Athlete and Filmmaker Tiffany Toney Found Balance Through Positive Affirmations
Tiffany Toney is a modern-day Renaissance woman. After studying journalism and TV production at the University of Oklahoma, she pursued her master’s degree at Bowie State University in Maryland, where she was a three-sport athlete. She was recruited to play professional softball in Bern, Switzerland, for a season. Her passion for the arts and storytelling through visual media led her to Los Angeles, where she manifested her dreams of pursuing a career in the film and entertainment industry. After working for America’s Most Wanted and NBC News 4, she launched her own YouTube series called “The Cheat Day” about sports and food. Her most recent work on the feature film Lazarus is set for a theatrical release in fall 2021, while her book “The Beauty of Your Strength” made the best sellers list on Amazon. Tiffany’s mission is to empower women by creating content that no longer forces them to choose between their strength and their beauty.
When did you realize you were not just good at sports but an athlete?
I was always physically stronger than other children my age, which embarrassed me for many years. One day my father took my cousin and me to the batting cage. We were there for him, but he couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn. I had never held a baseball bat before, but I decided to give it a try. My dad and uncle were paying me no mind until they heard the sound of metal striking pitch after pitch. I’ll never forget the joy in their eyes when they realized I was a ringer. My father signed me up for little league the same day and the rest is history.
What was it like being known for both your beauty as homecoming queen and your athleticism as player of the year in high school?
It was actually quite the opposite. As a student, I was the chubby, funny girl, who happened to be good at sports. I didn’t “bloom” until my senior year of high school. Before then, I was extremely insecure and awkward. There weren’t many people who looked like me in the small town I grew up in. I was constantly apologizing for my race, my strength, and dimming my own light to make sure nobody felt “threatened.”
Being known as a star athlete was a bit strange at times. Especially when complete strangers knew my name. I would feel so guilty for having no idea who they were, but I always tried to make people feel like they were part of the journey. By the time I went to college, I finally began to accept myself and own my strength. Being a top athlete on campus was a double-edged sword. When everyone knows your name, you never have to pay for anything, and you are always invited to the party, but on the same note, every mistake you make is magnified and people tend to forget that you are human. These experiences have prepared me for the world of entertainment.
How did you balance your creative desire to write with your academics and sports training through high school and college?
Sports were literally life and came naturally to me. My father was in the military, and I had a very structured childhood. Balance was my only option. I knew at a young age that I wanted to play college and professional sports. I also knew that I was a writer when I was able to “write my way” out of being punished by my father for wrongdoings. I wrote my first poem when I was ten years old, so it was just part of who I was. I never really thought about being overwhelmed because, in my mind, I was being myself. Any time I felt that I was being spread too thin, I pulled back. I did eventually quit the track team in college because being a three-sport athlete was a bit much when trying to balance academics. Not to mention, I hated running track and only did it to stay in shape for volleyball and softball.
What were some of the challenges you faced playing softball in the NCAA, and what were a few highlights?
I was actually cut from the softball team at the University of Oklahoma. They said I “wasn’t ready.” It tore me to shreds. I was devastated and felt like I had failed my family and that all my hard work had been lost! I took a year off, and after a year of restless nights and recurring dreams about sliding into second base, I decided to try again. My father trained me hard for six months, and I earned a full scholarship to Bowie State University and ended up being an All-American and a three-time conference champion. The best part of this journey was getting to win a CIAA conference championship with my dad as coach.
What was it like to play professional softball in Bern, Switzerland after college?
I remember being super jet-lagged and having to pitch a double-header within hours of getting off the plane in Switzerland! It wasn’t my best game; it all felt like a dream. Initially, it was a culture shock. I could not even pronounce the name of the street that I lived on and often had to call my teammates to help me get home after being lost for hours on the wrong bus or train. Again, I was the only person who looked like me. I was often bombarded with a list of questions about black culture. It was easier to manage in a place like Switzerland because I was still considered “an American,” but I saw it as a creative opportunity to teach, learn and create a sense of empathy between my Swiss teammates and myself. Many of my teammates spoke German and no English, which meant I had to learn to speak Swiss-German. This was probably the biggest challenge of all. Switzerland was an amazingly beautiful place. I was able
to travel all over Europe, doing what I loved!
How did you make the big leap from playing professional softball to working in the L.A. film industry?
When I was 13 years old, my spirit told me I would live in California. So I had it in my mind that when I was done playing ball, L.A. was the next logical step. Before playing pro softball, I was a writer for NBC News in Washington D.C. and America’s Most Wanted. Although working in news was pretty depressing, it taught me that I am capable of writing and creating at a higher level.
My producer Pat Dinota at America’s Most Wanted had me promise her that I would never stop writing and creating. About half-way through working for her, I was offered the pro softball contract. I was terrified to tell her that I would have to end my contract a month early. But when I finally worked up the nerve to tell her, she said, “I was a softball player too when I was your age. Go and enjoy every single moment.”
After I was done playing ball, I bought a one-way ticket to L.A. I was a personal trainer for a few years here, but eventually, I remembered why I came to California and took a leap of faith, quit my job and threw myself headfirst into the film industry.
You struggled with homelessness at the start of your Hollywood career, how did you get through that challenging time in your life?
Honestly, when I think about how I “coped” with homelessness, the truth is, I didn’t. I completely lost myself for four years and hit rock bottom. I had lost all hope and belief in myself and did a ton of things I wish I could take back. I hurt a lot of good people who believed in me when I was too broken to believe in myself. One day I looked in the mirror, and when I didn’t recognize myself anymore, I knew I had to tap into something greater than myself. I had to find a way to get up. The thing that saved me was my family’s constant love and “checking in on me.” I also used meditation and began listening to Abraham Hicks and Deepak Chopra. After being lost and addicted to several toxic habits, I started putting myself back together. It was a necessary destruction that forced me to ask myself, “How bad do you want this?”
What interests you about the art of storytelling, and why have you decided to make it your career?
As a storyteller, I feel a huge responsibility to be a vessel serving as humanity’s reflection of itself. What greater honor is there in existing? I believe that we all should be able to earn a living doing what we enjoy. Storytelling is the ability to create worlds where we give people hope, enlightenment, and in some cases, redemption. For me, there is no greater legacy than that.
What steps did you take to create your own independent film production company?
Starting a production company was never really a thought in my mind until nothing else was working. Like so many other great ideas, my father actually suggested it! It never really made sense until I met award-winning director R.L. Scott and Producer/Filmmaker Andre (Chyna) McCoy. They have become my biggest mentors in L.A. We worked on the film Lazarus together, and after a few years, we realized that we were all on similar creative life paths. Divine intervention occurred a few too many times, and it became inevitable. We knew that it was time.
How do you deal with change when working on a creative project, especially if the original concept was yours?
I think humans are naturally resistant to change, but I’ve always worked really hard to preserve the artistic integrity of my work, while still being open and flexible to advice from people with more experience than me.
What TV, Film, or web projects are you working on now?
R.L. Scott and Chyna McCoy directed and executive produced a sci-fi short I wrote called “Jade Rising” about love and time travel. It will be available on Tubi. We are also working together on a feature film I wrote called “Bora.” It’s a psychological thriller in which I play one of the leads and it will screen this October in Los Angles. We are shopping a feature film to Netflix, Hulu, and Tubi. I am in the early stages of pre-production for a female-driven action series, in which I executive produce and play the lead character. If it doesn’t get funded by a major studio, we will produce it independently.
I am looking forward to giving women and characters of color unique voices that speak from a place of intellect. It’s time to pack on the layers and give all people a voice that reflects the many subcultures that exist between all shades of black, red, and brown people despite gender, race, nationality, religion, or sexual orientation and preference.
How have you been able to incorporate your athletic background into your current career?
I never thought martial arts would be relevant in my life in the way that it is now! I have been learning fight choreography to execute the fight scenes required by the demands of the edgy characters I am preparing to portray. Often times, I write based on my own experiences, so being an athlete helps me portray women as strong, and I am honored to be able to do that.
What does your weekly fitness routine look like?
I lift weights a few times a week and do cardio and fight training the other days. I also stretch even though I hate it. It’s necessary before and after throwing punches and high kicks.
My diet is primarily vegan and plant-based, but I do occasionally consume fish and seafood. I listen to my body and eat what it “asks” for. I believe that incorporating fruits, vegetables, and reducing the consumption of processed foods has helped me stay on my game.
How did you become interested in spiritual healing and meditation?
I spent time with a spiritual guru from India, and one day he looked at me and said, “You don’t need me anymore. You have exactly what I have.” He taught me how to talk to God and the universe and how to use my gifts to empower myself. I wanted to share this with other people. I think we are all capable of more than we are aware of. We just have to be open and willing to tap in and listen. We are all capable of being vessels for the right kind of energy if we slow down, listen, and ask the right spiritual questions. The answers are out there.
How has this mindset helped you navigate life?
I feel that I recover a lot faster from pitfalls now, and I have learned to identify the sound of my own intuition and how to discern between signs and insecurities. I am a much better judge of character now, and I have learned more about myself and what makes me happy. I am much more selective about how, when and who I give my energy to and in what capacity.
What inspired you to write the book “The Beauty of Your Strength”?
When I was at “rock bottom,” I asked the higher power to speak to me and through me and to help me find myself again. So I went on a quest to do exactly that “find myself.” Each morning on this journey, I was woken up by a positive affirmation that I knew had been sent to me from some higher source. Initially, I thought these affirmations were just for me, but they kept coming, even when I wanted them to stop! I felt like I was being helped and like my hand was writing on its own. I knew that it would be magical to compile them all into a book to serve as a roadmap for other people who had lost themselves trying to navigate through the societal noise that we all must endure.
What has the response to your book been?
The response to my book has been remarkable. People from every race, religion, and age group have reached out to thank me and tell me how much they have connected with my experiences. The most important thing I want the book to achieve is to create a sense of empathy and oneness so that readers never wonder about my age, or race. I want readers to forget about that and simply allow themselves to be present, vulnerable and real with themselves and, most of all, for them to know that they are not alone.
You can read this article in our Summer 2020 issue