Aaron Perry has always been an athlete, attending Marycrest International University on a basketball scholarship. He went on to become a police officer with the UWPD. At 29, he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and at 43 became the first insulin-dependent African American man to complete an Ironman Triathlon. Now 12 years later, he has dedicated himself to the health of African American men as the founder and CEO of Relabanced-Life Wellness Association, which recently announced it will offer health education resources inside JP Hair Designs, the first such partnership in the country. Perry is also president of the local Black Chamber of Commerce, a host of the 8 O’Clock Buzz on WORT, and a member of the Dane County Gang Intervention Task Force.
Rank your Top 5 MCs.
- 50 Cent
- Lil Wayne
Which motivates you more: doubters or supporters?
I have reached some very significant accomplishments in my life due to doubters. In 2004, I was not in good health as a result of poor diabetes control.During a doctor’s visit, I was called out for not following the recommendations of my medical team that included my physician, diabetes educator, and nutritionist. I recalled telling my doctor that over the next year I would take my diabetes care more seriously. During this particular doctor visit, I also shared my plan to participate in Ironman Wisconsin because it was scheduled for September 11, 2005, and as a former police officer, I wanted to show my respects by doing something awesome. After sharing with my doctor and others from my medical team my desire to take on the world’s most challenging endurance event, I was told, “Wait a minute, we want you to exercise, but you can’t do the Ironman because that’s for serious athletes.” I guess being a 42-year-old African American diabetic with poor control of his diabetes, my desire and goal was viewed from a different lens with very limited expectations. Approximately 362 days after I was told this was not a realistic goal, I crossed the finish line of Ironman Wisconsin. I became the world’s “only” African American insulin-dependent diabetic to finish the Ironman Triathlon, which consisted of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, and 26.2-mile run. It was a great day,
What does it mean to be black in Madison?
Over the past year my family has traced our roots back hundreds of years, and during this process we’ve uncovered documents and photos of many relatives living as slaves. We also have documents and photos of the faces of the slave owners and their children. My response to what it means to be Black in Madison is simple, “This is our city, our state and our country too.” This space belongs to us just as much as any person or group staking claim. If folks refuse to welcome us, then we welcome ourselves.
What three leaders in Madison under 50 have impressed you the most?
- Jeff Patterson, Owner of JP Hair Design is someone that I’m impressed with. He’s a man of strong integrity with a brilliant business mind. Approximately 5 months ago, I met with JP and proposed opening the nation’s first Men’s Health & Education Center inside a barbershop. JP saw the vision and we worked together to make this concept a become a reality.
- Will Green is another person under 50 that I’m impressed with. He’s a family-first man, that brings new energy and ideas that can move this City of Madison forward, but unfortunately is often overlooked by the Madison elite.
- Brandon Williams (former NFL wide receiver) rounds out my top three of leaders in Madison under 50 that have impressed me. Brandon is also a man of strong integrity and a quiet giant who gets results through hard work and being a master of his trades. Each of these three gentlemen should be offered a seat and given a microphone at the table with our politicians when discussing moving the city of Madison and the state of Wisconsin forward.
What’s the biggest stumbling block in Madison to turning the corner on our racial disparities?
Too much talk with wasted funding and very little success. We also need jobs, jobs, jobs with a living wage, and educational opportunities for everyone willing and interested in rebooting their current position in life.
What are your top three priorities at this point in your life?
- To continue providing for my family which enables them to dream as big as they want, go wherever they want, and do whatever they want.
- To build the partnership with my new Men’s Health & Education Center and JP Hair Design Barbershop, and brand this as a national model for reducing health disparities for Men of Color nationwide.
- To complete one more Ironman Triathlon within the next two years, which will translate into improving the management of my chronic health condition of diabetes.
Why did you decide to start the Rebalanced-Life Wellness organization?
I started Rebalanced-Life Wellness Association (RLWA) shortly after completing my first Ironman Triathlon. My vision from the beginning has always been, “To help lead Dane County as the Healthiest State for Black Men to live.” My original focus was targeting the diabetic community and after completing Ironman in 2005, I began receiving emails from diabetics all over the world. Many were newly diagnosed with diabetes and were afraid of the road ahead, while others struggled to manage their condition. The magnitude of emails and personal testimonies received, lead me to narrow my focus to Men of Color to counter the growing negative health disparities. In preparation for leading RLWA, I voluntarily served on the UW Health Diabetic Patient Advisory Committee, and followed that with volunteering on the UW Health Patient & Family Centered Care Committee. This experience helped me brand RLWA as a research based community health outreach organization. Under my leadership, RLWA has successfully coordinated signature health events such as the Soul Stroll, We’re Off to a Good Start Men’s Health Conference, Black Men Run Madison Chapter, and our New Men’s Health & Education Center. Since 2005, we have helped over 700 Men of Color change their lives for the better. RLWA is making a significant difference.
You’re a member and leader within the Black Chamber of Commerce. Name three tips you would give to someone who wanted to start a black owned small business?
As I enter my final months as President of the Madison Black Chamber of Commerce, my tips for anyone seeking to start a Black-owned business are:
- Every business needs a legitimate business plan. This is an area that will require significant time and research into your concept or idea.
- How you market your business will require a marketing plan to identify, who you will market to. In order to have long standing success, you must know your target clientele.
- Locate financing for your business. A majority of entrepreneurs obtain the financing from their own savings, or through loans from family and friends. Know your credit score and make immediate plans to improve in that area if needed.
Where do you train in the winter for triathlons?
I train at the east side Princeton Club four days a week, swimming on Tuesday and Thursday, and strength training Monday and Wednesday. I’m also a frequent runner of hills outdoors. I love love love steep hills that get my heart rate pumping. As the captain of Black Men Run Madison, we run outdoors year-round approximately two days each week, Saturday at 9 a.m. from the Arboretum, and Wednesday at 6 p.m. from Olin Park.
What are your favorite bike trails in Dane County?
I typically train on the Ironman bike course, and occasionally ride socially on the Capital City Trail. I’m a thrill seeker and constantly seeking a physical challenge.
Do you find it challenging as being a black leader and having a mission focused on black people in Dane County to fundraise?
While I cannot speak for others' challenges, I can disclose, that for more than seven years I applied for grants and received seven years of rejection. But that all changed in 2016 when SSM Health saw my vision and awarded my organization a three year grant to continue my work of improving the health of Men of Color.
Aaron Rodgers or Brett Favre?
Brett Favre is my man. I love this dude because he did things his way, and year after year he advocated to keep Donald Driver when the Packers (allegedly) wanted to release him.