• Parker Bright

“Chicagoans” is a first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford.

“Fitness has always been part of my life. I grew up in a family that was very athletically focused and somewhat competitive with each other, and my competitive nature drove me toward being fit. I just wanted to be faster than my brothers or to score more goals than the other team, and the only way to do that was to be stronger and faster and tougher than them.

“My dad used to have us come into his room in the mornings or late evenings and we’d do calisthenics with him, like 20 jumping jacks or push-ups. It seemed like brushing your teeth: ‘Cool, that’s a thing, and push-ups, cool, that’s a thing.’ When I was younger, I would wake up, and literally the first thing I would do after my eyes opened was one minute of crunches and then one minute of push-ups, and the same thing when I went to bed. Now if I do ten or more push-ups in the morning and ten or more push-ups at night, I’m good. It’s like flossing—once you get in the habit of it, you don’t give it a second thought.

“I have three brothers, and we’re all very close in age. The youngest of us is only four years younger than the oldest, and I have a twin brother, so we were all able to play with each other; no one was too big or too small. We come from the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo], where soccer is big, so from a young age, our parents had us playing backyard soccer and then neighborhood soccer. It wasn’t relaxed, like, ‘We’re just gonna go play some soccer.’ We were playing matches and keeping score, and we would practice, even for backyard matches.

“One of the things we used to do a lot was build obstacle courses in our backyards and time each other through them. You remember American Gladiators? We were like, ‘OK, cool, we’re gonna be on that show, so let’s make sure that we’re really strong.’ That was a very real goal for me. I really, really wanted to be on that show.

“We’d build this intricate obstacle course and try to break our own records. The course would start with a sprint across the backyard, then some hula hoops, and then you had to crawl through some jump ropes kind of strung along a wall, and then you’d sprint back and do ten push-ups or ten sit-ups. It was so awesome. I think the last obstacle course I built was, like, two years ago.

“I get from push-ups what some people get from running. If someone told me to go run three miles, I’d be like, ‘What? Doughnuts.’ But if someone told me to do 50 push-ups, I’d be like, ‘OK.’ I’m not crazy; it’s not superfun to do push-ups. It’s not like eating ice cream. I understand that. But being able to do a lot of them is superfun. It’s not a vanity thing. I just really like it.

“Until my early 20s, I still looked like a young child—pigtails and everything—and I liked being this little tough girl who could knock out, like, 40 push-ups. And they’re just a good marker of physical fitness. My pet peeve is bad push-up form. That makes me hurt inside. I want to be a push-up ambassador.”