Health is my friend and ally, a friend I never take for granted, and one to whom I give my ultimate respect. Maintaining my health has been an ongoing journey, an evolution that has become second nature the more I understand and embrace it.
My journey started earlier than expected. I was born six weeks premature, mostly due to mine and my mother’s Rh blood factors did not match. My mother’s blood was making antibodies attacking my red blood cells, and this needed to be stopped or my life would end at the very beginning. Luckily, Dr. Ounatis, a visiting obstetrician from Africa, diagnosed and solved the emergency quickly.
My blood needed to be removed and replaced with Rh-factor compatible blood. Dramatic indeed, but relatively simple to correct. A heartfelt thank you to the generous person who donated blood that week back in September of 1967 when I truly needed it.
After my transfusion, there was a quick medical procedure to remove some benign abnormal growths on my head, followed by seven weeks in an incubator to build strength and become a lighter shade of purple before being allowed to go home with my parents.
At the time, there was worry that I might have future health complications due to my early birth. Nevertheless, I was an energetic, athletic child who regularly jumped over objects rather than walked around them.
While I was still in diapers, I would take any opportunity of an open door to sprint up the sidewalk and sprint right back. No escape attempt was occurring, just the desire to run. I apologize, Mom, and I thank you for not tethering me with a leash during that challenging time.
When I was six years old, Gary, a close family friend, took care of me and my sister Candace while my parents went on a needed vacation. Gary was very fit, a successful amateur bodybuilder, and the first health enthusiast I ever met.
He brought issues of Iron Man magazine, a pioneering workout magazine that featured golden-era bodybuilder legends Arnold Schwarzenegger, Frank Zane, Lou Ferrigno, and many others, describing their workouts and sharing their secrets for success.
The men were like superheroes to me, and I wanted to be just like them. Gary gave me the magazines to keep; I treasured them and read them from cover to cover more times than I can remember.
Soon after, at just seven years old, I started to do push-ups regularly. They were fun, and I was good at them. Push-ups shortly evolved into handstands, and by age ten, handstand push-ups. It all seemed normal to me, and thank you, Mom; a child walking on his hands throughout the house was surely nerve-racking, yet you never discouraged me. I love you for that.
At age eleven, my parents gave me a dumbbell set with an adjustable bench, and my fitness laboratory started to take form. I began creating full-body workouts, always listening to music while I exercised. The combination gave me tremendous energy and continues to. Exercise and music have kept me grounded throughout my life, no matter the circumstance.
My actual personal health epiphany happened during my last day at Pioneer Day Camp in the summer of 1979. Each year the camp held an end-of-camp Olympic-themed competition with running, swimming, climbing, throwing, table tennis, tetherball, and other sports.
I won some events in previous years, but I placed first in nine of the ten events that year and second place in the remaining one. I was amazed, and it seemed the other campers and staff were as well.
On the ride home, I was sitting with the ten medals in my hands, the song “Afternoon Delight” by the Starland Vocal Band playing on the radio. I was watching the trees fly by out the window and felt the warm summer air hitting my face. I had never felt this good before; it was remarkable, almost spiritual, and I didn’t want it to fade.
It wasn’t solely about winning; it was also about how I felt physically in control of my body while accomplishing those wins. I decided from that moment on I would never let my health or energy fade.
That same month I was gifted Arnold Schwarzenegger’s book The Education of a Bodybuilder from my godparents, Gail and Larry. Gail was Gary the bodybuilder’s sister, and she knew I was interested in exercise. The book was perfectly timed; I now had the tools and knowledge I needed—or so I thought.
I was still young, pre-puberty, and not yet focused on the nutritional component of health, just performance and appearance. I hadn’t made the vital connection that food is fuel; adapting that critical component into my health journey was still years away.
After high school, I studied kinesiology, anatomy, and nutrition at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). Stuart Rugg was my inspirational anatomy and nutrition professor, a competitive triathlete, and a brilliant communicator who would instill in me the power of food as fuel for performance and recovery from a competitive athletic perspective. Rugg was passionate and intense, and I was 100 percent on board.
Nutrition was the final piece of the health and longevity puzzle I needed. Improving and balancing my nutrition has provided me with the most significant health and recovery benefits over any other component of my health.
While studying at UCLA, to pay the bills, I began work as a production coordinator for the surf wear company BodyGlove.
My boss, a weekend athlete, noticed I was in decent shape and asked if I would be willing to train him before work a few days a week. Train my boss? This was unexpected and was the unofficial beginning of my fitness career. It was time to assume the role of instructor and coach, and I was ready.
We trained for two years until he moved for a better job, and I officially decided to pursue fitness as my career. I responded to a help wanted ad in the UCLA Daily Bruin and landed a job as the front desk attendant at Roebics, an exclusive fitness studio in Century City owned by my dear friend, fitness and finance guru Joey Luna.
When not working at the front desk, I took every class allowed. Joey noticed my passion and proficiency and graciously invited me to join him to learn this new fitness method called Step Reebok, with classes launching at Roebics. Step Reebok was the catalyst for my entire group exercise career, and Joey showed me the possibility.
Music had always been a part of my workouts, but Joey taught me to recognize the four and eight count in songs, understand the significance of tempo and beats per minute, and understand movement transitions. It was like giving art supplies to an eager painter; I could create physical art while improving health and performance. Fitness was now paying my bills and also evolving into entertainment. It was an exciting time.
I developed sixty-minute routines incorporating movement patterns from sports, dance, and martial arts, and developed movement sequences for creating the most capable physiques possible, always in conjunction with fantastic music.
My workouts were intense and always fun. Members of the studio began asking me to train them privately. Private training was a bit more lucrative and easier on the body than group exercise was, and I could continue to do both.
In time, with Joey’s blessing, I departed from Roebics to work at Mezzeplex, a state-of-the-art luxury health facility partly owned by fitness guru Kathy Smith. I started three hours a week as a towel boy, talked my way into being a substitute group exercise instructor within a month, and was established as the club’s Group Exercise and Private Training Director by month five. I had indeed found my niche.
Soon Kathy Smith requested me as her trainer, video consultant, backup performer, and eventually a featured presenter. These opportunities led me to choreograph and appear as a featured health expert in countless television, infomercial, magazine, and fitness video productions.
Mezzeplex was also the spot to meet like-minded athletes.
A member asked if I wanted to run the Los Angeles Marathon with him in place of his injured friend. It was just seventeen hours before the race, and I had never run more than a 10k, but I eagerly accepted.
The marathon was the freest four hours and three minutes I had ever felt in my life; I even taught the group exercise classes scheduled for the next day. My physical conditioning was paying off.
Certain places and times in life define our path; Mezzeplex was that type of place and time. Working there provided me with the opportunities I needed to construct my career, compete in 300-mile adventure races, and design products and programming for myself, Reebok, The Spectrum Clubs, Equinox Fitness, the YMCA, and work on countless fitness videos and television projects. My programming continues to be utilized and prescribed by doctors, therapists, and psychologists worldwide.
My clients – people are diverse,
but one thing unites all: an active position in life.