Erica Powell: Fitness Visionary


Casey Wellborne

Erica Powell is an inspirational owner of the Booty Bar in Greenville (Photo courtesy of Casey Wellborne).

Erica Powell is a business owner, runner on the US Paralympics track and field team, former Clemson cheerleader, motivational speaker, and model. On top of all of this, her accomplishments have been during the time she was legally blind. 

At six months old, Erica was diagnosed with Retinoblastoma, a type of cancer that begins in the retina causing tumors to form. This type of cancer is more common in young children. In Erica’s case, she had 14 tumors between both of her eyes. Powell was treated with radiation instead of chemotherapy because she had so many tumors. Radiation is very damaging to the body, causing her to have progressive vision loss. For 23 years she has been cancer-free but she is considered legally blind. “So, [I can see] like big shapes, big figures but I can’t see details,” said Powell. Currently, she is completely blind in one eye and only sees about 30% in the other. 

“[Owning a business] doesn’t stop me, but it does get tricky. The biggest thing is recognizing people,” Powell told the Bengal Beat.

In owning a personal business like Booty Bar Fitness, it’s a personal experience with the staff. As soon as you walk up those stairs, you are greeted by staff members. For Erica, not being able to see detail makes it difficult for her to know who is coming into the building. She finds talking with members helps her to get to know them to help greet and sign in. 

“I used to hide my vision loss,” said Powell.

In high school, Erica tried to hide her vision loss and even at a younger age felt ashamed of telling people about her disability. Powell grew up as a gymnast and into her college years enjoyed cheerleading. When going to college at Clemson University, studying Psychology and Sociology, she became a Clemson cheerleader. “I wouldn’t have been able to be a cheerleader there if I wasn’t okay with my vision loss,” said Powell. Erica had no problem with letting her coaches know her needs and accommodations for her to be apart of the team. 

“I got contacted by the US Paralympics team to run for track and field,” said Powell. 

Being able to run for a team like the US Paralympics is an honor. Powell took a break for three weeks before starting training slow-going with swimming, jogging and biking. This step is to prep your body for the work ahead. Three weeks after the prep work, she begins to train twice a day: track in the morning and weight room at night. She does a good amount of sprints, speed and agility work and speed endurance work. She runs the 100m and hopefully the 400m. “The 400m is brutal, but my coach wants me to run it,” said Powell. This new race will give her a new challenge to run top speed for a whole minute. 

“It hit the media that Clemson had a blind cheerleader and the media kind of ran with it. I began getting a bunch of interviews,” Powell told the Bengal Beat.

Powell had been a Clemson cheerleader for a while before the media began to catch onto the fact that she was blind. She began to get multitudes of interviews with multiple local and national news stations. Powell was even interviewed to be on Ellen. This break to the news was monumental for Powell’s motivational speaking start. Currently, she only motivationally speaks on the side at bigger events, conferences or retreats for the visually impaired, people with disabilities or about her story relating to the fitness. She has been speaking for the past four years about empowerment towards all people across the country. Despite her struggles with vision loss, she still continues to strive for success. 

“I have a facial difference; one of my eyes is shrinking and one is smaller than the other. It’s not perfectly matched and it’s cool to show the world and other women who might have a difference. Perfection isn’t the only beautiful,” added Powell.

She only models when she has free time and only tries to say yes to the right things. Powell gets requests for many events but must decide what is most important to her. The modeling gigs started on slow and she was able to say yes to a lot but now as her image has grown, she has to prioritize. “Training and Booty Bar business stuff comes first, and then if I have any extra time that’s when I can say yes to the modeling and speaking gig,” added Powell. Modeling is a fun escape from her everyday life and can provide her with an outlet to endorse people with facial differences. 

Despite all of Erica Powell’s struggles in life, she has shown through and achieved a fulfilling and exciting life. 

“My biggest drive is this negative view on disability. There’s a negative stereotype that people with disabilities aren’t as independent, self-sufficient, strong or successful as other people and I think in everything I try to do I try to fight that stereotype,” Powell told the Bengal Beat.