Get to Know Us – James Zervios
10 Questions with James Zervios, OAC Director of Communications
1. How did you become involved with the OAC?
I became involved with the OAC when Joe Nadglowski, OAC President and CEO, offered me the position of Director of Communications in 2005. I previously worked with Joe and Kristy Kuna at another Tampa-based non-profit. I have to admit that in the early days, I did not realize what the OAC would eventually become and represent. Working for the OAC is truly a blessing. In fact, I retract the first word of that statement because it’s not “work.” I don’t consider what I do on a daily basis, “work.” Webster defines the word “work” as, “A job or activity that you do regularly especially in order to earn money.” To me, being a part of the OAC is “pleasure,” which is defined as “a feeling of happiness, enjoyment, or satisfaction: a pleasant or pleasing feeling.” I can honestly say that at the end of the day, I experience satisfaction in what I do for my career. I am blessed to be able to say that.
2. Have you personally dealt with obesity, and if so, how has it impacted your life?
I have absolutely dealt with obesity my entire life. I come from an Italian and Greek family, where EVERYTHING is centered around food. As a kid, Sunday dinner consisted of four-course meals ending with an eight foot table of desserts. Now, I am not saying food was the sole contributor to my weight issues, but it certainly played an integral role. As a kid, I was teased and bullied because of my weight. To this day, I can remember things other kids used to say to me. In high school, I couldn’t take the teasing anymore, so I completely stopped eating. I could remember being in class and barely able to keep my eyes open because I was so weak from not eating. Looking back, this was extremely unhealthy and should have never taken place. About three years ago, I went for my annual check-up and my doctor told me that my blood pressure was high, and I needed to start taking blood pressure medication or lose weight. I refused to take medication, so I started my weight-loss journey, but in a healthy way this time. Today, I can proudly say that I’ve lost and maintained a 65 pound weight-loss through lifestyle and behavioral modification. And even though I am considered at a “normal” weight, I know that obesity will be a lifelong battle for me.
3. What is your favorite part about being a staff member of the OAC?
This one is easy, but yet, it’s also in-depth. First, it’s the people I get to work with on the staff. We really are like a family. I consider everyone I work with a friend first and co-worker second. It’s also an incredible pleasure to work with the OAC Board. I’ve worked with a couple boards in my career, and I can honestly say that the OAC Board is exceptional. I’d have to say that my “favorite” part of being on the OAC staff is making my co-workers laugh. I think most people would describe me as serious and quiet; however, I am actually very much the opposite. There’s nothing that gives me more pleasure in life than making someone laugh. It has to be one of the truest emotions.
4. Why is the OAC valuable in advocating for obesity awareness?
The OAC is valuable for so many reasons. Until the OAC was born, there was no group out there representing the more than 93 million Americans impacted by obesity. The OAC can be the voice, the soul, the heartbeat of a movement that will go on forever. A person’s voice speaks at a decibel level of around 50-60 in normal conversation (an alarm clock is about 80 decibels). Take that one voice and multiply it by 50,000. Yes, that’s why the OAC and its members are valuable in advocating for obesity awareness. We have 50,000 voices all speaking strongly together.
5. What is one major goal that you want to accomplish as a staff member?
One major goal that I want to personally accomplish as a staff member is the eradication of weight bias. I want weight bias to become socially unacceptable. As a child, when I was stigmatized, I felt horrible about myself, my appearance and who I was as a person. I felt like I failed myself. People do not realize how impactful weight bias can be to a person, especially a child. We think that it’s just “words,” but it’s more than that. As the Director of Communications, I’ve received my fair share of hate mail for my quotes in the media regarding weight bias. To date, I’ve personally contacted everyone who has sent me hate mail. And interestingly, MOST of the time the person who sent the hateful message actually changes their mind after talking with me. What this tells me is that there’s hope. There’s hope that we can educate individuals that obesity is not just a personal choice. We can educate individuals and change the perception of obesity in today’s society.
6. What is your favorite film?
So for anyone that knows me, since birth (just about), knows that Rocky is my favorite movie of all time. But I think most folks think it’s my favorite for the wrong reasons. I love the Rocky movie because it’s a love story. A lot of folks think that Rocky is an action movie. Well, it’s not, it’s actually a drama. The Rocky movie to me is inspiring because it is a love story about one man who’s given a shot at life. Rocky’s boxing match with Apollo Creed is not about winning. It’s about his shot at life. I also love how Adrian’s character is actually an external representation of Rocky’s internal character. On the outside, he’s a strong force, but on the inside, he’s a lover and lives life for the small things that matter.
7. What is your fondest memory from this past year?
My fondest professional memory from this past year was my interaction with an OAC member at our annual meeting in Phoenix. The member was having a hard time physically and needed someone to help them. I stayed with them until they were comfortable, and we talked about everything and anything. In that moment, I was reminded why I love what I do for the OAC.
Personally, my fondest memory was going fishing with my family. We had a great time, and it was a beautiful day. I tried to get my wife to fish, but she was afraid of the shrimp.
8. If you could’ve had any career other than your current one, what would it have been?
I think if I could’ve had any other career, I would’ve been a police officer or comedian. I love making people laugh. However, I often get mistaken for a cop at least once a month. In fact, there’s an employee at a local bagel shop who always says to me, “I didn’t recognize you out of your cop uniform.” I’ve corrected him at least five times. However, working in obesity is a natural fit for me. I’ve battled this disease my entire life. I can’t see myself having the passion I do for obesity with anything else. Again, it’s not “work.”
9. What is your favorite place to vacation?
My favorite place to vacation, and I’ve only been there once, is Greece. I went there as a teenager, and I remember observing how different life was for folks over there. I loved the sense of family and respect in each little village, and the Greek islands were beautiful. I look forward to visiting Greece with my wife one day.
10. What is your most prized possession?
My dog, Rocky, is my most prized possession. Even though I bought him, I don’t consider him a “possession.” Rocky (pictured right) is a part of our family. Coming home each day to him is the highlight of my day. He asks for so little in life, and yet, he gives so much in return. He’s my best friend.
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Join us next time as we feature OAC Board member, Jacqueline Jacques, ND!