Haywood Simmons battles racial health and fitness disparities every day. On Madison’s south side, he’s battling a food desert, a fitness desert and the easy and cheap food options of Burger King and McDonald’s on and off Badger Road. He battles a lack of information and a lack of options and some bad health habits that have formed for years, and for some people, decades. But he continues to battle, and he knows that he has momentum on his side.
“This area doesn’t have very much by the way of food or by the way of fitness … anything,” Simmons tells Madison365. “We are all about trying to provide a level playing field where we can provide a safe place for you to go, be with your community, learn, and be healthy.
“One little pebble might create some ripple effect. If every day I can be in this city and be a ripple than eventually there are going to be quite a few ripples about health and healthy foods,” Simmons adds. “There are other great people in the area doing some amazing work. There will be a market here [in south Madison]. There will be great organic food available. I think that when we reach critical mass from the efforts I’ve put in, my buddy [south side organic famrer] Robert Pierce’s work, [Mentoring Positives Executive Director] Will Green is talking about food over there [in Darbo-Worthington] – and tons of others – that little ripple will give momentum to big change.”
Simmons is the founder and CEO of Phitness Plus, whose mission is to improve health and fitness awareness in the Madison area and then, some day, on the national scene. To people in the community, Simmons is known simply as “Coach Wood.”
“Education is huge, and what we try to do at Phitness Plus is to expose you to some new ideas,” Simmons says. “There’s much more information than when we started maybe three generations ago of what we knew about diabetes, heart health, what we know about energy and food, and what we know about our human bodies. There is so much more that we know about now in almost every facet of health and fitness.”
Simmons has just announced a new initiative that he calls “A Better Option for the South Side” where you can come in and work out, take classes, learn about nutrition, fitness, meditation and more – all for $5 a month.
“We decided that we were looking for bigger partnerships in Madison … a way to get the word out about health and wellness in a way that the community can understand it,” Simmons says.
Simmons’ Phitness Plus already has a very diverse client base throughout south, east, west, and north Madison, Fitchburg, Verona, and Monona. “What we want to do as a member of this community and a socially conscious organization is to bring those groups together where they can play and grow and learn together,” Simmons says. “The Boys and Girls Club has agreed to allow us to bring that model to both of its clubs – where community and diversity meet in one place to live healthier lives.”
So, starting right now, you can come in and work out at the Taft Street location Boys and Girls Club for just $5 a month. The Allied Drive Boys and Girls Club gym will open in September with the same offer, Simmons says. “At Taft [Street Boys and Girls Club], we are open from 7 a.m.-1:30 p.m. and people have access to the weights, the treadmills, the basketball gym. If you live in the 53713 zip code you receive two free classes per week. That’s a 10:30 a.m. ‘Free Your Health’ nutrition group on Saturday and a 9 a.m. ‘Fit Camp’ on Sundays. That’s included in the membership. All for $5 a month; seniors can get reduced or free rates.”
Right now, Simmons’ goal is to create access for everybody so that money is not an issue as he starts that ripple effect toward creating a healthier overall community.
“We want to make it very affordable so people can get around other people who are going through the same things as they are, and have conversations, and expand their friend and health networks,” he says.
Simmons says that they will also have a “Free Your Health” seminars designed for 20 members of the 53713 area code community for no charge. This is a six-week program that will start in August. “Members of the community will be able to come in and get information about food and nutrition that they need — the basics like calories, fiber, glycemic index, blood sugar,” Simmons says. “And we have set up a partnership where weekly they will get a $25 gift certificate to the South Madison Farmers’ Market where they will be able to get some healthy fruits and vegetables, too.”
Simmons is a former UW Badger football player and Rose Bowl champion who has gone through his own personal struggles with his health when he morphed from three-sport super athlete to a rundown, huffing-and-puffing man struggling with obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes. “I was 350 pounds at my peak. I remember feeling helpless and like things were way over my head,” Simmons says. “Getting a chance to meet some teachers and people who could help me was big in turning things around for me.”
Simmons learned from those great teachers and soon decided that he would be one of those teachers in the community. His goal is to change the mindset of everybody, but he has young people especially on his mind.
“We did a program at Badger Rock [School] called ‘Coaches Club’ and there were kids that lost weight and were asking their parents constantly about different foods,” Simmons says. “There are kids in the grocery stores saying, ‘Mom! Coach Wood wouldn’t eat that!’ or ‘Coach Wood says that’s not nutritious.’ At Badger Rock, we had the lowest suspension rate in the district for middle school per capita. These kids are learning to listen to themselves and to be healthy.”
Simmons’ Phitness Plus is much more than just fitness; they’ve mastered the art of helping people generate a positive outcome in everything they do. Phitness Plus are specialists in aligning mind, body, and spirit using methods that will enhance your life and the lives of those you love. Simmons’ own personal mission is all about mindfulness, fitness, and nutrition.
As little as some people know about fitness and nutrition, Simmons finds that they know even less about “mindfulness.”
“We offer a meditation clinic that we house. It’s all about de-stressing, mindfulness, and stress-management meditation program,” he says. “Meditation has allowed me to take a look at who’s thinking. I often found myself thinking a lot but I felt reactive … so that everything was reactive. Meditation gives you a chance to sit back and be reflective and get out of that place where we’re always reacting.
“What I’ve found is that many times we react when we could simply reflect,” he adds. “Being able to find reflection in areas where I used to react has allowed me to be calmer and to see other options.”
As an energy healer, Simmons is known for his soft touch and warm spirit, too. Through his “Healing Hands” technique, he has helped hundreds find relief from simple pains whether it be carpal tunnel, migraines, sinus drainage, frozen shoulder, anxiety, depression, and more.
“The way I think and/or reflect about myself shows up in the way I think and/or reflect in the food I eat,” Simmons says. “The way I think and reflect about the way I move, shows up in the way I move. So, I am very curious by nature.
“The challenges that we see in our lives both mentally and physically don’t necessarily parallel with the vastness and flexibility of the sciences of the world around us,” Simmons adds. “The rest of the world seems to know how to be resilient and flourish from the birds to the worms to the bees to the butterflies. Somehow, we seem to get stuck, at times, with diseases that make their way through in life. I really, truly believe that as we balance the mind out, that the body is a reflection of how we think. We’ve heard this in our spiritual and religious dogma for a while, but the science is just starting to come out – new information — science is starting to show how much plasticity there is in living. That we are very flexible and adaptable as humans.”
Simmons is pretty excited about the new options he is helping to provide on Madison’s south side. He pictures a day when the area of town that has traditionally been a desert becomes an oasis.
“People will have access to improve their health and to take charge of their health on their own and to be involved on the preventative side of creating better, balanced lives … starting right here on the south side,” Simmons says. “I’m not just talking about in this room right here, I’m talking about the whole south side. The only way I believe that we can have healthy people is to have happy people. We have to have confident people that are optimistic. Exercise and nutrition are one step on the way to having a happy, flexible, healthy community.”