Author, “Come On Beautiful, MOVE!”
story by Kelly Harley photos by Nelson Laporte
After just a few minutes of talking with Nikki Conley, you can’t help but notice how infectious her positive attitude is. You can also pick up on the fact that she is dedicated to living a healthy lifestyle and has a way of motivating you to want to do the same. The physical education and wellness teacher, basketball coach and author has one mission – to inspire others to take action when it comes to taking care of their bodies. She certainly is fulfilling that mission and is leaving an impression on many in the Pooler area and beyond.
A Passion is Born
Nikki’s passion for health and wellness was recognized when she was a young girl. She watched her uncle, who never smoked, die of lung cancer. Several years later, while Nikki was in college, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her mother assured her she would fight and do her best to make sure she was there for her family; however, to Nikki, cancer meant death. In an effort to help her mother beat cancer, not once but twice, Nikki set out to learn as much about health as she could. “Those two events changed the way I viewed health. I read everything I could about cancer and studied the latest research. I knew I wanted to be as healthy as I could and help my family, too,” says Nikki. She also realized that diet could help her mother with her cancer diagnosis. Nikki changed her eating habits and eventually encouraged her mother to as well.
Nikki carried on her quest for learning about health while attending college. She played basketball at Fort Valley State University in Fort Valley, Georgia, and graduated with a degree in health and physical education. It was there that a college professor noticed her desire to learn more about health and wellness and encouraged her to further her education. That encouragement and a drive for knowledge led Nikki to earn a master’s degree in public health from the University of South Carolina in Columbia, South Carolina. After college, the Atlanta, Georgia-native taught physical education in Atlanta public schools for 10 years.
Motivating on the Court
Four years ago, Nikki’s husband’s job brought the family to Pooler and she now serves as West Chatham Middle School’s health and physical education teacher. Throughout the years, she has enriched the lives of thousands of children. “It’s my job to ensure that the kids are getting the proper amount of exercise and teach them the importance of lifelong exercise. I try to instill that in them,” says Nikki. She also serves as the school’s boys basketball coach, where she does more than just teach them how to play basketball. “I train the young men, but I also teach them good sportsmanship, work habits and ethics,” says Nikki. “I make sure the boys keep their grades up. No pass, no play. You are a student first, then you are an athlete.”
Nikki’s ability to inspire and train children extends beyond the walls of West Chatham Middle School. She’s coached basketball at the Pooler Recreation Department and currently coaches, along with her husband, the girls’ basketball teams at the Garden City Recreation Department and the Port Wentworth Recreation Department. “It brings me great joy teaching fundamentals and watching the children develop their skills,” says Nikki. During basketball season, Nikki devotes all of her time to the kids, spending most afternoons and evenings on the court. “It never feels like work, though. It’s something I sincerely enjoy.”
Come on Beautiful, Move!
Despite spending much of her time on the basketball courts and with her students, Nikki is finding time to motivate others. She recently wrote a book, “Come on Beautiful, Move!” in which she challenges women to get rid of the excuses as to why they may not have time to exercise or why they are unwilling to exercise. Nikki says her book will show where to find time to exercise and how to make time for it. The book also addresses topics that are universal to all women and explores issues that prevent us from living healthy lifestyles. “I was inspired to write the book because a lot of responsibilities fall on the woman. Women are usually the ones that cook the dinner, buy the groceries and take care of the household,” says Nikki. “I wanted to provide real solutions to real problems that women face.”
In her book, Nikki also talks about the importance of why the entire family should adopt a healthier lifestyle. She says in her 14 years of teaching, she has come across a lot of kids who are obese or pre-diabetic. After talking with the parents, many of them face the same health concerns as their children. Her book isn’t meant to place blame on anyone, but rather challenge people to look at things from a different perspective. Nikki says nowadays our culture is more accepting of unhealthy behaviors and she wants people to realize that. In a chapter titled, “What’s Wrong with a Thick Chick,” Nikki explains that sometimes we don’t see ourselves as being overweight; however, eventually, we may become obese and face a variety of health issues that come along with obesity.
Her book also includes a chapter written by her children. Her daughter, 10-year-old Nia and her son, 12-year-old Roderick, write about the things their mother has taught them. Nikki says it is an important chapter because what we teach our children about health is imperative to their well-being. “We want our children to model healthy behaviors,” says Nikki. “We are leaving a legacy for them and part of that legacy is what we allow on our plates and how we handle our bodies.”
A Family Approach
Nikki’s family is definitely modeling her healthy behavior. Her husband, Roderick, and her children work out together at the West Chatham YMCA, and both of her children are active in sports. Her son plays basketball for the Pooler Recreation Department and her daughter runs track and plays soccer and basketball. Last year her daughter’s soccer team won the 12-youth championship for the Pooler Recreation Department. “That was a highlight for me. Watching my daughter achieve her goal was a wonderful experience.”
The healthy lifestyle Nikki’s family lives out doesn’t end with exercise; it makes its way into her family’s kitchen. “I believe in preparing homecooked meals. We eat more meals we cook than we do food from restaurants. I believe that it’s fundamentally better for your body and mind. By cooking your own meals, you are intentional about the foods you put in your body.”
Nikki agrees, though, that in life everything must have balance. She admits her weak spot is a Mr. Goodbar or a Kit Kat. “You can still live a healthy life and enjoy the things you like. It’s about moderation,” says Nikki. It’s also about staying motivated. “If you want to get to the next level, you can’t just sit around. You can’t wish it to happen; it takes hard work and prayer to make your dreams come true.”
If you’re interested in reading Nikki Conley’s book, “Come on Beautiful, Move!,” it’s available for purchase on Amazon.