Fitness expert Peter Nielsen to talk at Teen Health Summit

Sept. 17 event challenges students to take control of their lives

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published September 14, 2011

MADISON HEIGHTS — Some people have a happy, shiny life handed to them on a silver platter. But not Peter Nielsen.

With his sculpted physique, five wins as Mr. America and two wins as Mr. Universe, it’s hard to believe that Nielsen — who has his own nationally syndicated TV series, radio show and self-help books — was once a mere 86 pounds, full of fear and self-loathing.

Diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at 15, he still has his condition, of course — it’s currently incurable — but it’s been a blessing as much as a curse. His disease is where he found his drive to succeed, becoming the fitness expert he is today.

“I basically was on a pity party for awhile,” Nielsen said. “Like most people when they’re dealt a certain hand of cards, they say, ‘Why me?’ And at 15 years old, my childhood was almost nonexistent because I was living in a hospital. I wanted to be a healthy young man, never realizing that was the beginning of my journey in life.”

He had an uphill battle ahead of him, as his body wasn’t the only thing disintegrating from Crohn’s disease. His family was falling apart as his parents turned fear into anger, blaming each other for his illness when it was no one’s fault.

Eventually, his dad took up drinking and became physically abusive. The day came when he attacked Nielsen’s mom, and when Nielsen tried to stop him, he wound up with a broken collarbone and six stitches in the eye.

“Stitches and bones heal, but my dad broke a part of my trust mechanism, my trust in people, so in effect every relationship in my life was affected,” Nielsen said. “Many people are blessed with great families. My dad died at 49 from drinking. I loved my dad, but I hated his despicable ways.

“Whatever situation a person is going through, the biggest thing we need to do is learn from our experiences,” he said. “If we can truly learn from them, we can be ordinary people and achieve extraordinary things.”

What Nielsen ultimately learned is the importance of hope. With hope, you can do anything; without hope, you will fail. The key is to remember there is always hope, no matter your age or situation in life.

It’s this message he plans to share with local high school students at the Teen Health Summit at St. John’s Hospital Education Center, 27351 Dequindre Road, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 17. Nielsen speaks at 10:45 a.m., with a Q&A to follow.

The free event is co-hosted by the Madison Heights Community Family Coalition, Lamphere High School Students Against Destructive Decisions, and Madison High School Students Leading Students. All three groups hope to get a dialogue going on what challenges teens are facing, and how to conquer them.

The idea started with a report by the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, which asked more than 2,000 adults to rate 20 different health concerns for children living in their communities. The top three concerns were childhood obesity, drug abuse and smoking.

Rick Lewis, MHCFC executive director, devised a similar survey for local adults and students. In the Madison and Lamphere districts, the top concerns were alcohol abuse, drug abuse and stress, with childhood obesity close behind.

“I think students don’t understand some of the stress they go through, the stress of schools, the stress of friendships,” Lewis said. “They don’t eat right, sleep right. They don’t recognize them. So we want to sit down and really talk about these issues at the beginning of the year, and have them ask questions.”

The three groups hosting the event will take what they learn and use it to shape their projects in the year to come.

“The students have a real desire to do things and to make a difference, and they have incredible ideas I’d never think of on my own,” Lewis said. “So it’s just a matter of taking time to pull them together and say, ‘What do you need?’ If we get their involvement in the very beginning, that makes a huge difference in the outcome.”

The goal is for the summit to help them understand how to help others — and to help others learn how to help themselves. As Nielsen proves, even the roughest of origins can work out for the best.

“I didn’t have a safe place — my boundaries were off,” Nielsen said. “Many young men and women in this country, in this world, are programmed to fail unless they search within and really understand we’re all diamonds and masterpieces, that we have this incredible potential God gives us.

“Whatever fire we have in our hearts is planted there long before our last breath,” he said. “If I can accomplish what I’ve accomplished in life, anyone can.”

The Teen Health Summit will take place at St. John’s Hospital Education Center, 27351 Dequindre Road, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 17.

“Peter’s Principles” airs on ABC Affiliate Channel 7 WXYZ in Detroit the third Friday of each month from 12:30-1 p.m., and again the following Sunday morning. The TV series also airs daily, Monday through Friday, on WADL locally in Detroit, and is syndicated in 279 markets. Nielsen appears on “Good Morning America” on Sundays from 7-8 a.m., and WXYZ’s 8 a.m. news every Saturday.

You can also listen to the “Peter’s Principles” radio show on Newstalk 760AM WJR, 8-9 p.m. on Sundays. For more information, visit