It’s tough promoting fitness to Nigerians – Ruby Agu

Ruby

For someone who once referred to herself as an “exercise junkie”, Ruby Agu does a whole lot more than exercise. She is one of Nigeria’s fastest-growing fitness professionals. Ruby got into the fitness profession after losing 35kg of excess body weight within her first 12 months of a devoted exercise and healthy nutrition lifestyle. In June 2015, she began helping people to begin their weight loss journey – even before she became a NESTA-certified weight management specialist and fitness nutrition coach, an IREP-certified fitness trainer and a Licensed STRONG by Zumba® Instructor.

When Ruby experienced the journey of weight-loss, she began to appreciate all the challenges facing modern women on the same quest and was pushed to solve as many of these problems as she could… by starting her own gym. The founder of the RA-Fit Club and self-described “serial entrepreneur” has had her fair share of trials, with stories of business success and failure alike. A loving wife, doting mother of three girls and a deeply thankful survivor of a few life threatening health scares. Ruby shares her inspiring journey with me in this interview

Growing up
My childhood didn’t prepare me for what I’m doing now, but you can say that I was somewhat exposed to exercise and fitness at some point during my childhood, because we had neighbous that were actually in professions that made it necessary for them to be at the National Stadium in Surulere every Saturday. It used to be fun listening to them narrate their stadium experiences, and sometimes they would demonstrate some exercises to me. I remember doing my first sit-up crunch. I had just finished my SS3 exams, sitting and waiting for results – while adding weight (LOL). One of my neighbour’s sons (who had just become a referee like his dad) decided to take it upon himself to teach me some exercise moves. So, yes, you could say I had a little taste of it, and it was fun… I found out that I was good at it! But it ended there… or so I thought.

Inspiration behind your fitness club
It’s hard for me to pinpoint any single thing, because I have had a string of life experiences that kept pointing me in this direction. I first got into fitness as a profession after I had successfully shed 30kg of excess body weight within one-year of an intense exercise and healthy nutrition lifestyle. After I had been practicing as a fitness professional for a couple of years, I began to feel an aching need to make real contact with people out there who had expressed a need to be trained and motivated directly by me. It became harder to go beyond a certain level of contact with my people by keeping it purely online. At first all I wanted to do was have somewhat a meeting place where my clients could take part in group training sessions… just something small. But the more I searched for a location, the bigger the idea kept getting. And here we are.

Being a coach, nutrition and weight management specialist, Mom and wife
It’s been a rollercoaster ride, and it got a whole lot crazier after we started the fitness club, but love has kept me moving. The funny thing is that I have been in this crazy routine – as in, we’ve not had any sort of domestic staff in my household – for about 7 years! The fact that I worked from home for the most part of it was clearly an advantage – especially after my husband returned to a rigorous 9-5 routine 6 years ago (leaving home before 6am and sometimes returning after 10pm). There have been different phases in the coping story.

Reception
It’s tough promoting fitness to Nigerians, but I’m thankful for the increase in awareness of wellness, fitness and healthy living in today’s Nigeria. At first the club was very scanty (naturally), but in a year, we had over 200 registered members, and about 2-thirds of them are active and regular.

The neighborhood has welcomed us warmly, judging by the camaraderie we get from our members – who now see themselves as part of one fun-loving fitness family.

Harsh realities of weight loss and fitness.
For starters, you will have to give away all your big clothes (LOL), and don’t go shopping until you know you’ve hit your target weight… or gotten close. And this can be an insane experience, especially if it takes years of bouncing up and down the scale to get there (which it usually does). But seriously:

It takes time so one needs to be patient and requires taking a firm decision, being dedicated and disciplined – with both exercise and the things you eat or drink.

My Inspiration
I know it sounds cliché, but I am inspired by love itself. I generally want things to work out for everybody – and sometimes that is perceived as a weakness – but that’s how I always remember myself to be. I’m also deeply inspired by well-told stories in movies and international TV series – especially sitcoms, medical, legal and investigative drama types (Grey’s Anatomy, Bull, NCIS, Hawaii 5-0, Criminal Minds). It’s amazing how much family, friendship and pure love are written into these stories. I feed off that too.

I have a lot of people who have inspired me for years, and still do from all over the world, and here in Nigeria as well. But the one person who stands out for me in this sense is Maje Ayida. He has steadily grown his fitness brand in Nigeria, and he practically hand-held me into the level of “fitpreneurship” that I am at right now.

Reward
Oh my gooodnesss! I mean, I love a huge pay cheque – trust me, I do – but I’m going to go cliché on you again by saying this: My greatest reward is and has always been the smiles on the faces of my clients, and the testimonials they share with me when they are seeing progress in their fitness and health. I can’t explain how awesome it feels when a client walks into my office (or calls me on the phone) to say “mehhn, Mrs Ruby, I’ve started dashing out clothes o! They’re now too big for me” or “Ah! I went to see my cardiologist today and he has reduced my BP meds!”. Or even the cutest one ever, “Mrs Ruby, my butt is taking shape o!” LOL!

Challenges
I think that social enterprise leans heavily on education, which in our world today can be translated as content. Sometimes it is hard to keep up the pace of bringing this knowledge to your audience, and it has to be verified content, because you are putting your brand behind it. Ever since I started the RA-Fit club, both my blog and my social media content took a hit, because I used to be a lot more active in these spaces, sharing inspiration, tips and advice on exercise, nutrition, and lifestyle in general. I am working hard on getting my groove back, so that I can bring my wider audience into the excitement that we’re experiencing in the RA-Fit family.

Projects and Activities
I had a health scare in 2014. In summary, I had a surgery by which I survived a close shave with something called endometrial hyperplasia. This experience led me to do a lot of research into female reproductive cancers. In October 2015 I held GyFest, a small gathering of women to shed light on truths about gynaecologic cancers, and to encourage women to speak up… and to speak up fast – whenever they notice any changes in their body. Don’t ignore the signs. Speaking up early saved my life. Running the club has opened my eyes to the fact that so many women are going though a lot of health-related issues, and they keep it to themselves. This year I intend to make GyFest not just an event but a movement, because I’ve learned a lot within the past year about the need to inspire more courage in women.

Giving up
It’s hard running a business (and a startup, for that matter), especially in Nigeria’s current economic environment, but because for me RA-Fit is – first – a labour of love, I can break up with the whole idea of it at night, we kiss and make up in the morning, and I just can’t wait to get to work and do what I do. I have always said that this is a calling for me, not just a career. One of the reasons I didn’t set out to start a gym in the early days of being a fitness professional is the capital-intensive nature of it. It takes a lot, and you sometimes need more support than you think… financial, emotional, spiritual and otherwise. I pray now more than I used to, and I thank God every day – even when the challenges seem most unbearable.

Being a Woman of Rubies
I asked myself the same question before this interview… then the easy answer came to me: my name is Ruby perhaps? (LOL). But seriously I sometimes ask myself where I get the courage to embark on some things. I guess it’s in me. I’ve been through a lot in my life, as a child, a student in university, and in my years as a married woman and mother. Somehow, I think my early-life battles with financial and social status put this thing in me that sees to it that I won’t sit back and do nothing… ever. I’ve had friends refer to me as a fighter – maybe that’s what I was created to be.

Advice for women who are finding it hard to lose weight and are yet to embrace fitness goals.
Our tag-line at RA-Fit is “Find Your Fit”. The truth is, sometimes we spend more energy benchmarking ourselves against what other people are able to accomplish in this space. We don’t all look the same. Every woman’s body is framed in one of so many diverse beautiful ways, and if we would just focus on bringing forth the particular beauty that is ours, then the fitness goals we set for ourselves become more realistic and less scary, because – truth be told – this is not meant to be a one-time thing, it’s a life-long journey. So I would say in short: set realistic goals, take baby steps, be patient and enjoy every stage of you because the next stage will be glad you did.

In this article:
RA-Fit ClubRuby Agu
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