Getting off the phone with Sandra Okeke, I just wanted the WhatsApp interview to happen – because it is an assignment I had committed myself to; not because I am excited. I feel Sandra is uninterested or maybe she lost interest. And I don’t like that; even though I might have caused it, having missed our earlier appointment. I conclude that she’s the type that treats time for what it is: a resource and doesn’t joke with it.
The chat starts with reluctant “hi”s. Then the pace picks up as Sandra introduces herself as a multi-skilled trainer who owns SOFit fitness brand. She names wellness and health coach and fitness model as her specialities, adding that she is IREP (Institute of Registered Exercise Professionals) certified.
Sandra is a Nnamdi Azikwe University graduate, who spent her childhood in Atlanta but currently lives in Nigeria, Anambra State precisely; because its peaceful ambience suits her personality. “I just decided to stay here because Anambra is very peaceful and serene for me. I cannot stand crowded cities and long traffic. I like being able to travel and come back home to peace”, she writes in her text.
Her decision to stay in the East is unpopular but logical – she enjoys the bliss of Anambra and from there she serves her clients who are scattered across the country; thanks to the internet. In fact, only 2% of her clients live in the state, yet she serves all of them to taste. She tells me, “I believe that your success is where you make it to be. Because of the internet you don’t really need to be physically present in the midst of where ‘it all goes down’. I’ve gotten booked for TV shows and music videos while being at home in Anambra. I fly to Lagos for work and come back. I have over 100 clients that I don’t ever train one on one. They participate in online workout programs and more; and I still make my money.”
The internet has helped a lot of businesses evolve, including hers. It has made room for new jobs that never existed decades ago, to be created; and predicted to continue to play a crucial role in the operation of businesses. However with its importance, there are challenges of using the hyperspace, especially for trades like Sandra’s which involves dealing with all kinds of people. She admits to have been in situations with difficult characters but mentions that applying “understanding and patience” usually helps her get through.
Our chat is increasingly getting conversational at this point. The energy is not forced. Now, she mentions that she played the role of Tekno’s muse in the video of “Jogodo.” She refers me to Wizkid’s “Commando” video as we further discuss her repertoire. She tells me she has worked with YCEE, Ehiz, Toni Tones and that she featured on an episode of MTV Base’s “Fitfam” with Seyi Shay; and on Spice TV. Her experience as a fitness and health trainer, so far, is “incredibly fulfilling.”
“My brand is still very new but it’s growing rapidly each day and the amount of love and support I receive from people I’ve never met and the stories I hear of how I inspired them in one way or the other is the most fulfilling”, she writes.
It’s hard to believe she started training professionally only about 12 months ago. “I was never an athlete or into any physical activity for that matter so I don’t know anything about fitness during those years”, she texts. She always wanted to be a fashion illustrator. She has been drawing since age, 5. She fell in love with weight training while waiting on admission from the numerous fashion schools she applied to.
Sandra’s interest in weight training was sparked by her boyfriend who has been into it for about a decade. “He was always trying to show me the benefits of weight lifting and for someone like me that naturally had a low body fat percentage I didn’t see the point of punishing myself for long hours.” He showed her how to do the barbell squat during one of their gym sessions and she struggled with severe after-effect that she couldn’t walk. “I couldn’t walk for days because my legs were so sore but with time I got used it”, she says.
“When I started seeing real results my body was so much more toned. I got curvier. I completely fell into it”, she continues. She goes on to reveal the reason she took it up as a career saying, “there was something very sexy about being powerful yet feminine and training gave me that confidence. I wanted other people (women mostly) to see that. And to prove a lot of people wrong that as a lady you can lift heavy weights and not look manly.”
The awareness of Nigerians to the benefits of fitness and health training is rising but “the market is still untapped”, according to Sandra. She shares her plan to up the ante saying, “it’s not just about the training aspect or going to the gym it’s about precision, consistency, discipline, hard-work and still look the part.” Sanda Okeke wants to create what the sector is lacking: an indigenous athlete who has managed to build a formidable fitness career and at the same time build a fitness super brand which includes making indigenous quality active wears that are affordable. “I want to build an empire”, she tells me. Adding, “A Beyoncé type empire. A league of my own type empire.”
This article was written by Ibironke Oluwatobi. He tweets via: @ibironketweets