FORT LEE, Va. — Like many 21-year-olds, Spc. Triston A. Parkes is navigating where he belongs in his work life.
However, the Miami Gardens, Florida native is not clouded about his purpose or where he best fits in life’s big picture.
“I consider myself a big influencer on fitness, motivating and inspiring people to push themselves to reach their goals,” said Parkes, a religious affairs specialist assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Army Logistics University Support Battalion.
Parkes, whose maturity is striking for his age, is a fitness enthusiast who earned stripes as a high school football and track athlete. Today, he uses feats of athleticism and healthy-living practices to promote well-being and spiritual prosperity.
“God has a message he wants me to spread out to people,” said Parkes.
The message resulted from difficult circumstances Parkes endured while growing up in Miami Gardens’ Carol City neighborhood. Within the last decade, crime was among the highest in the Miami area and the high school graduation rates were well below state averages.
Despite the ills of his environment, Parkes grew up in a stable household with parents who were determined to better their lives. His good fortune, he said, is the impetus for passing his blessings on to others.
“I’m looking to motivate and inspire people, to show them that even when you think things aren’t going well, all you have to do is sit back, pray and ask for a little bit of grace and God will show you the way.”
Parkes’ ways and means of inspiration and motivation are eye-popping. He is likely to illicit jaw-dropping gazes when deadlifting 500 pounds during routine gym workouts as much as he might pulling large vehicles down the street.
Regarding the latter, Parkes was two years out of high school when he towed his mom’s car out of the driveway during a workout. She was not happy and scolded her son. However, a friend’s parent noticed the feat and challenged him further.
“He had a truck,” recalled Parkes. “He said, ‘My truck weighs six tons; you want to work out with it?’ I said, ‘Sure.’”
Parkes wore a harness and tied it to the vehicle — an electrical utility truck with on-board generators — and flexed his muscles to the stares of onlookers.
“I walked down the block with it,” said the Miami Carol City Senior High School graduate. “Yep, I was that kind of kid.”
Afterward, Parkes thought he was on to something and later discovered the principle of transference.
“When I got older, I was like, ‘You know, this is something I can really show people to let them know that no matter what you’re trying to do, no matter what your goal — whether its financial, spiritual, mental or physical — if you can achieve it in one area, you can achieve it in any area.’”
His road to achievement began in a West Indian household where he was the oldest child and only boy among four siblings. He grew up fighting the urges of adolescent mischief and the expectation being an example for his sisters.
“I needed to be their role model,” he said. “I understood that whatever they saw me doing, they’re going to think it’s OK. So, I had to make sure I stayed on the straight and narrow path.”
That path meandered at times. Parkes said he occasionally capitulated in a socio-economic environment where hard-life lures were plentiful and dangerous.
“Sometimes you hang around certain people and … it’s easy to get sucked into a life of delinquency,” reflected Parkes. “I’m not going to lie and say I wasn’t that person. I definitely got sucked into that life from time to time.”
Later in his teens, the evidence began to mount his friends were headed nowhere, he said. The strokes of finality involved several memorable incidents, one in which an acquaintance ran through his high school hallways toting an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. Parkes was forced to take stock of where he stood in life.
“I said to myself, ‘Look, you’ve really got to do something to shape up your life and take it seriously, because if you don’t, you can end up just like them.’”
Football was Parkes’ saving grace. Having played since he was four, the game received his full focus in high school. The 5-feet, 9-inch, 240-pound Parkes was a small but mighty offensive lineman.
“The film showed it all,” recalled Parkes, referring to abilities. “I was the only dude deadlifting everything in the weightroom, benching everything … What kind of offensive lineman does pullups?”
Parkes said at his peak, he could bench-press 315 pounds. His strength helped him earn all-Dade County honors, although he was one of the smallest to make the team. He eventually received scholarship offers but declined them due to the debt he might incur.
Parkes later walked onto the football team at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland, but COVID-19 ruined his plans.
With lockdowns on the horizon and job prospects poor during the pandemic, Parkes joined the Army at the urging of his father, a retired Soldier. He enlisted two years ago, spent a year in Korea then arrived at Fort Lee earlier this year. He said the Army has been a blessing.
“I’ve learned so much, and there has been so many opportunities,” he said.
One is the ability to improve his physical conditioning. Today, he is a svelte 196 pounds thanks in part to frequent, regular exercise, nutrition and accessible resources such as one Sgt. Kadarius Walker.
“He single-handedly helped me hone my skills,” said Parkes, who met Walker in Korea. “He said, look, ‘I’m going to show you how to use your strength the right way,’ and I ran with it.”
Parkes learned from Walker proper weightlifting form, techniques and workout routines.
“I thought I knew something, but he showed me better,” said Parkes. “I have this quote on my desk. It says, ‘When you learn a little, you feel you know a lot. When you learn a lot, you realized how very little you know.’”
With his experience, knowledge and physical attributes, Parkes has received a fair amount of attention. One noncommissioned officer encouraged him to share his knowledge with others.
“Now, I have a workout plan,” he said, “so, if anyone asks, it’s provided.”
Some people have questioned why Parkes does not charge for his work. He said it feels uncomfortable.
“Fitness isn’t about money to me,” he said. “It’s a passion. When I see that you have a goal in mind, and I see that effort, I’m going to help you towards it.”
Some also have pushed Parkes to pursue the popular strongman competitions seen on TV. He is looking to find pathways into such events, he said, but for now, he’s busy with giving back.
“All of this is a statement and message,” he said. “I want to pass on something to those who were in my shoes, who were looked down on, looked past, or those who thought they weren’t good enough; I want them to know that achievement is transferable. I’m an example. I’ve achieved so much.”
So much that Parkes might be giving back long after his strongman days are over.