Think Richard Simmons or Susan Powter. Imagine Oprah Winfrey, or maybe Florence Griffith Joyner.
Then you can begin to understand health guru Wenda Royster.
For the past several years, her exercise studio, her stage, her stadium have been anywhere she finds an audience willing to listen to her sermons on fitness.
Family tragedies -- the premature deaths of her brother and sister from acquired immune deficiency syndrome and breast cancer -- prompted her mission to promote fitness and health, especially among fellow African-Americans, who suffer disproportionately from such diseases as cancer, hypertension and diabetes.
The Northeast Baltimore resident makes a living as a motivational speaker, broadcaster and personal trainer, but spends a lot of time talking to groups for free, especially young people.
"Anytime I'm given a forum to talk to young people or a church group, I'm there, because that's my way of giving back," Royster said.
On Oct. 20, Royster took her road show to Western High School, where she quizzed about 50 teen-age girls on such matters as the number of muscles in the human body and the amount of fat in certain foods.
She started her presentation by jumping rope briskly for about five minutes, and when she stopped, she wasn't out of breath.
That demonstration seemed to help her young audience absorb the rest of the message: You have a better chance of being healthy and a size 6 all your life if you develop the habit of exercising and making wise food choices -- even at McDonald's.
Royster then passed around plastic bags of artery-clogging animal fat to show the teens what they should avoid.
It was a lively 45 minutes, with Royster peppering the teens with questions such as: "You're at a buffet. Which is lowest in fat: a handful of dry-roasted peanuts, cubes of Swiss cheese, deviled eggs, Swedish meatballs or green olives?"
She said meatballs were the best choice for the fat-conscious.
Years before Royster took up the fitness mantle, she was a local fashion model and entrepreneur. In 1985, she set up one of the first salons here exclusively for fingernails on York Road, later moving to Falls Road in Mount Washington.
She expanded on her artistic fingernail decorations by creating hand-painted clothing known as Wenda Wear, which was carried by Nordstrom and Hyatt & Co. Her husband, Ken, an artist, teaches at Morgan State University.
She started the clothing line in 1991 out of an entrepreneurial spirit and to raise funds for AIDS research because she had lost many friends in the fashion industry to the disease.
Now, she's best known as a fitness promoter and broadcaster and is co-host of Channel 45's "Say, Baltimore," a community affairs show that airs at 1 a.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m. Sundays. She also does a weekly fashion segment for Channel 13 news.
Some of the Western students knew Royster from her talk show at 7 a.m. Saturdays on WOLB-AM radio. It's a dead time slot, but there's Wenda, bubbly and vivacious, asking her sleepy audience such questions as "Have you exercised your 600 muscles today?"
That enthusiasm for spreading the word about fitness has resulted in her nomination to the governor's commission on physical fitness. Gov. Parris N. Glendening is expected to name new appointees to the panel this year, a spokesman said.
On weekday mornings, the certified personal trainer is on the road by 5 a.m., rousing private clients for early workouts.
Probably her best-known client is Cathy Hughes, owner of the Radio One empire, which includes WOLB. Under Royster's tutelage, Hughes went from a size 12 to a 4 in a year, meeting her goal in March in time for her 50th birthday.
"Going around with her, I've met people who she helped years ago, who come up to her and thank her for helping them," said Hughes.
One of the few mysteries about Royster is her age.
Dressed in a Spandex leotard that shows off her long, lean legs and trim figure, Royster looks to be in her 30s. But she notes that her daughter, Christina, a Hollywood writer, is 26.
"With a 26-year-old daughter, I can't be that young," she said with a wink.
Pub Date: 10/27/97