Every year, Thrive Challenge participants share their inspiring stories of resilience, perseverance, connection, and joy. Julius Warren is one of this year’s Thrive Challenge Grand Champs, and as his story shows, small changes can have a big impact on our lives — and the lives of others. Download the Thrive app to start your own Thrive Challenge. After 21 days of making better choices, share your story for a chance to win part of the $1 million prize pool!

My teens were difficult. 

I grew up with my mom and stepdad, who were both great, and I was close to my father too. Including my half siblings, I’m one of seven kids. I had a happy childhood, but when I was in my late teens, my mom started drinking heavily. She had mental health problems and was dealing with alcoholism — she was going down a dark road. There was a dark cloud in our house and my anxiety went through the roof. I had to look out for my younger brother, Andre, who was in third grade. I was working at a grocery store and I’d have to pick him up from school because my mom couldn’t function a lot of the time. It was a big responsibility. It took a toll on me, and on all of us. Mom and I were arguing because I was trying to stop her drinking. One day she had an accident in my car while she was intoxicated and the windshield was smashed.

I just wanted to numb the pain.

I started taking pills for anxiety and depression, and I became addicted to opiates. My whole paycheck went toward paying for Tramadol and Hydrocodone. It was a nightmare. All I thought about was how I was going to get more pills so I could function — I was going downhill fast. 

Then came the turning point.

One day, I was driving home from work and I passed out at a stop light. There was traffic coming toward me. I woke up in time to put my foot on the brake, but I was crying — that could have been it right there, my life ending. I got home and said to myself, “This is the day my life changes for me and for the people I love. I can’t keep blaming my mom for everything bad in my life.” I knew I had to take responsibility for my own actions. So I grabbed all the pills in the house and flushed them down the toilet. I took time off work and went through the withdrawals. I did it by digging deep down into myself. My fiancé, Ashley, was there to help me through the hard times. That was 12 years ago and since then, I’ve been sober. My mom is also sober and she’s doing really well.

I have a wonderful family. 

I’m 35 now. Ashley and I have a six-year-old son, J.J. We were happy, but I wasn’t taking care of myself. I was eating junk food — a lot of cookies-and-cream ice cream — and my diet was terrible. During COVID, I wasn’t exercising much and I wasn’t active with my son. I needed more support. I still had fears that I’d end up going back to being on pain pills. I was overweight, and there’s a history of high blood pressure and diabetes running in my family. My doctor told me I needed to eat better. I didn’t want to let my family down. J.J. has mild autism; he needs my love. That alone was driving me to be the best dad I can be. I wanted to change my life for the better.

Patty Kennedy inspired me to download the Thrive app a year ago.

She’s my team lead and a friend. She’s a kind and wonderful person who sees the good in you even when you might not see it in yourself. Patty was a winner and we talked a lot about what I’d been through. She really encouraged me to start the Challenge and tell my story.

My first Microstep was drinking more water.

Then I cut out processed food and fast food. For my job, I cook rotisserie chicken in the deli, but I hadn’t been cooking at home, so I started making good meals for the family, like ground turkey and vegetables, or salmon filets stuffed with spinach and parmesan cheese, with a honey glaze. We’ll have it with asparagus and brown rice. I’ve also been eating fruit like watermelon and strawberries. J.J. loves bananas. 

I work out every morning at the YMCA.

I stretch and loosen up. Then I’ll do push-ups, and now I can do 1,000 in an hour! I work different muscle groups each day, like my upper body or legs. I consider my workouts to be my peaceful time. To me, it’s therapy; going to the gym has become a passion. I’ve learned a lot about exercise and fitness, and I’m inspiring people at work. Right now I’m training one of my co-workers, William. He weighed 415 pounds and he’s lost a lot of weight. William’s my workout buddy and we’re encouraging each other. People see the changes William’s made and he says, “I’ve been working out with Julius,” so other people join us. 

Family time is a blast.

J.J. will be on his little iPad and we’ll play alphabet and math games to improve his learning skills. Because of his autism he can get frustrated and he needs extra support, which I’m giving him now. We’re doing lots of activities together. We take him to the zoo — he’s mesmerized by all the animals and he loves the tigers and elephants. This week he got to see the new dinosaur park; he was thrilled and a little bit scared. We went to Discovery Place Science Museum in Charlotte, which was amazing. We got to see an indoor rainforest. And we took J.J. to play indoor golf — he was having such a good time hitting balls, he didn’t want to leave. 

Music lifts our spirits.

J.J. loves gospel music videos and his favorite singer is Uncle Reece. He’ll sing along and dance, and he’ll play his drums — he has a full drum set in his room — and try to catch onto the beat. I just enjoy watching him.

We’re connecting and celebrating. 

We just celebrated Granny Joe’s birthday with the whole family. Granny Joe passed back in 2019, but we have a birthday party for her every year at her house, where her daughter, Ashley’s aunt, Darlene, still lives. It was a good old family gathering. We had a balloon release and everyone brought great food: chicken, macaroni and cheese, baked beans, and potato salad. When you get together with the family, it’s absolutely okay to have cheat days. 

We bought a house.

Being a homeowner is a blessing. I can cut my own grass and say: “Wow this is our house and our yard.” I absolutely love it. It’s great for J.J. because he’ll ride his little electric motorcycle and play outside in the fresh air. 

Ashley and I are bonding.

There are hugs and kisses in the morning, before we get our day started. And at work we check in throughout the day. She’s an after-school director at the YMCA. When you care about somebody you want to make sure they’re safe and doing well. I’ll say, “Hey Booba, (my name for her), How are you doing? I love you.” Ashley and I are having date nights. We went to the movies to see Creed III and really enjoyed it. And we go to basketball games; we’re big fans of the Tennessee Lady Vols.

We had a family vacation.

We went to Panama City, Florida with Ashley’s mom and dad and her two sisters, and we stayed in a really nice condo with beach-front views. We could see the sun rise and set and watch the waves coming in. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I took a whole lot of pictures. J.J. saw the ocean for the first time, and it made me so happy running on the beach with him, making sandcastles, the waves splashing his feet. 

Winning the Thrive Challenge was amazing.

I got a call on Ashley’s birthday in August last year to say I’d won. Oh my gosh, I was shocked. I couldn’t believe it. What a great way to celebrate her birthday! And I just carried on doing the Challenge because it’s a great support. 

At work, Thrive Resets help me stay calm.

During my break I’ll stretch or I’ll do a breathing Reset. Taking that minute is great because my job is so fast-paced. It’s nonstop. Then I’ll eat a little something before I head back downstairs.

I love my job making food for Sam’s Club Members. 

My customers tell me they buy rotisserie chicken whenever I’m at work because it’s so good. It’s well-cooked, with a lot of crispiness. Hearing that makes me feel so good inside — good to know I’m making people happy. 

Why Sam’s Club?

It’s a very supportive environment. Patty’s always showing her appreciation for my hard work and when you hear positive things it makes you want to come to work, because you feel good. She’s been encouraging me to become a team lead.

I won the Sam’s Club Safety Champion award.

It’s given to people who make conditions at the store safer and better. I think I also got it because I like to help co-workers. One day, It was really cold and I noticed a co-worker was pushing carts in the rain and he wasn’t wearing a coat. So I brought one of my own coats in from home and gave it to him. He was really happy and appreciative. 

Giving back is important to me.

It’s something that was instilled in me by my grandma who helped to raise me. If I see someone asking for money on the side of the road, I’ll stop and give them $20 or buy them some food. They might be down on their luck and need a little help. I realize that could be me and I’m grateful for my life. 

I have more energy to do more.

I have energy for my job and my workouts. I also really like detailing and washing cars. I like washing my own Nissan Sentra, and I enjoy doing it for other people — I have a couple of clients. Something as simple as a clean car can make your week a whole lot better. 

I proposed to Ashley. 

I’m gonna take you back to last September when I bought the engagement ring, and my nerves went through the roof thinking of how I would propose. I thought, wait a minute, why not propose to her on my birthday weekend? Why not invite all my family? So that’s what I did on November 12th, the day before my birthday. I worked out a plan with her dad. We would bless the food and everybody would have their eyes closed. Then I’d sneak up behind Ashley and get down on one knee. And that’s exactly how it happened. She opened her eyes and was really surprised and happy. J.J was jumping up and down and everyone was excited. 

Ashley and I are getting married next year. 

We’re going to have a beach wedding, hopefully down in Panama City with the whole family, and I can’t wait. We’re going on a honeymoon — we’d love to go to Hawaii. We’ll leave J.J. with his aunties and grandma and grandpa, who he loves.

I’m beyond blessed and I’m beyond thankful. 

Everyone has to go through trials and tribulations in life. And I have no regrets about anything I went through. That’s the past and you’ve just got to move on. I feel like the struggles I went through in my past have led me to where I am now. I always look on the brighter side of things. And thanks to the Thrive Challenge, I’m a stronger person now. I know I’ll be here for Ashley and little J.J. wherever life may take us. We have a strong bond forever. 

Our future looks good. 

There’s nothing that can stop us. I can’t ask for a better feeling than being with my family. I live for it — that’s what gets me going in the morning. Not a day goes by that I don’t thank God for everything.

— Julius Warren, Sam’s Club #6572; Knoxville, TN

Every year, the Thrive Challenge awards inspiring individuals with cash prizes from a pool of $1 million. Join the Thrive Challenge here and submit your story for a chance to win.