SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C.– Army Sgt. 1st Class Perry Taylor suffered serious back injuries when his convoy struck a roadside bomb in Iraq. Last year, the Campbell, Ala., native lost his mother to diabetes, due in large part, he said, to poor eating habits.
Taylor, 45, chose physical training over surgery to recover from his injury, and he vowed to maintain a strict diet to improve his overall health. Now, Taylor has turned his dedication into a passion for helping others.
"When I see a person who is overweight and struggling, if asked, I will go above and beyond the call of duty to help them, because I see my mom in them,” he said. “I don't ever want anyone to go through that pain, if I can help it.”
According to the Gallup research firm, the U.S. adult obesity rate increased in 2013 to 27.2 percent, up from 26.2 percent in 2012, and is on pace to surpass all annual average obesity rates since the company began keeping statistics in 2008. In 2013, South Carolina, home of U.S. Army Central, ranked as the seventh-most obese state in the United States.
With an ever-growing population suffering from obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, excessive weight gain and heart disease, the need to be healthier has never been greater. Soldiers are required to maintain a certain level of physical fitness, but when Monday-through-Friday physical training alone is not enough, they can look for a different approach to meet or exceed the Army standard. Working with a personal trainer like Taylor is one of the most popular approaches.
Maj. David Riley, U.S. Army Central’s personnel plans officer, has attended Taylor’s lunchtime workout session for a month.
“I have noticed a significant change in my body tone, as well as my overall health,” Riley said. “I feel that allowing Sergeant 1st Class Taylor the chance to change my life has been very effective and motivating.”
Taylor -- a 24-year infantryman, newlywed, father and combat veteran -- has trained more than 200 soldiers and has written fitness plans to assist many in meeting or exceeding Army standards. His motto, he said, is "Let me change your life."
Taylor added that his own life changed during two deployments.
While deployed in 2001 during the initial invasion of Iraq, Taylor said, he and other soldiers were hit with a depleted uranium shell while they were attempting to seize Baghdad International Airport. “I was nearly paralyzed on my left side for a period of time, requiring steroid shots and physical therapy,” he said.
During another deployment to Iraq in 2007, he suffered his back injury.
“I was informed by doctors that my back had a 25 percent chance of healing on its own without surgery,” Taylor said. “I chose not to have the surgery and immediately put more effort into living healthy and being physically fit."
While visiting with injured soldiers at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Taylor said, he has seen many of them overcoming incredible odds and injuries.
“My point here is no matter how far gone you think you may be, there is always hope and a healthy solution if you are determined,” he said. “I tell everyone not to let an injury hold them back. There is almost always a way.”
Taylor not only became a personal trainer, but also is certified in a variety of fitness regimens. He said he always is available for a soldier who needs a helping hand in becoming healthier. Army Staff Sgt. Alicia Lance, who recently gave birth, is a recent first-time attendee of Taylor’s lunchtime training session.
“I joined the class not only to get back in shape, but for my overall physical health. I’m happy I decided to join and feel assured I will get just what I came here for,” she said.
“I love helping people and having the ability to help them change their lives,” Taylor said. “Being able to see the increase in their self-confidence and overall health makes me incredibly happy."