Heart of a Fighter
Lifelong athlete and trainer uses his own heart scare to inspire
others to get healthy
All his life, city native Joe Walker Jr. has been physically active.
“He’s always been a health freak. We call him a health nut,” said his mother, Mattie Walker. “Always, from a little boy, he’s been interested in health.”
From Pop Warner football and high school and college athletics, Walker, 48, transitioned to weightlifting and exercise training, which he has done nearly every day for more than two decades, along with eating a healthy diet and abstaining from drugs and alcohol.
“I had a lot of friends that ended up playing professional sports, and we all worked out together,” explained Walker, a certified personal trainer and Pilates instructor. “It’s something I enjoyed and I did well.”
Despite his rigorous routine, Walker says he could not overcome genetics.
“I looked very healthy, but I was probably one of the sickest people on the planet,” said the Forsyth County probation officer, who suffered a heart attack just over a year ago. “…My situation was just genetics. They (doctors) told me it wasn’t anything else physically that I could’ve done to prevent it.”
Heart disease is rampant in Walker’s family. His father, the late Rev. Dr. J.T.
Walker Sr., the pastor emeritus of Jones Chapel Missionary Baptist Church in Reidsville, underwent a triple bypass in the 1980s.
“He always told me the men in our family, they died in their 40s and 50s,” Walker said. “He always told me that … and it kept me kind of focused.”
In November 2012, Walker was with a client at Showtime Physique, where he works part-time as a personal trainer, when he began to feel weak and nauseated.
“It just kept coming and going,” he said of his symptoms. “I thought I had the flu or something.”
His wife, Sibyl Walker, convinced him to go to the emergency room, where he learned that he had been having a heart attack for close to two days. His father had succumbed to heart disease just four months earlier.
“I was in a state of shock at the time when Joe had his heart attack, because my husband had just died,” said Mattie Walker, who was married to Dr. Walker for 59 years. “…The doctors didn’t give us much hope at that time, but I never felt like he was going to die.”
Despite the family history, news of Walker’s diagnosis came as a shock to the entire family, his mother said.
“For him to be the one to have a heart attack, I wouldn’t have guessed it in a thousand years,” declared the retired Joyce Brothers Company employee. “We were just shocked.”
Even the medical team that treated him was surprised by the severity of his condition, Walker said.
“Everyone joked about me being in shape and being a personal trainer and what was I going to tell my clients?” he related. “…Then the room got quiet. They quit joking and got really serious and the doctor just told me, ‘You know, you really shouldn’t be alive – we can’t believe what we’re looking at.’”
Walker underwent open heart surgery to address the massive blockage that was discovered in the arteries leading to his heart and began the long, arduous road to recovery. Walker’s friend Maurice Crocker, a fellow personal trainer and owner of Showtime Physique, was one of the first people that Walker told about his harrowing experience. Crocker can relate to Walker’s struggle. He is also a heart attack survivor. During a powerlifting competition nearly a decade ago, Crocker experienced a sharp pain across his chest and back, but he never imagined he might be having a heart attack.
“I was under the impression if you have a heart attack, it’s in your arm, you grab your chest, but there’s so many different symptoms – for men and women,” said Crocker, who was 33 at the time. “(The pain) could be in your jaw. It could be in your back.”
Crocker’s unlikely experience has helped him recognize danger when it surfaces. Since his own heart attack in 2004, Crocker has recognized the symptoms of cardiac arrest in two of his clients, both of whom sought medical attention at his urging.
Walker says he is fortunate to have lived to tell his story. His doctors told him he wouldn’t have survived if his body weren’t in such peak condition at the time of his attack. These days, he doesn’t waste an opportunity to share what he’s learned, using his own story as an example of the perils life can bring – even when you do everything right – and the rewards that exist for those who make it to the other side.
“I tell people it was the exercise (that saved me) but it was the Lord,” he said. “Spiritually, I know exactly why I’m here, and I don’t take that lightly. It’s a blessing. I’m that miracle that people always want to hear about. I’m a walking miracle.”
Contact Walker via Showtime Physique, 915 Brookstown Ave., www.showtimephysique.com or 336-761-3908.