Constable: Ex-Stevenson cheerleader, Otis Wilson's daughter comfortable in her athletic skin
An energetic toddler, Danyele Wilson seemed to be constantly running around and even doing flips at home until her mom, Melinee, found her an outlet.
"My mom put me in gymnastics when I was 2, since I could walk," says Wilson, who moved from Long Grove to Vernon Hills to live with her mom after her parents divorced. She spent five days a week doing gymnastics at the Buffalo Grove Park District and quickly moved up the ranks.
But her body eventually betrayed any gold-medal dreams she might have had as a little girl. Pixie-esque Olympic champion Simone Biles stands 4 feet, 8 inches tall. At 5-foot-11, the 31-year-old Wilson is closer in size to her father, Otis Wilson, the former outstanding linebacker of the beloved 1985 Bears.
"I was always the biggest, the brawniest," Wilson says. "I've got a lot of muscle packed in here."
And she knows how to use it to help others.
Wilson is the first U.S. trainer for the London-based Tone & Sculpt app designed to help women "train like an athlete." She is one of two trainers for the 30-day "New Year, New You" kick-start challenge through the toneandsculpt.app, danyelewilson.com, or her @danyelewilson Instagram account, which has more than a quarter-million followers.
"I make people feel they are not alone training at home," Wilson says.
Her love of athletic training took shape when she was living in Vernon Hills with her mom and making the move from gymnastics to being a cheerleader at Stevenson High School. The Stevenson cheerleading squad finished third in the state in 2006, and Wilson was named an all-state cheerleader during her senior year in 2007.
She was the varsity cheerleading squad's heaviest, tallest and only Black member during her career, and Wilson says she thought of cheerleading as her sport.
"Cheering for the football team got in our way a little bit. We would think of football games as little practices," Wilson remembers. "That wasn't our priority. We were competitive athletes."
A journalism major at Indiana University, Wilson was a cheerleader for two years.
After graduating, she entered public relations, where she worked on designing and producing marketing displays and material, email marketing, web development and special event coordination. But she missed being an athlete.
While doing high-intensity interval training at a gym in Chicago, Wilson drew the attention of a manager.
"Who are you? You are moving like an athlete. Do you want to coach here?" Wilson remembers being asked.
She became certified as a trainer, quit her corporate job in 2018, and started posting on Instagram. She began working with Tone & Sculpt in October.
"It's harder as a Black woman to build a platform on Instagram," Wilson says, noting she does not fit into some stereotypical definitions of beauty and has to find a way to avoid "hypersexualization" while still showing photos of her body. "I have to be more cognizant than others. I can out-lift a lot of guys, and that's something women still shy away from."
One of her videos on TikTok went viral with 15 million views. "I was met with the biggest wave of cyberbullying," Wilson says, noting she was subjected to comments about not looking feminine enough. Muscular Black female athletes such as tennis star Serena Williams often endure comments about their bodies.
"But I also got more than 1 million likes," Wilson says.
Her mom has been a constant supporter, and Wilson says she also has a good relationship with her dad. Born too late to see her dad play for the Bears, she's never watched the game where he won his Super Bowl ring. But, during college parties, she used to perform his part from the Grammy-nominated "Super Bowl Shuffle." She clearly is her own person.
"I'm training because I want to feel strong, have speed, agility, performance, power," says Wilson, who notes she doesn't even own a scale. "I'm training for life. This is what makes me feel good and complete."
Feeling like an athlete is what motivates her.
"I still feel I haven't peaked," says Wilson, who also is branching into motivational speaking. "At the end of the day, my goal is always helping people. I shift their focus from how they look to how they feel."