Hometown: Jamaica, Queens
Major: Interactive Digital Design
Akeem Lewin took one look at his high school graduation photos, and all he could say was, “Wow.” At nearly 280 pounds, something clicked.
“I was active, but I didn’t eat right,” Lewin said. “As my high school years went on, I got bigger and bigger, and in your head you tell yourself, ‘Oh, I’m not that big.’”
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That day he vowed to do something about it. Freshman year of college would mark the beginning of Lewin’s lifestyle overhaul, a test for his disciplined mind.
Lewin, who grew up in Jamaica, Queens, said that during high school he rarely thought about the way he ate. He was more focused on maintaining a balance between the “right” and “wrong” friends, and simply surviving, he said.
At Campus Magnet High School, formerly known as Andrew Jackson High School, the popular crowd was also the “bad” crowd, involved in gang violence, crime and drugs, Lewin said. His high school is located in the 105 Precinct of New York City, which is bordered by the 113 Precinct to the west. The 113 Precinct has the fifth-highest crime rate in all of New York City and seen 51 shootings this year according to New York City Police Department.
“You want to keep yourself separate. But at the same time, keeping yourself so separate makes you a target,” Lewin said. “So you have to find a way to be there but not too involved. I hung out with the wrong people for a little bit, but after a while I found other friends. They were people who actually wanted to learn and do something with their lives.”
Lewin said there were always fights, and recalls an incident when a freshman was shot in the head and killed two blocks from school. The victim wasn’t involved in the altercation, just in the wrong place at the wrong time, Lewin said, who partially credits the violence to immaturity and a lack of knowledge.
“You’re so young, you haven’t lived your life yet, and you’re walking down the road and it’s gone; it’s just taken away from you,” Lewin said. “That opened my eyes. Put it like this, where I come from made me a better person because it taught me how not to be.”
Lewin said he had to grow up faster, protect himself and see things from a more mature perspective in order to succeed. He didn’t stick around after school ended because that put him at risk. During a typical day in what Lewin described as a somewhat stressful environment, he would skip breakfast, go to school, eat lunch there, grab Chinese food, soda, candy or fried food at a corner store on the way home, watch TV, and then eat what his mom cooked for dinner.
Though Lewin was never teased for his weight, there were other consequences. When he made the football team at 12 years old and 200 pounds, he couldn’t play because he weighed too much for the division. He’s always played basketball, as well, which destroyed his knees because of the pressure they endured. And when Lewin began to work out with a family friend during his junior and senior year of high school, he didn’t see any results and became frustrated. He realized it was due to his diet and large portion sizes, but not until his freshman year at Quinnipiac, he said.
About 17 percent, or 12.5 million children and adolescents ages 2 to 19 are overweight or obese, a figure that’s almost tripled since 1980 according to the Center for Disease Control. Black men are particularly susceptible with overall rates of nearly 45 percent.
Lewin’s roommate freshman year was trying out for the soccer team, which motivated Lewin to get in shape. They went to the grocery store and stocked up on healthy food, and maintained a strict gym schedule. Lewin also did a lot of online research on his own, and said he needed to learn to help himself before asking for help.
Today Lewin’s diet consists of yogurt or a croissant with orange juice in the morning, a salad with two pieces of grilled chicken for lunch, and a wrap for dinner, for example. Sometimes he’ll throw sardines or tuna between slices of bread to get protein and omega-3 fatty acids. He also goes to the gym four to five times a week for an hour and a half. On Monday, he works his chest and triceps, on Tuesday it’s shoulder day, Wednesday is back and thighs, and on Friday he does a full-body workout, such as cardio and ab exercises.
Lewin, a lover of smooth R&B, weighed 280 pounds his freshman year. Today he’s 195 pounds as a junior. He’s just 10 pounds away from his goal weight.
“You don’t want to say that you did it. You don’t want to put yourself in the position to say I had to lose more than 80 pounds,” Lewin said. “But I’m proud about the fact that I had the determination to get through it.”
He’s kept the quote “unleash your potential” in the back of his mind over the last two years as he continued to drop the pounds.
“I guess you could say it was about being thin, but it was also about being healthy and knowing that I am mentally right,” Lewin said. “Being as big as I was, it kind of messes you up mentally in certain situations, and you have to be prepared mentally for every situation. To have a strong mind you have to have a strong body. They go hand in hand,” he said.
“If I can be mentally tough, why can’t I do it physically?”
Lewin recalled his anger as he failed to do one push up at the beginning, and said the hardest part is getting started. It’s easy to get discouraged when results don’t happen right away, he said.
“It doesn’t happen in one day,” Lewin said. “A lot of people start and don’t finish because they don’t see results. It’s hard work, it takes time, and you have to be dedicated.”
Lewin attributes his dedication and disciplined mind to his mom, whose name is Hope. She always believed in him, and Lewin watched her struggle, but never give up.
He has two tattoos, each on the inside of his forearms. One reads, “Hope sees the invisible, feels the intangible, achieves the impossible,” and is for his mother. He said she is extremely proud of him for losing the weight, but always reminds him to keep it off.
“That stuck with me,” Lewin said. “Putting that weight back on would destroy me mentally.” Lewin also said he and his mother feed off each other’s energy, which encouraged her to lose weight, as well.
Junior Kyle Dougherty, who’s been friends with Lewin since freshman year, recognizes the strong work ethic embedded in Lewin. He said it’s incredible that Lewin works more than 20 hours a week at the Recreation Center and the Bobcat Den and still finds time to work out, do well in school, and hang out with friends.
“When he sets a goal, no one is stopping him,” Dougherty said. “I find it inspiring to see him work so hard, no matter what it is he does, not just losing the weight.”
Lewin attributes this quality to his mother, as well. He watched her get up every day and be productive, and said he prefers to get up early and work rather than sit around.
Lewin originally majored in psychology because he loves knowing how the mind works, he said. However, he realized he couldn’t emotionally handle being a psychiatrist, for example, because he wouldn’t be able to leave work at work- it would affect his everyday life.
“He was one friend I could always count on,” said Omar Turnage, Lewin’s childhood friend. “If I need someone to talk to, he would stop doing what he was doing to help me. He always had my back regardless of the situation. Honestly, he was more than a friend; he was my brother.”
Now Lewin is expressing his artistic side with a major in interactive digital design. He said he can picture himself working at Pixar one day.
“With this major, I can do so many different things. The possibilities are endless. There are so many things that I want to do and I can do,” Lewin said.
Though Lewin misses many of the foods he gave up (he doesn’t remember the last time he had Wendy’s), he doesn’t plan on going back to his old ways any time soon.
“Everyone has their flaws, and if I’m not trying to make myself better I don’t feel like I’m living life to my full potential,” Lewin said. “And if you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of your family. You have to lead by example, and I want to make sure my children can look up to me.”