By Tom Reardon, November 2019 issue.
How do you define someone who defies traditional definitions? You get creative, at first, and then you sit back and listen to her tell her story.
Danielle Bryant is one such person. She’s powerful with a capital POWER and if there was a picture next to the word “Resilient” in Webster’s Dictionary, it would be of Bryant flexing her well-toned muscles.
Intimidated yet? Don’t be. Bryant is approachable, positive, and possesses the fully formed yet still able to grow and learn type of self-awareness that many of us wish we could have. As the owner of a successful construction company and the originator of her own non-profit, Make It Count 4 Dani (MIC4D), as well as being a professional body builder, Bryant also lives every day with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) and through MIC4D helps others who are impacted by RA and Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. Recently, this condition also spread to her lungs, which brings added challenges, and two or three hospital stays each year for chemotherapy.
This not your grandmother’s arthritis, friends, as painful as that can be. RA is a completely different animal.
Diagnosed at 16 years old, Bryant has spent much of the last 28 years making sure that she is not defined by her disease but, if anything, emboldened by it. She truly lives life to the fullest, regularly competing in body building competitions, even though her left wrist was surgically removed and replaced with an iron bar. Her thumbs are fused, as well, but this does not stop her from working out and only pushes her to find ways to work around her condition when she must.
A true warrior queen for our community, Bryant is compassionate and funnels all her success into helping others through her non-profit in addition to her work in the community as an advocate for being healthy and active. She donates a portion of the funds from each of her construction projects into MIC4D and while you can donate on her website (https://makeitcount4dani.com), she has yet to ask anyone to directly help fund her program.
She’s also single, ladies, so…hint-hint.
Echo: Tell us about you.
Bryant: Oh heavens, that’s a loaded question.
You’re from Phoenix, correct?
I am. I was born in Scottsdale, but I was raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I moved back to Phoenix in 1995. I didn’t live my younger years in Phoenix, but now I’ll never leave because of my health problems. I did leave in 2009. I went to Canada for three years with my wife and son, but that all fell apart and I ended up moving back to Phoenix in 2012. I went through some major surgeries and then I started my own company because I decided to be a new person and live for me. I went after it and it has worked out great.
There are so many ways to go there.
I do so much. The construction company is the love of my life and my non-profit is my passion and I’m also a pro-body builder. My body building is a vehicle for my non-profit when I do motivational speaking. I talk about obstacles and persevering and how you can’t let the disease beat you.
I’ve known a few people with Rheumatoid Arthritis and the idea of them being a body builder would be daunting to say the least.
For sure. If you would have asked me if I was going to be able to do this, even four years ago, I would have said, “No way,” and here I am at 44. I have my pro card in one of the natural federations. I’ve had nine surgeries, six major hand surgeries, I have fake joints in my hands, so I’ve essentially transformed my life and I really believe it is all about my mindset.
I’ve been on my own since I’ve been 16. I’ve navigated my health problems by myself. I navigated coming out (at 26) by myself, and it hasn’t been easy. There have been times when I didn’t want to (pauses) live. I was at my lowest of lows when I lost my wife and child. That was a catalyst for me in more ways than I could have ever imagined. I was either going to come out of that or I wasn’t. It took me a good year to realize that the only person who can change situation is me. I just really changed my attitude.
What does being in the Echo Hall of Fame mean to you?
It is a complete honor. I’m a little bit separated from the gay community. I don’t drink, I’m athletic. You’d think I’d be able to find someone who wants to work out (laughs) but it really means a lot to me. I love who I am. I’m proud to be a lesbian.