with his brother, Trae’s health began to fail. His obesity and family history of systemic disease proved too much for his body to handle. He spent much of his college years trying to control relentless hypertension and complications from chronic stress, the most severe of which included a completely failed digestive system that left him unable to absorb nutrition properly. He self-medicated with reclusion and binge eating, which added to the problem and the scale. He became nearly 100 pounds overweight in just a few short years. His concurrent mental health issues, pressures from school, lack of social support, and improper self-care took Trae down a lonely, suicidal path. 

The light in Trae’s darkness came from the few friends he had and his brother. Through a chain of acquaintances, Trae connected with a therapist for the first time in his life, and for once, he could fathom a way out of his darkness. It wasn’t until he received the mental support he needed that he was able to reset working out and his diet. 

Trae has lost nearly 80 pounds in the last couple of years by prioritizing his mental health and diet. He uses a cardio machine almost daily for at least an hour, mixes in weight lifting, and eats a strict, clean diet. His transformation is remarkable. After finishing his undergraduate degree, Trae pursued his master’s degree and earned his Ph.D. in physics this past December. 

“With the help of friends and a few family members, I was able to overcome every obstacle I had to face while getting in the best shape of my life, and I would love to share my successes and journey with others to make the greatest impact I possibly can. I want to let everyone know that it is possible to face adversity and be fit at the same time. Fitness saved me.” 

For more information, visit Protea Counseling and Consultation Group at

By Amanda Tompkins 

Photo by Tindall Stephens