Omi

East Bank Club is known for some good celeb sightings. Who have you seen?

Oprah, Shawn Marion, Derrick Rose, President Barack Obama.

Is an Oprah encounter everything we dream it would be?

It was funny. It was the night East Bank Club launched the sale of my DVD, I had a table set up in the pro shop. I saw Oprah walk by and I thought,“This is my moment,” so I grabbed the DVD and ran up to her. I gave her the 30-second elevator pitch and within 10 seconds her bodyguard said, “Sorry, we can’t accept that.” I could probably get in trouble for that, they don’t like you doing that at the club.

How did you break into the fitness industry?

I’m a former United States Marine Corps serviceman. I went to school at UIC and was waiting tables to make ends meet. I was working out but never in my wildest dreams had I thought I’d be in this field, I wanted to be a physical therapist. I got a job at the Chicago Park District and spent five years running summer camps and school programs. I was told I was going to run a community fitness class for adults. I thought my class was terrible but people came back. People wanted to be there, it was meaningful to them. That’s when I decided to put some effort in it. Before you know it, my class was growing and growing and eventually a light bulb went off and I thought, “This isn’t so bad.” 

How did that experience lead you to becoming an instructor at East Bank Club?

A woman who worked at the club planted the seed but I didn’t act on it. I had no idea what commercial health clubs were about. It just happened to me. All I had was energy, that is all that I could bring to the table. My routine was not developed yet, nothing at all like I’m teaching now. I had no organization. Tonya Dugger at Equinox took me under her wing and taught me the layering techniques and how to hear the music and how to work with a choreographed beat. That was the moment where it all opened up for me. Overnight I reformatted the class and left my full-time job at the Chicago Park District to dedicate myself to becoming a fitness pro.

What advice do you have for those who want to get into the fitness industry?

Don’t quit your day job like I did. You will struggle. When breaking into the industry, you’ve got to have a passion for it and know why you want to do it. Even with my DVD I was living in fantasy land thinking I could live off of it.

Biggest pet peeve when teaching a group class?

I’m pretty lenient but if someone is talking a lot I’ll throw a glance.

Do fitness instructors have favorites?

Oh yeah.

When do you let yourself indulge?

I’m a pizza fanatic. I have a dietitian that works with me and pizza is built into my diet.

Where do you wind down after a long work out?

A block away from my house is a Leona’s. All I have to do is get on the phone and say, “Want to meet at Leona’s tonight?” and we all make our way over there. It’s not a scene place. It’s a neighborhood place, my kind of spot.

If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be?

Ron Paul. We’d drink a Belgian ale, they get me pretty buzzed quick!

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Omi