Entrepreneur from London Adding Energy to Downtown Phoenix

Posted By Mike Padgett

Nov. 20, 2009

PHOENIX, Ariz. – The November sunrise is an hour away, but an entrepreneur and his clients in his downtown Phoenix exercise studio are primed for the new day.

“Six! Five! Four! Three! Two! One!” says studio owner Amen Iseghohi, clapping his hands to the music. He walks among his exercising clients, counting down to the end of a routine. “Go! Go! Go!”

Much of the rest of the city is just beginning to rise. But in Iseghohi’s studio, mental clarity is erasing the night. The physically fit charge harder.

His clients’ pumping arms and legs are synced to high-energy rock ‘n’ roll. They are deep within “the zone,” that addictive personal region of inner peace fueled by endorphins and muscle burn. But instead of modern exercise equipment, Iseghohi offers several routines that revolve around used tires.

Iseghohi, 33, opened his exercise studio earlier this year in a red brick warehouse near First and Buchanan streets. It’s one block south of US Airways Center. His neighbor to the west is an architectural company. East two blocks is the Phoenix Job Corps Center, whose students have permanent invitations from Iseghohi.

“I let the kids in the Job Corps come here and work out,” he says.

The focus of Iseghohi’s studio, Amenzone Primal Fitness Training, is a return to basics, a personal adventure he experienced as a boy living with his grandmother in Benin, a small country in West Africa.

Born in Belgium

Iseghohi, named after his architect father, was born in Belgium. He grew up in London, except for the nearly three years – starting when Iseghohi was 8 – his father sent him to live in West Africa.

“He wanted me to have an appreciation for culture, and he wanted me to be able to speak my own language,” Iseghohi says.

Benin is in West Africa, bounded on the east by Nigeria, on the north by Niger and Burkina Faso, and on the west by Togo.

Iseghohi says his diet in Benin depended on what he helped capture in the wild or harvest from the rice, yam or casaba crops.

Iseghohi’s introduction to his grandmother’s lifestyle in Benin was a culture shock. He had grown up in London attending private schools and living in a household cared for by maids. In rural Africa, he picked his own mangoes when he was hungry. There were no cars. Most people went barefoot.

“It wasn’t go to Walmart and get a couple of mangoes,” he says. “It was go climb that tree and kindly get us some mangoes.”

He adds that his grandmother required that he – and his younger sister, who joined him later – get daily exercise.

Since they didn’t have access to high-tech exercise studios with wall-to-wall mirrors, Iseghohi and his sister used old tires as their exercise equipment. They ran while rolling the tires. They used the tires as pushup benches. They jumped in and out of the tires, and just about any way imaginable, to get exercise.

“My grandmother wanted us to stay fit. She was the one who said, ‘You guys are going to go out there and start working out.’ She’d have us do pushups.

“We couldn’t get around it, so we tried to make it fun. So within ourselves, we started to create fun things. And she had us using tires around the compound to work out. That’s how I came up with my idea here.”

No mirrors allowed

That routine with tires is the focal point of Iseghohi’s regimen in his Phoenix studio. There are no mirrors or computerized treadmills or banks of muted televisions audible only to customers wearing headsets.

Tires flat on Iseghohi’s concrete floor become benches for pushups. The tire becomes the individual workout bull’s-eye that his clients dance in and out of during their exercise routines. For variety, customers can use punching bags or pull-up bars or climb the thick rope to the high rafters.

Iseghohi says families, business owners, downtown workers, tennis players and other sports figures have been among his clients, either in groups or in personal training.

A smile dominates Iseghohi’s face. His biceps stretch his shirtsleeves. When his classes are in session, Iseghohi is alternately the group leader, a cheerleader and a teammate.

He starts a workout routine, one of 40 he’s developed. Several involve the tires. He walks among his clients, clapping and cheering. He stops next to a client or two or three, and exercises with them. Their fresh workout shirts are starting to hang damp.

“When your body is right,” Iseghohi says to his visitor during a water break, “your mind is right. You can have all the money in the world, but you can’t buy your health.”

In London, Iseghohi gained experience in the Excel Personal Training program. Here, his goal is certification from the National Academy of Sports Medicine.

Some of Iseghohi’s classes start at 5:30 a.m. in his 3,000-square-foot workout studio. Weather permitting, he will move his routines to a larger space outside his studio at 106 E. Buchanan St. And the night before a class, he often sends inspirational text messages to his clients.

One of his fans is Teresa Olguin, a registered nurse and medical case manager. Olguin joined Iseghohi’s workout classes in July. Since then, she has lost a few pounds and gained a sharper mental focus.

“I always ran, worked out in a gym,” Olguin says. “I’ve always been disciplined, but he pushes you. And I think that’s what it is. I just get stronger and stronger in every class. It’s awesome. You just burn everything up here, and it’s great. He has completely changed my life.”

Iseghohi lives in Scottsdale. He and a partner own a company, One Source Interiors, that installs flooring and countertops. His customers have included custom homes and a luxury hotel. He started his exercise studio partly because of the slowdown in the local residential market.

Exercise tones the brain

Iseghohi admits that people sometimes lack the motivation to exercise. Maybe they didn’t eat properly the day before. Maybe they didn’t sleep well. But generally, after a few minutes of exercise, energy makes a comeback.

“People don’t understand that working out and exercising is almost a spiritual journey, I think. It really is. It’s not a mechanical thing. It’s spiritual. Your mind and body are one. They’re not separate.

“So when you body is physically moving and you’re perspiring and sweating and your heart rate’s up, your mind engages. It’s energized. That’s when you notice that when people are working out, they feel better afterwards. They feel lighter on their feet. It helps them in so many different ways, mentally and physically.”

Children’s diets

Iseghohi also is concerned about the impact of a lack of exercise upon children in America today. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cites studies comparing the childhood obesity rates in 1976-1980 and 2003-2006. For children between the ages of 2 and 5 years, obesity increased from 5 percent to 12.4 percent; for those between the ages of 6 and 11 years, the rate increased from 6.5 percent to 17 percent; and for those between the ages of 12 and 19 years, obesity jumped from 5 percent to nearly 18 percent. More details about the CDC report are available at www.cdc.gov/obesity/childhood/index.html.

Many children today ride to school, either on buses or in their family cars. In addition, many schools – because of budget cuts – have reduced or eliminated their physical education classes.

“The kids are the future for us,” Iseghohi says, “and our future is in terrible shape. We need to take care of our future a whole lot better than how we’re doing it right now.”

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Nov 20th, 2009

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