A physically deprived childhood taught NGO OKAFOR the power of hard work.
BEFORE BECOMING A two-time Golden Gloves champion, a fashion model, and now an elite personal trainer, Ngo (pronounced EN-go) Okafor was a bedridden child in Nigeria. The 6’3″, 196-pounder has been making up for lost time ever since by adopting a “get it done” approach to life.
Okafor was born in Framingham, MA, but grew up living on campus at the University of Nigeria, where his father taught. Although most kids his age spent time playing outdoors, chronic asthma and bronchitis forced Okafor to spend his time another way.
“When I was at the hospital my mom photocopied notes [from school], so I could study and take tests,” he says. “I had this anger because I would be in the house sick, and all the other kids were playing outside and I couldn’t.” When he was 13 his afflictions inexplicably vanished. And once he “outgrew” them, he used that pent-up anger as fuel for motivation. With nothing to hold him back, he hit the gym, kept studying, and moved back to the U.S. to attend the University of Connecticut, where he earned a degree in computer science. After a brief stint working in IT, Okafor tried his hand in modeling, landing gigs with Gisele Bündchen and Mary J. Blige. Then came boxing, where he won back-to-back Golden Gloves titles (2008–09). When he set his sights on a career in training, it took the 41-year-old only four months to become the fitness coordinator at Clay Health Club and Spa in NYC. “Anything that any human has ever done, I believe I can too because I’ll work hard to get there.”
Okafor holds his clients to the same philosophy, putting them through a gut-busting circuit of compound movements and cardio that tests their minds and muscles. He often joins them, which means training four to five times per day is routine.
“There are days when I’m just like, ‘I can’t do it.’ Then I’m like, ‘Stuff that, I’m the champion. I’m going to do it.’ ”