Spotlighting: Debra Hopkins

To kick things off for this New Year 2019, our interview spotlight shines on Debra Hopkins; the Founder and President of Breaking the Chains Foundation.

Who Is Debra Hopkins?

Debra Hopkins is the Founder and President of ‘Breaking the Chains Foundation’; she’s a Guest Speaker and an American Council on Exercise (ACE) Certified Health Coach – stemming from an artistic background as a dancer, actress, writer, and producer, as well as a health/fitness professional. After Debra received a full-ride dance scholarship to Oakland University (Rochester, Michigan), she toured as a professional dancer in various stage productions across the U.S. Falling in love with the fitness industry, Debra has taught nationally in various prominent fitness studios (including Health & Fitness Director for Royal Caribbean Cruise Line). As a member of the American Council on Exercise Faculty, she continued her successful health/fitness career, designing and presenting workshops/seminars to other fitness professionals and working with elite Hollywood clients (Warner Brothers Studios and other Time-Warner entities). Her passion for the arts continued as an award-winning writer and actress. Debra is a 3x winner at the Action on Film International Film Festival for Female Action Performer of the Year, Best Supporting Actress in a Feature Film, Best Faith Based Script, and First Runner-up as Best New Writer for her screenplay, “Chained & Bound,” which currently has celebrity attachment. She also wrote, directed, and produced the award-winning short film, “Finding Alice,” which is in development for a book and CD package.

Debra created “The Art Of” Campaign, a six-part series, distributed via the top celebrity social media site, as an outreach – to engage others to change the conversation of eating disorders through various art forms such as film, music, dance, nourishment, writing, and creation. Currently, she has several art-based projects with BTCF. From personal experience, Debra believes recovery is possible and achievable aiding in a journey that feels alive, heart-felt and creative! She continues to work with like-minded creative individuals and organizations, developing artistic campaigns, outreach programs, and events to unite in changing the stigma attached to eating disorders (by changing the conversation), so that recovery and self-discovery are always in sight, heart, and mind! Debra has been married over 20 years to her husband Gerald and they have two sons; Gerad and Jacob.

Here is our ‘Spotlight Interview’ with Debra Hopkins

Trainer Z: Before we venture into the life and times of you ‘The Person’ and you ‘The Business Professional’, is there any current news or project you have coming up in 2019 – that you would like to inform our readers about?
Debra: Thank you for asking! April is a busy month for my non-profit, Breaking The Chains Foundation (BTCF). We will have our own BTCF team walking while teaming up with NEDA (National Eating Disorder Association), for their community building NEDA Walk in Los Angeles on April 13th will be offered. 2019 is going to be an exciting year for us! For more information and updates, please check out our website and also sign up on our mailing list!

Trainer Z: What are some personal accomplishments you are most proud of?
Debra: I have been so blessed in my life. I think so much went by so fast, that I didn’t get a chance to enjoy it enough, or maybe I was moving too fast! Although, when asked about my personal life on any level, I’m so proud of my two sons, Gerad and Jacob. I’m so thankful for them and my wonderful husband, Gerald.

Trainer Z: What’s the best personal advice given to you and by whom?
Debra: It would be from my mom and it’s so simple, but if you knew my mom, her gentle loving touch, and the tone in her voice, then it makes sense. So, growing up when I got down or discouraged or feeling like giving up on anything in my life, we would chat about it and then she would always ask me, “Well, what are you going to do?” Where then, she would lean into to me and gently sing, “Just pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again.” It’s both silly and true. It made me smile and it helped me do just that! It’s something I’ve remembered all my life.

Trainer Z: What’s the one word you would use to define yourself, and why?
Debra: Depends on who you ask, haha! Although since you are asking me, I would say self-motivated. I really love to “do”!

Trainer Z: What positive message could you share with someone who’s struggling with low self-esteem and/or social acceptance?
Debra: Whether it’s self-esteem or self-love, I truly think this begins with having self-acceptance within yourself. God only made one you! ONE you! Each and every person has unique and amazing qualities within themselves; life in itself is a miracle. It is not moderated by something outside of ourselves and that includes social media, perception of someone else, or wanting to have what we don’t have. It isn’t an instant fix, it’s a journey with the focus needing to be on life giving changes as we grow. That there are times in each of our lives where we have felt awkward, ugly, uncertain, defeated, but guess what; those things are normal (normal in the sense that each one of us has felt those things). It’s part of growing and developing, they are not times to compare yourself to others, or think badly of yourself. I also think having someone you can trust to talk to like a parent, close friend, teacher, or loved one is super important.

Trainer Z: What is your professional occupation, and what do you enjoy most about it?
Debra: I am the president and founder of the non-profit, Breaking The Chains Foundation, and most recently have become an American Council on Exercise (ACE) Certified Health Coach. I am currently studying to be an ACE Behavior Change Specialist as well. As the President of BTCF, I enjoy creating! What I mean by this is developing new works, collaborating with the amazing women on my board with their individual talents and ideas, exploring the scope of the foundation, it’s potential, and seeing it grow. I also love meeting new people, listening, and learning. I became a Health Coach to aid in enriching areas within BTCF, especially in areas of education, intervention, and prevention. This is something that is happening now and can’t wait to share!

Trainer Z: What are some professional career accomplishments you are most proud of?
Debra: Thank you for asking this, as each one of us (I think) should take a beat and be proud of the things we have achieved. I’m really proud of my health and fitness career. I am really proud of being the Fitness Director on Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines’ Sovereign of the Seas. Along with my colleague, we designed the first health and fitness program for RCCL. I designed my own classes to teach as well, and it was an incredible experience. I was on the ship for 7 months and have the most amazing cherished memories. Our work was then used as a fitness structure model to be implemented on all the other RCCL ships for years to come, which was pretty cool. If I wasn’t planning on moving to L.A., I would have stayed with RCCL. Other things I’m proud of, is I have taught at prominent health/fitness facilities and corporate facilities like Warner Brothers and other Time Warner Entities, as well as having a successful career as a personal trainer. I have been on the American Council on Exercise Faculty – teaching my own designed seminars and classes for other fitness professionals as well. I’m really proud of my non-profit, BTCF. I’m proud many of my works for the foundation and the incredible BTCF board of women who have contributed so much of their time, energy, and talent. As a writer, producer, and actress, I’m proud of my projects that have I been blessed to receive awards on, and the work that was done.

Trainer Z: What’s the best professional advice given to you and by whom?
Debra: The best professional advice given to me was by one of my mentors and world-renowned Health and Fitness professional, Joan Wenson. There’s a little bit of story to this one. When I was first being trained to be a fitness instructor and was starting to teach, Joan told me, “You know you have become the best ‘teacher’ you can be when you are able to ‘teach’ as if your class was blind, without sight.” I was like—What?!? She asked me … “How would you explain to them what their bodies need to be doing if they can’t see you … How would you communicate to them the direction they need to move, the space around them, the muscles they are using; how that should feel, where to place their hands, arms, legs and feet?” She would ask me, “What imagery could you give them to help them to connect to their body, the way they think about their movement and how to respond?” From that day forward, I became such a detailed teacher, I created tons of imagery and metaphors for my students, using all my fitness knowledge to make that brain–body–spirit connection. People responded in ways that were so beautiful, it was unreal. They also felt like I really cared and I was really invested in them. They learned, achieved their goals, and grew to invest in themselves. I became known for detail and had to always use a microphone when teaching or I would lose my voice because I talked so much, lol. I spoke to Joan recently, and thanked her again for what she taught me because it made a huge difference in my career!

Trainer Z: What is the purposeful mission of your organization?
Debra: Our goal is to fight back against the prevalence of eating disorders, disordered eating, and negative body image and to strengthen the links of prevention, recovery, and ending stigma. Breaking the Chains is a unified global non-profit foundation, using art as the process to unmask the stigma of individuals affected by eating disorders. Creative genres like film, painting, poetry, music, and dance will inspire the global community to use art as an outlet for the darkness that lies dormant. One by one, hand in hand, we will champion the rediscovery of self-love, self-acceptance, and respect—sharing a healing journey that will break the chains, one link at a time.

Trainer Z: What were some of the determining factors for you in deciding to create your organization?
Debra: I myself struggled from an eating disorder when I was younger. “Breaking The Chains,” is a deep internal piece to my recovery. I was a dancer and dancing was my healing place. I felt “everything” when I was dancing and I knew there was also something really healing about this. It was internal, not external. Through my recovery, I knew that if I felt my pain so internally, then others suffering must feel the same way. I flipped the switch, ‘the picture’, ‘the perception’. Eating disorders aren’t what they look like on the outside, it’s what’s going on in the inside. I knew at a young age I was going to do something to help others, I just had too, but I couldn’t do it alone. By the grace of God, I met amazing like-minded women in my life that listened to me and aided me in this journey to what now has come to fruition, Breaking The Chains Foundation.

Trainer Z: What has been some of the most challenging aspects of running your organization?
Debra: I think just really trying to get people to understand what it is we do. What we mean when I say, “I want to change the face of eating disorders … Change the conversation”… That it’s not what it looks like on the outside, it’s what’s going on in the inside, and we are going to do all of this by using art as healing tools. I think things really got a shift when I created “The Art Of” Campaign, a six-part series where six different celebrities shared their art forms: film, nourishment, dance, writing, creation, and music as healing tools, and what it meant to them through video, photos, and a written piece. The celebrity site ran the 6-part series for 8 months, and it was a hit! My board member (Suzette Troche Stapp) photographed it. We had celebrity makeup artist, Cynthia Bachman Brown, do all the hair and makeup; and my other board member, Jennifer Oleff, accompanied each 6-part series with her paintings that spoke deeply to art form. It was super special. Kathryn McCormick’s “Art of Dance” made me cry and I just remember saying to myself, “Wow, we really got something here.” One of my celebrity ambassadors, Carolyn Hennesy, brought it home and we quote it on the website by saying, “We can live without alcohol. We can live without drugs (we should), but we can’t live without food and that’s why this is possibly one of the most difficult things to overcome.” From there, being able to really find the inner journey expression with rich story ignited! Our board member, international choreographer/ master teacher, Alex Little, shares her incredible “7 Chairs” dance performance with the foundation, and it is a requested highlight of BTCF. So, to me, the challenges have produced the greatest gifts and success! More to come!

Trainer Z: What are the names of your foundation’s board members?
Debra: Jennifer Oleff, Suzette Troche Stapp, Jillian Rose Reed, Carolyn Hennesy, Raja Marhaba, Alex Little, Danielle Kelmar, LCSW, Dr. Gia Marson, and Nikki Deloach.

Trainer Z: Can you tell us a little bit about your celebrity ambassadors for your foundation?
Debra: Yes! These 4 women have given their talent, time, energy, and support to BTCF. Actress, Host, and Blogger, Jillian Rose Reed – has been with BTCF from the beginning and is our Celebrity Spokesperson as well as on the board. She is also launching her new seminar, “How To Love Yourselfie w/Jillian Rose Reed” for BTCF! Emmy Award Winning Actress and NY Times Best Selling Author, Carolyn Hennesy is beyond so special. She came on the board as well, and has been an absolute gem as well as someone to really truly aspire to! Award-winning actress and author (as well as Life Coach) Brooke Lewis is by her own motto, “Fearless”! Brooke is a ball of intelligence, beauty, and positive energy all rolled up in one. Actress and International Choreographer/Master Teacher, Mollee Gray, came on last year and has been an absolute joy!

Trainer Z: Focusing on your aspirations; 3- 5 years from now, where do you see yourself and/or your organization?
Debra: I envision ‘Breaking The Chains Foundation’ going global. Our outreach programs, projects, seminars/workshops, campaigns, and presentations that have been out there, some launching, and those we are working towards have tremendous potential to soar on a variety of levels, reaching our mission goals, ultimately becoming very hands-on, on the ground, working on both personal and professional levels with those who need help and support, as well as their families and loved ones!

Trainer Z: It’s truly an awesome and needed work that you and your foundation are doing, and we wish for much ongoing success. Now let’s talk fitness – At what age or stage of your life did fitness become a part of your life?
Debra: I come from a really athletic and active family. All my siblings either did sports, danced, or both. My Dad (Ron Spagnoli) is in the Hall of Fame Basketball Coaches of Michigan and has been a great role model for me. I’ve always been really active with a variety of things, but I started taking dance classes when I was 9 and continued for many years; being blessed to receive a full-ride scholarship to college for dance. Spent some years on dance tours, then transitioned into fitness. I trained to become a fitness instructor, got AFAA and ACE Certified. I taught and trained both group exercise and private clientele, fitness competitions, and it just kept growing for years to come.

Trainer Z: Share with us some specific details about your current workout routine. What type of exercises, how many days per week do you exercise, and how long are your exercise/workout sessions?
Debra: I’ve always been big on cross-training, but the types of cross-training workouts have varied through the years. My workouts consist of 45 minutes to an hour a day, 5 days a week. I cross-train with the treadmill, step, bosu ball, elastics (tubing), and light weights. I do a variety of jogs, sprints, step and bosu patterns, upper and lower body elastic and weight combos, isometrics, squats, lunges, plies, upper/lower body combination work with all in reps up 20 (varies in sets), and a lot of it very dance based in key sections.

Trainer Z: What genres of music or current songs do you listen to while you’re working out?
Debra: Lol, it depends on my mood. Pop, Christian, Dance Mixes.

Trainer Z: What words of encouragement can you share with people who struggle to consistently make fitness a part of their lifestyle?
Debra: Most people want to live a full life, a meaningful life, and even an engaged life. We each have our own strengths and weaknesses. I would encourage people to write down one to five of their strengths and see how they can use them during one week each day. They don’t have to use them all at once, maybe one of them a day, and how do they apply them in their everyday life [What happened when they were able to use a strength they have, and are aware of using it]. Seeing and feeling what we are capable of is an encouraging piece in our happiness and growth. There is a beautiful thing that happens when we appreciate ourselves more. I encourage people to start with the now, the present, and go from there.

Personality and Lifestyle Questions

  • Extrovert or Introvert? Lol! Well, I’ve been told I’m an introvert in an extrovert’s body! I think because I’m a super deep thinker and enjoy being alone when I can. But I’m a very talkative, outgoing, and an engaging person with people, and have a lot of energy. So, both.
  • Christmas or Thanksgiving? Christmas! Ever since I was a little girl.
  • Android or iPhone? Haha, I was so Android for years, but finally after pressure – lol, I finally got my first iPhone a year ago. Why I feared the iPhone, I will never know!
  • Cars or SUVs? Having a busy active family who loves road trips to Big Bear, Joshua Tree, and other places, I will say SUVs. Although, I’ve been talking to my teenage son about what kind of car he is looking into, so maybe he will let me drive it from time to time! Yeah, right!
  • Riding Horses or Riding Motorcycles? Motorcycles!
  • Cats or Dogs? Dogs. I’m so allergic to cats! But if I wasn’t, I would say cats because they are so fascinating.
  • Camping Out or Hotels with Room Service? C’mon, hotels with room service!
  • Boot Camp Workout Class or Yoga Class? I used to teach boot camp workouts, so I’d have to say boot camp!
  • Elliptical or Treadmill? Oh my gosh, I used to absolutely love to do the elliptical – like loved it! I had access to the best ones when I was teaching in the fitness centers; although, I own a treadmill and it’s a big part of my workout routine.
  • Paintings or Sculptures? Paintings. I used to paint a long time ago. I am so intrigued by paintings. The color, perspective, story behind them. They feel very personal to me, and yet it can mean something totally different to someone else.
  • Crossword Puzzles or Jigsaw Puzzles? Crossword puzzles. I go through phases of buying crossword puzzle books because they really relax me. It’s a stress relief for me.
  • Board Games or Video Games? BOARD GAMES!
  • Card Games or Dominoes? I used to love card games as a kid because Grandma taught me a bunch of them and we had such a special time! Although now, my husband and I have dominoes tournaments when we go on vacation and it gets… well, let’s just say a bit competitive :D
  • Live Plays or Movies? Live plays! Love seeing live plays so much!
  • Jogging or Swimming? Jogging
  • Jet Skiing or Snowmobiling? Jet Skiing.
  • Merry-Go-Rounds or Roller Coasters? Roller Coasters! I get so dizzy on Merry-Go-Rounds.
  • Bumper Cars or Pedal Boats? Ah, another hard one. So, love them both, too many good memories of each.
  • Candle Light Dinners or Picnics? Candle Light Dinners.
  • Salad or Sandwich? Salad
  • Pizza or Tacos? Tacos. But you know, you can get a taco pizza style and a pizza style taco now. That’s fusion!
  • Coffee or Tea? COFFEE!
  • Ice Cream or Frozen Yogurt? Frozen Yogurt.
  • Apple Pie or Peach Pie? Okay, so my Grandma’s homemade deep-dish apple pie is legendary and it’s so ridiculously yummy! The recipe has been passed on to my mom, my sisters, and me. So apple pie, it is!
  • Cherries or Grapes? Cherries. My Grandpa would take my sisters and I cherry picking in the orchards every year in Michigan. We had the best time. My Grandpa was hilarious and he made it so fun for us!
  • Pancakes or French Toast? Pancakes. Again, such a great childhood memory here. My mom makes the best homemade blueberry pancakes, ever. She would even make them for dinner when we asked her to. So now, when I take my boys back to Michigan, they ask her if she will make her blueberry pancakes for dinner, and of course she does!

Folks, there you have it! An up close and personal look at Debra Hopkins.
Thank you, Debra, for taking time out to enlighten and share with us and our readers.

Individuals, businesses, and organizations can contact and/or connect with Debra’s wonderful foundation via the following:

Email: [email protected]
Instagram: @breakingthechainsfdn
Twitter: @4BreakingChains