By Sami Kader, Youth Motivational Speaker,
Fitness Professional,Author, and creator of Sami’s Circuit
Eight years ago, my wife Megan signed me up as a volunteer motivational speaker at a local afterschool program – without my knowledge.
“No!” I said when I heard the news. “I’m not ready!”
I had been helping people at the gym as a trainer for the past 10 years, but speaking in front of large audiences was my biggest fear. Megan had listened to me constantly express my “someday” dream of getting into schools, sharing my story with kids, helping them build stronger self-esteem, making exercise fun, and giving them the positive words that I know I needed to hear when I was growing up. As patient as my wife is, I think she was fed up with hearing me talk about it and felt that it was finally time for me to take action.
Little did I know, that would be the beginning of my career as a youth motivational speaker, and the starting point for Sami’s Circuit. I started with just a few schools, volunteering my time, and today I make multiple visits to more than 100 schools all over California, and I get the opportunity to motivate more than 40,000 kids each year.
It is a dream come true, and it all started right here in Roseville. Every day, I am grateful for the life that I lead – but it wasn’t always that way.
I was, to put it as nicely as possible, an awkward child. Because of family stresses at home, I turned to eating as my source of comfort at a young age. At each meal, I wolfed down as much as my stomach could hold. At night, I would often sneak back into the kitchen, as one meal was never enough. Often, the lights would snap on and my father would be standing in the doorway with an angry look on his face.
“Sami, what are you doing? You had enough food at dinner! The kitchen is closed!” he would sternly order. This reaction quickly taught me that my eating was a source of shame – and what do kids do when they feel ashamed? They learn to hide things. I did not want to disappoint my father, so I made sure he was not around during my binge-eating sessions. And they got worse.
My weight began to climb. I avoided looking in the mirror, so I generally had an unkempt look about me. My hair was usually messy, and my clothes were stretched out and worn. Eventually, other children began to take notice. The teasing and name calling began around age 8 and it became a normal thing to hear, “Ewwww! Get away from me!” when kids saw me approaching them on the playground.
The true torment and bullying began in junior high school. I couldn’t walk down the hallways without being pointed and laughed at or called a fat loser. Public humiliation was just became a normal part of my day. By the time I was 15 years old, I weighed over 300 pounds, but I felt worse about myself than any number on a scale could make me feel. The more depressed I became, the less I got off my couch. I would just sit and watch TV, eating junk food and drinking up to six sodas a day. I gave up on myself completely. I decided that my entire existence must have just been a mistake.
Looking back, the worst part of my story was NOT the kids calling me names, it was that I believed it all to be true. For elementary school students (who hear a much more friendly, simplified version of my story), I help them understand this concept by introducing, “The Negative Voice.” The Negative Voice tries to interrupt my time with the kids by telling me to give up and that the kids don’t care about anything I have to say, until the kids help me get rid of the Negative Voice through using positive words with ourselves and those around us.
This concept became so popular and powerful with kids, I sat down with my friend Laura Schwab and we wrote a children’s book together called, Sami vs. The Negative Voice. In the book, a family friend comes along during one of my lowest moments and teaches me how to stop the Negative Voice monster by using positive words. Although a green monster never actually appeared in my home, the family friend part is true and is the large reason my life turned around.
In my sophomore year of high school, a family friend, named Ronny, came into my life and literally pulled me off the couch. I fought him with everything I had… but he eventually won. He started taking me with him to the gym every day. At first, I would just stand around and only do something when he forced me to, but every day I started doing a little more.
Over time, he taught me how to exercise, how to eat healthier, and to drink water instead of soda; all the standard things you can find in any book about being healthy. But the best thing Ronny did for me was tell me the words I desperately needed to hear:
“Sami, you can do this, you got this!”
“Sami, never give up!”
“Sami, I believe in you!”
He repeated these words over and over and over again during the time we exercised together. This constant repetition caused something amazing to happen. I actually began to believe what he was saying. After a year of exercising and being motivated by him, I lost 100 pounds. Looking back, it was not the number on the scale that truly meant something to me. It was this incredible feeling that I had never felt before: Accomplishment.
That is what inspired me to create Sami’s Circuit. I knew I did not want to go into schools and tell kids my story and simply leave. I knew my message needed to be reinforced through multiple visits and approaches. When the kids walk into their school gym or multi-purpose room and see it lit up with club lights and hear the music mix pumping, their attitudes and energy shoot through the roof. I constantly have parents messaging me to tell me how excited their child gets for school when they know Sami’s Circuit day is coming up.
The first year I started Sami’s Circuit, a kindergartener came up to me after the Circuit and said, “Sami, that was the best day of my life!” It is amazing feedback like this that keeps me moving forward on my mission day after day. Making movement fun at a young age is a powerful thing, and in today’s world, it is definitely needed.
At a school’s Family Night, parents, grandparents, siblings, and even school staff take part in the Circuit, side-by-side with the kids, giving high-fives and cheering each other along with those positive words I learned so many years ago:
“You got this!” “
“Never give up!”
“I believe in you!”
Watching families moving together, laughing, and encouraging each other is amazing. You can see the family bonds strengthening and those positive words becoming a part of the kids’ mindset.
Lately, I have had more parents talking to me after Family Night, asking me how they can continue my message at home, with everyone’s crazy schedules and free time seeming to be impossible to find. As a father of three young children, working sometimes 16 hours a day, often 6 days a week, I understand the challenge. So in the hopes that this will help families everywhere, I have put together my top 7 tips for families to lead happier, healthier lives.
Sami Kader’s Top 7 Tips for Healthy, Happy Families
1) Take care of yourself…Be the example you want to be for your kids.
We cannot give our children gifts we do not have. Giving our kids a love for health early on is truly a gift, but we have to have that for ourselves first before we can give it to them. I cannot tell you how many times kids have come up to me in the last seven years to excitedly tell me, “Sami!!! My parents exercise all the time!” It makes them happy and proud, and they want to follow in their footsteps.
2) It’s not about weight, it’s about being healthy.
Developing an emphasis on a number on a scale can be unhealthy for us, and even worse for our children. Focusing on being healthy overall is a much more positive way to approach food choices and movement.
3) Get off the couch!
I tell kids this every day, but they watch us as parents and copy every move we make…so get off the couch!
4) Exercise as a family – if you’re moving, you’re doing it right.
Anything you do as a family, your kids will grow up loving. Whether it’s a family outing to the movies, going to a restaurant, or even exercising, if your children are experiencing it with you, they will become habits now and cherished memories when they are older. Your kids will not forget the family walks, trips to the park, or sports you play with them, or maybe even a Sami’s Circuit event!
5) Use positive words like, “You got this,” “Never give up,” and “I believe in you!” on a daily basis.
These positive words should become your household mantra. They are part of building a strong foundation for your children’s self-esteem. If we hear and say these words on a regular basis, they will become ingrained into our and our children’s mindsets.
6) Do not use shame or get angry at your children about food.
Whether it is catching them eating after hours, sneaking into the snack cupboard, or just seeing them continue to make unhealthy food choices time and time again, guilt and shame is not the answer. Drawing on my own personal experience, I can tell you that this can cause painful life-long memories. Instead, calmly intervene and then lead them in the right direction. Food is a very sensitive subject for many adults, and it can often be traced back to how food choices were handled at a young age.
7) Nothing is worth more than your TIME.
The time spent with our children has value greater than any monetary number. With all of the stresses that come along with keeping a household going, it is easy to lose perspective and give our kids everything else but the little free time we have. Emotionally, our time is gold for our children.
Right now, today, you are a superhero in the eyes of your children, even if you have trouble believing that or seeing it in yourself. Nobody has it all together, no matter how impressive a family may appear from the outside. Incorporating these tips into your daily life won’t change things overnight, but keep at it, and in time you will see the changes in your family dynamic overall. Never give up on being a healthy example, even if it does not seem to be having an immediate effect… in time, your efforts will become the basis of their self-esteem and self-worth. And always remember – You got this!
To reach Sami or obtain a copy of his book, visit samikader.com.