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Finding Freedom and Fitness

After serving 10 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit, Ryan Ferguson wrote a book about getting stronger physically and mentally.

When Ryan Ferguson wrote his fitness book, there were critics. There always are. It’s funny, Ferguson says, the criticism was that his newly-released book, Stronger, Faster, Smarter, didn’t offer anything new.

“Even though people meant it in a negative light, that is the biggest compliment to me,” he said. “I’m taking all the crap out and I’m putting in what’s been around. All the lean body builders and people you see in the magazines have been using these things for years. So if we focus on new things, we’ll probably get distracted and never find success. But if we stick with what works, we’ll be amazed at what happens.”

Ferguson’s entire life is defined by turning negatives into positives. The 30-year old spent 10 years of his life imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit. In 2001, at just 19 years old, Ferguson was arrested and charged with murder and robbery of former Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt.

Ferguson was convicted after his high school friend Charles Erickson testified that they had committed the crime together. A janitor also claimed to have seen Ferguson at the scene. A decade later, both men recanted their stories.

Meanwhile, Ferguson used fitness as a survival mechanism nearly as soon as he was incarcerated. His father told him that he would need to be stronger, faster, and smarter if he would survive in his new surrounding. The thought later became the name of his book. “It was straight out of survival, out of fear, out of knowing that I’m a young kid in a bad place so I better get right quick.”

He started with the basics: pushups, pull-ups, and sit ups. He would do dips on the stairs and bicep curls with coffee jugs. Ferguson soon realized he needed more protein in his diet to build muscle and recover faster. So he started buying peanut butter from other inmates. “I was spending five dollars a week on peanut butter. That’s an outrageous amount of money in prison," he joked.

Soon, Ferguson was immersing himself with information to help himself train more efficiently and effectively. “I read non-stop for 10 years,” he said, “about what I could do to improve my body and over the years, I’ve ben able to cut out the junk and find what was useful and I tried it all on myself.”

Months after her was released in November 2013, Ferguson was certified as a personal trainer. His program essentially provides six basic moves, such as squats, deadlifts, and shoulder presses, and includes a basic nutrition program.

“That’s it. I have six moves I show people, a basic cardio plan, and a diet, and I say if you stick to that consistently for a month, six months, a year, you will continue to grow and develop a body you can appreciate," he said. "It’s not too much work. It’s not going to be confusing.”

Since his release, Ferguson as been all over the country raising awareness about wrongful convictions and speaking out against his experience with the judicial system. He says his health and fitness has mostly helped with his confidence in networking and public speaking.

“You go from living in a tiny cage for a decade of your life, and being a kid to being an adult at 30, and being able to go anywhere in the world. I’m on Anderson Cooper one day and the next I’m in San Francisco hanging out with friends at Facebook," Ferguson said. “It’s just really surreal and I realize what it’s really all about. And what it’s really about is spreading awareness about wrongful imprisonment and saying that look, I have a voice because people have seen my case. But people need to realize, and if you listen to one thing I say, it is that I am not an anomaly. It’s happening to people every day. It’s happening right now. It can happen to you. Pay attention to it and don’t stand for it because the only way it’s going to change is if we don’t allow it.”


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