Negrita Jayde (1958-2009)
As some people know, the death of Negrita Jayde last Friday, Aug. 28, has hit me hard. The world is a poorer place -- not just for me, but for her friends, her family and the many, many, many others whose lives she touched.
Her heart was the biggest muscle in her strong body.
As the news of her passing spreads throughout the bodybuilding community, one in which she used to be a star, it's clear that not only was she an inspiration to me but to the countless people who knew her or who bought her books, saw her fitness articles in the Star or caught her discussing health and nutrition on TV.
This is how Negrita and I met.
It was 1996, a freezing dark Saturday morning in late January, the kind of blizzardy day which made you want to stay under the covers. Even worse, I had a head cold from hell.
I was probably at the worst point of my life, personally, professionally, and physically. My weight, cholesterol and blood sugar were dangerously high. My spirit was irretrievably low.
But I dragged myself out to a local hotel where I was to attend a media training seminar, for a column I was doing. I arrived late, and chose a seat at the back, sitting next to a pretty and petite brunette who greeted me with a Klieg light smile.
She offered me a Fisherman's Friend to ease my stuffed head.
At the coffee break, she chatted me up, about my work, my background, my Greek heritage. (Ukrainian via her father, Italian via her mother, Negrita was fascinated by Greek culture.)
When we returned to our seats, she fished around in her bag and plunked her latest book, Supervixen: Secrets for Building a Lean and Sex Body, on the table. Stunned, I looked at the muscle-bound woman on the cover and looked at this delicate dark beauty next to me, looked at the book and looked at her, and said, “Holy s---! Those aren’t shoulder pads.’’
She laughed. And laughed. And laughed.
We talked some more and I told her that I had been into bodybuilding in the 80s, following the likes of Ms. Olympia winners Rachel McLish and Cory Everson but, after my marriage broke up and I made a long-distance move, I abandoned the sport.
It was pretty obvious how I had neglected myself.
We exchanged numbers.
What I didn't count on was that she would start calling me. Actually, it was more like haranguing me, but in a gentle, loving way, to join her at the small personal training gym she co-owned with her fitness business partner Gunnar Sikk. It was a 35 klick drive away, up the Don Valley Parkway and across the 401, both routes I despise, especially during rush hour.
I always found excuses not to go. Work, friends, family, even my cat having cancer.
She called me for a month. Then, one night, she got me again, and found me crying.
''What's wrong?'' she asked.
She said she was very sorry -- right up until she died she fed all the feral cats in her neighbourhood -- and then said, ''So. What's your next excuse?''
I was speechless.
That's how I ended up at her gym the following Monday morning, squatting, pressing, pulling, pumping. I have been doing it ever since.
She saved my life.
She probably would have liked to save my soul but I guess that was one barrier of mine she could not kick down. She accepted that.
Over the years, we became friends, sharing secrets and laughs.
Negrita understood so much about human nature. And she was so forgiving, so non-judgmental, so loving.
I was truly blessed to have known her.
Here's my treeware tribute to her today, with some added links:
On the day she got her devastating cancer diagnosis last August, Negrita Jayde insisted on driving home from the hospital, over the protests of her friend and business partner Gunnar Sikk.
Anybody else would have been too freaked out to go barrelling cross-town on the 401, a death- defying trip that would always have me cowering riding shotgun in her clunkers, my eyes closed, while she la-lal-la'd along.
As Gunn related in his eulogy on Tuesday, after she got the terrible news – five years to the day that her longtime love and fiancé Gregory Hines died of bile duct cancer – Negrita was steady at the wheel.
She was always on a mission.
The most spiritual and self- disciplined person you could ever hope to meet, she would set her sights on something and stop at nothing to get it.
She was a world-class athlete, an author, actor ... and my angel and inspiration.
On that day last August, nothing would stop Negrita from planning, as she did every year, her celebration of Gregory.
There never was a love like that. You would melt in their warmth. You basked in their joy.
Her parties would begin, as always, with a picnic at his gravesite at Oakville's St. Volodymyr Cemetery, where his tombstone, etched with images of his Emmy and Tony Award-winning dance moves, also bears her name.There would be tap dancing.
Then it was on to her modest northwestern Toronto home, which would fill with Broadway performers who had been mentored by Gregory, as well as friends and family and a cast of characters ranging from reformed bikers to retired heavyweight champs.
You never knew whom you'd meet through Negrita, as we all discovered this week at her packed funeral.
That's because Negrita would talk to everybody, extending a hand, opening her arms, and enfolding all.
Understand that Negrita didn't have to drive beat-up old cars. She could have stayed at her beachfront home north of L.A. She was the type of woman who, despite attempts by stylists to dress her in designer gowns for the red carpet, preferred to tuck her hair back and wear Value Village dresses – fooling them all.
She would do that all the time, her younger sister Tina Truszyk told me as we stayed up late on Wednesday sharing stories. It would mortify her that Negrita, who died at 51, would drive her to the subway, with strangers, and leave her to carry on awkward conversations all the way downtown.
A Christian in the truest sense.
Negrita, had faith that would leave me, a non-believer, awed.
She did daily charity work in Santa Monica, California.
If I had to attend a church for some ritual, she would tag along because she was fascinated by all the ways to reach out to Jesus.
It didn't matter what restaurant, trendy or greasy, we were in. She would insist on grace before we tucked into our post-workout pig-outs.
She accepted that I was internally rolling my eyes. She never laid her religion on me – although she hoped it would be contagious.
In the end, she turned to her faith, rather than to science.
She suffered so much, so unnecessarily.
But, when we laid her to rest on Tuesday, we who loved her were comforted by one thing.
Negrita was sure Gregory would be waiting for her, with a "Hey, Baby, what took you so long?''
If there is a heaven, they're dancing in it.