Nobert Bayelle was only 8 years old when his family had to flee their home country of Cameroon.
“From what I have been told, they were burning teachers alive,” said Bayelle, 23. “My father was a teacher.”
The family would come to the United States, settling in Taneytown.
“It was the first time I saw snow,” Bayelle said. The little boy, who was already quiet and pensive, would now face the obstacles of being in a completely new and different culture. “I had an accent for about six months. I was wearing traditional African clothing at first. The cultural change was crazy.”
And sometimes the simplest of gestures could be misinterpreted. “In school I put my hand up naturally and it was my middle finger,” he recalls. “Everyone was laughing. I got scolded for it by the teachers.”
Bayelle adjusted to his new life, however. And he found self-confidence and a sense of community in sports, such as soccer, track and field and even wrestling his senior year — so much so that those experiences would eventually inspire him to become a personal trainer and health coach.
“If it wasn’t for that foundation, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” he said. And now the little boy from Cameroon is a grown man sharing his message of a more fit and healthy lifestyle. “I want to change people’s mindsets.”
That includes those in his own community.
Through the summer and into the fall, Bayelle, who is a certified personal trainer, is offering weekly free outdoor group fitness training sessions, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the tennis courts at Taneytown’s Memorial Park. The sessions, which Bayelle first introduced last summer, have been so well received by the community that Bayelle was the recipient of the 2019 Karen Feroli Community Champion Award from the Partnership for a Healthier Carroll County. The annual award is given to organizations or individuals who make significant contributions to improving the health and quality of life in the community.
And the workout sessions are truly a community event. Those participating include children, teens, adults and senior citizens. Some are very fit, others not so much. But all are welcome. Bayelle adjusts the program accordingly, addressing individual needs and abilities. The sessions include stretching, warmup activities that encourage people to work together and get to know one another, and workstations using medicine balls, dumbbells, battle ropes, agility ladders and cone drills, among other activities.
All the while Bayelle is there offering encouragement and guidance.
“I wasn’t sure I could do it,” Pat Long of Taneytown said of her first session. “But I did. And, I’m turning 68 next month.”
And that’s the point, Bayelle said. “One of the best feelings for me,” he said, “is when you see people at the end who gave more than they expected and feel good and proud of themselves.”
Olga Smith of Taneytown came out to the program with her teenage son last summer, and both returned this summer.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect,” she said of that first visit last summer. “But at the end of it I was thinking this is fantastic. I was excited. Every chance we could we went.”
She was so impressed with Bayelle and the event that she, along with one of his middle school teachers, Gayle Sands, nominated him for the Feroli Award.
“I am amazed that someone this young sees the value of contributing to his community,” Smith said.
Sands said she is not surprised by the success of the program or the young man running it. “You just knew he was going to do well,” she said of her former student. “He was hard working. He had ambition.”
That ambition includes establishing his own business, Be Fit 4 Life. He not only offers at-home personal training, but also has an app and offers global online health and fitness services reaching people as far away as India.
Paul and Kate Speelman of Taneytown are clients of his. They met him through the free fitness sessions last year. “We had been talking about getting in shape, being more active and maybe getting a personal trainer,” Kate said.
So they decided to check out the fitness training sessions Bayelle was offering.
“It was free and just down the street from our house, so I thought, why not?” she said. “The whole time I was expecting there to be a catch. But there wasn’t. He just genuinely wants to help people get more active.”
The couple decided to hire Bayelle as a personal trainer. Since hiring Bayelle, who provides workouts for the couple as well as nutritional guidance, Paul has lost over 40 pounds and Kate 16. They have gotten healthier and stronger, Kate said. “He clearly knows what he is talking about,” she said. “He is someone you want to work with.”
But it took some soul searching before Bayelle found his path, he said. After receiving an academic scholarship to attend Mount St. Mary’s University, where he was also a member of the rugby club that won a national championship his senior year, Bayelle planned to become a doctor.
“I was doing well in school, but I still felt lost,” said Bayelle, who would graduate with a degree in biology.
Bayelle began to re-evaluate his options and felt that he had a strong inclination toward fitness and health. “People were always coming to me for workouts and information on nutrition,” he said. “I realized my gifts and talents in fitness and my passion for science could help change people’s lives.”
And after a difficult conversation with his parents he made the decision to become a personal trainer and not a doctor. “It was hard for my parents, but they are very supportive now,” he said.
But before he became a personal trainer, Bayelle, who also works as a certified nursing assistant, decided to try his hand at body building.
“I knew that in order for people to take me seriously, work with me or be inspired by me, I had to commit to something that embodied that lifestyle,” he said.
Bayelle competed — and won. He placed first in two categories during the 2017 National Physique Committee Natural Maryland Championships and qualified for nationals. However, he chose not to compete further — he wanted to focus on his new business. And as he did so, he decided to put together a free event for his community. Bayelle went door to door in Taneytown inviting residents out for his outdoor group fitness training sessions.
He admits to being nervous that first night. “Is anyone coming?” he remembers thinking — but they did. And they came again this summer.
“He’s trying to encourage others to live a healthier lifestyle,” Smith said. “He is spreading the word that a healthier you is better for you and better for the community.”
And people are responding. Bayelle couldn’t be more thrilled. “I was just a kid in Africa,” he said. “To end up here now is just insane.”
“This is what is in my heart. This is my truth.”