Thousands of area residents attended NBC4’s Health & Fitness Expo from Jan. 9-10 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. (Photo by Shantella Y. Sherman)

Tens of thousands of D.C. metropolitan area residents converged on the Walter E. Washington Convention Center Jan. 9-10 for a health expo that offered necessary tools to better physical, mental, and emotional well-being. The 23rd Annual NBC4 Health & Fitness Expo helped kick-start a healthy new year for attendees through health screenings and healthy food preparation demonstrations to Pilates classes and informational booths for a myriad of health conditions. NBC4 is a NBC owned and operated television station in the District.

Among the highlights of this year’s expo were both senior citizen and young adult exercise challenges and a book signing station to support local health-related works.  Kenny Lyles, a recovering substance user and father of three attended the event with his children, making it a point to visit local author Rhonda L. Johnson’s talk on overcoming addiction.

“They are all young adults now and understand how drugs can take an otherwise healthy person and destroy them from the inside out,” Lyles said.  “It was important for them to understand that it was not just that their dad was wrecked by drug use, but also that it is the nature of drugs to damage or destroy all people who use them – even beautiful women like Johnson are impacted.”

Donovan Heller and hundreds of others took to the Pilates mats at the 23rd Annual NBC4 Health & Fitness Expo. (Photo by Shantella Y. Sherman)

Johnson, a certified peer specialist from the D.C. Department of Behavioral Health’s Office of Consumer and Family Affairs, read from her book “Memoirs of An Addict: Fact or Fiction.”

“It is easy for society to look down on the person suffering with drugs and alcohol but what about the closet addict that lives every day with an addiction and the world does not see or want to believe they have a problem?,” Johnson asked attendees.  “I had to learn to examine myself and learn what the root cause of my addictive, mental, and suicidal behavior was. Once I became a consumer of mental health and received the correct treatment for my undiagnosed mental illness and drug addiction my life began to change.”

Johnson said that was the beginning of her road to recovery – something she said few people facing addiction have an opportunity to do under harsh public scrutiny.

Other participants of the expo included Donovan Heller and his sisters, Hasiya and Ateya, who spent two days alternating between picking up health literature for their mother, and taking part in all of the athletic challenges offered.  Heller’s mother, diagnosed according to him as obese and suffering from hypertension, began having problems with her knees several months ago.

“I thought Pilates might be good for my mother since she has to lose weight but cannot stand the impact on her knees, but it seemed like a kind of White girlie thing to do,” Heller said.  “There was a big guy in front of me in line and I thought if he could do it comfortably, so could my mother.”  Heller said he and his sisters will take the literature and techniques they learned at the expo home to help improve theirs and their mother’s overall health.