In each issue of HemAware, we “Take 5” with people in the bleeding disorders community and spotlight their efforts with just five questions. Here, we talk to Shaka Smith, a lawyer, actor and fitness model/competitor with severe hemophilia A. He lives in Los Angeles.
When did you first become interested in fitness?
I started swimming at the age of 5 and swimming competitively by the age of 9, so being quick in the water was always important. But it wasn’t until college that I started using the gym. After college, I got serious about it.
What is involved in bodybuilding at a competitive level?
I compete in National Physique Committee (NPC) competitions in the Men’s Physique division. My ultimate goal is to become a professional in the International Federation of Body Building and Fitness (IFBB) by winning one of the national shows. But from competition to competition, my goal has always been to bring to the stage the best healthy representation of a fit physique that I can. After that, it is up to the judges.
I have learned so much about fitness and, more importantly, about nutrition. This knowledge won’t just help me bring my best physique to the stage, but it will also result in a longer, happier and healthier life. Because of that, I am extremely grateful to be a competitor.
How do you manage your bleeding disorder while training for these competitions?
What I do in fitness has helped me manage my hemophilia better. The more active I am, the fewer bleeds I get. I incorporate a lot of anti-inflammatory foods into my diet, including turmeric, chili peppers and ginger.
As a lifelong athlete, I always feared telling people about my bleeding disorder because it would be seen as an excuse or a cause for sympathy. That said, I have seen how being more open about my hemophilia has helped others with and without hemophilia. And hearing similar stories about others who have faced adversity has helped me, too.
You have a law degree, but you are pursuing a career as an actor and a fitness model. Are you happy with this decision?
I have always loved the law, and I’ve always loved acting. I believe you should pursue what you love. But I don’t believe I made a choice, so much as I think that this is the path that life has led me down. The knowledge I gained from law school has been invaluable. Living in Los Angeles and pursuing a lifelong acting dream, and making a living pursuing a passion in fitness, has also been an absolute blessing. I couldn’t be happier.
What is essential for young people with bleeding disorders to know about fitness and healthy living?
I think it is important to know that being physically fit and healthy, and having a bleeding disorder aren’t mutually exclusive. Focusing on fitness will improve your quality of life. Beyond that, I encourage young people to do their own research and challenge themselves responsibly. For a long time, weightlifting was discouraged for people with bleeding disorders, and there was a sense that being sedentary was simply the safest route to go. Had I not responsibly challenged some of what I was told growing up, I wouldn’t be at the fitness level I am today. I would have missed out on some incredible experiences. Ultimately, my advice is to be fearless.
Do you know an interesting individual we should profile in a future issue of HemAware? E-mail Managing Editor January W. Payne.