Daisy Brown would get off work and, despite an already long day, would start exercising.
But it wasn't until later on — and with enthusiastic encouragement from her daughter — that Brown turned her personal fitness routine into a career helping others.
It's a career that has helped many in Austin over the last decade or so since becoming a certified fitness instructor. Brown calls her program "Body and Soul," with classes taking place at Austin Town Hall, 5610 W. Lake Street. It's a program designed to whip people into shape and tone the body.
Brown, 66, was surprised by her students and town hall staff on Aug. 13, with an appreciation party for her. She has more than 100 students from 30-70 years old in programs including aqua aerobics, line dancing and Zumba, a fitness routine utilizing Latin moves and music.
But before Brown started shaping up Austin, she first needed to start with herself.
"I would come in and exercise after work from 7:30 to 8:30," Brown, who recently spoke with Austin Weekly News, recalled. "[My daughter] would be like, 'You making all that noise downstairs.'"
In two months, Brown lost 50 pounds. Her daughter would encourage her to pursue a fitness career.
"She was like, 'Come on mom, we gotta program…' Then I thought about my parents and how they wouldn't have died at an early age," Brown said. "My daughter would be like, 'Momma, you gotta do this for other people;' I was like I gotta get me first."
Brown was certified in 1996 at UIC and began her career as an instructor three years later at Austin Town Hall. After three years there, she left to teach at the Austin YMCA for four years and then to LaFollette Park in 2005. She returned to the town hall in 2008.
Brown was born in Drew Miss. but raised in Cleveland Miss. before moving to Chicago in 1968. She relocated here to be closer to her brother and sister who previously moved to Chicago. Before her career in fitness, she spent 20 years working as a doctor's assistant at a medical center on the Near West Side. A mother of four — a set of twins actually — Brown said it's her children who continue to inspire her.
Her appreciation party was hosted by BlogTalk radio personality Lana Cowans, who's lost 15 pounds since joining Brown's program. The appreciation, according to Cowans, was long overdue.
"What makes this lady so special is her caring attitude and the time and effort she puts into helping each of us reach our goals." Cowans said.
In a poem dedicated to her instructor, Cowans thanked Brown for the support and the generosity she's provided over the years to students, as well as staff.
"Ms Daisy, you are an amazing person who shows so much love to all us ladies," Cowans wrote. "We have so much fun while we are exercising. There will never be another Ms Daisy so stay as sweet as you are."
Brown instructs and designs nutrition programs for her students, but also treats them to trips, including this year's senior's festival in Millennium Park, and the Chicago Sky basketball game. More events are planned for the near future. The program's goal, Brown said, is to get people to feel a certain way and look a certain way.
Retired nurse and student Renee Branch, who's been training with the program, insists she's seen improvement.
"I couldn't bend, walk up the stairs, and I have a cholesterol problem," she said. "I went from 255 (lbs.) to 238 since I joined the program."
For some of her students, Brown said the most difficult thing is getting them to relax their body and pay attention because they things can distract them. Student Claressa Jennings, 50, said she likes how patient Brown is with everyone.
"She didn't push or demand anything; all she asks is to do the exercise as instructed," Jennings said. "I got good results. I learned how to exercise in a timely manner, and she explains what mistakes aren't working. It's a big sisterhood and she always provides words of encouragement."