Tiffany Bradford and the rest of the teachers at the Dixie Attendance Center in Hattiesburg, Miss., gathered for their annual end-of-the-year meeting in May 2023. As the principal wrapped up the usual business that must be covered before releasing both the teachers and students for the summer, she announced that it was time to announce the winners of the teacher superlatives, something that Bradford and her peers voted on shortly before the meeting.
The principal moved through the long list of superlatives, and Bradford did not feel surprised when the principal congratulated another faculty member, the physical-education teacher, for earning “Most Athletic.” However, Bradford was not expecting what followed: The principal announced that, while she did not win the superlative for “Most Athletic,” Bradford received enough votes to be a close second place.
As someone who weighed 437 pounds only two years prior, Braford never once considered this small victory as remotely attainable.
“A few years ago, I would have never even gotten a vote for that,” she said. “So I thought that was really cool.
Now, after undergoing a procedure known as gastric-sleeve surgery, for which the surgeon removes a portion of the patient’s stomach to reduce their appetite in 2021, Bradford is down almost 200 pounds. On top of that, she is also a certified trainer at Orangetheory Fitness in Hattiesburg, where she leads workout sessions and hopes to battle the assumptions that some often make about people who are overweight.
“Being a big person going into a gym, I know that a lot of times we’re judged,” Bradford said. Even personal trainers have judged me before. They think that we’re lazy just because we’re big but we’re not. I wanted to become a personal trainer to show that (trainers) can be real people, too.”
At the time of her interview on June 6, 2023—only six months after she began to lead classes at Orangetheory—Bradford is close to completing her 80th class.
“I did 10 classes this week,” she said, proudly. “Being able to help people is a victory.”
While becoming a fitness instructor was a pivotal step in Braford’s journey to help others, she has been pursuing this goal in another form for most of her life through her role as an educator. Bradford has worked as a teacher for more than 17 years and boasts a long list of teaching credentials and certifications. She attended the University of Southern Mississippi, where she received her bachelor’s degree in deaf education and then pursued higher education at William Carey University, where she obtained a master’s degree in elementary education and a specialist’s degree in institutional leadership.
She taught deaf education for one year before teaching multiple subjects to grade schoolers for 12 years at Sacred Heart Elementary School. Eventually, she was offered a position at Dixie Attendance Center, where she currently teaches sixth grade. Alongside this, Bradford also serves as an adjunct professor at the University of Southern Mississippi, where she also serves as a teaching consultant for the Mississippi Writing Project.
Her decision to undergo gastric-sleeve surgery came after a lifetime of dealing with what she refers to as her family’s “horrible genes.”
“I’ve been overweight my whole life,” Bradford said. “My grandmother died of a massive heart attack when she was, like, 53, and I was diagnosed diabetic at the end of 2020.”
This diagnosis would compel her to consider the surgery but another condition—a blood-clotting disorder—made the surgery far riskier for Bradford than the average person, so she initially chose to not go through with the procedure. It was only after Bradford was to be put under the knife to remove her gallbladder that she finally decided to go through with the gastric-sleeve surgery.
Bradford had no outstanding complications from the medical procedure, and she began to lose weight. Despite the success of her operation, though, the educator and fitness coach stressed that gastric-sleeve surgery is not the overnight weight-loss solution that some people mistakenly view it as.
“A lot of people who have this surgery gain weight back after, and some even end up heavier than before the surgery,” Bradford said. “I had to meal-prep, watch my carbs and calories, and exercise a lot to see results. I still have 50 pounds to lose, and I’m really having to struggle and push myself.”
Even with Bradford’s continued efforts and the results that she has seen, her weight has often fluctuated in the process.
“I’ve had my share of gaining and losing, gaining and losing, but I’ve always just tried to push through,” Bradford said. “And that’s why I really started hitting this fitness stuff hard. So I could keep myself accountable but also because people are not going to want to be coached by someone who isn’t motivated themself.”
Now, Dixie Attendance Center’s second-most athletic teacher hopes to bring the lessons she has learned along her fitness journey into the classroom. Often, she leads her students in fitness-focused “brain breaks,” where everyone takes a moment from their school work with exercises like Zumba or yoga. These breaks highlight the holistic approach that Bradford brings to both education and fitness, emphasizing that personal wellness is more than just a number on a scale or a grade on a test.
“You need to have a positive outlook,” Bradford advised. “Do what’s comfortable for you, and find something that you really love. Find an exercise that you enjoy, and stick with it.”
Along with this, Bradford aspires to teach others that fitness is not inherently tied to someone’s physical appearance.
“The way you look is not your fitness level,” Bradford said. “I’ve done about 15 5ks, and several of those were when I was 400 pounds. I mean, I walked them, but I completed them. People automatically look at someone and assume what they can do. We shouldn’t judge people on how they look.”
For information on Orangetheory Fitness, where Tiffany Bradford offers her coaching services, visit orangetheory.com.
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