When Omar Hussein was young his parents moved to the U.S. to escape civil war in Somalia. When he arrived here he only knew the Somali language.
“We used to have to walk from city to city in Somalia,” says his grandmother, “and that was our exercise and many first generation Somali didn’t know any different.”
At age 23, Hussein is now a senior fitness advisor at LA Fitness in Calhoun Square where he educates, trains and helps others. His motto is “be inspired to be the best person you can be today. Be a leader and set the example for those who look up to you.”
“It was always something I wanted to do. Helping others achieve their goals by feeding the fitness experience and the stuff I know,” says Hussein. Now he’s helping other Somalis achieve their fitness goals.
He explains that “most Somali men are athletic but because of their diet they don’t get what they want if they’re trying to build muscle. I’ve had guys say ‘how did you get big’ and ‘how long will it take to get big like you?’”
Hussein tells them about diet and muscle training. It’s not about culture or religion. It’s really about native diet. He is a Muslim and although the Koran forbids women to sweat in the presence of men and for men to take steroids, there are really no other formal roadblocks to fitness. Hussein’s early diet consisted of rice, pasta and not a lot of meat–typical of a native Somali diet.
Diana DuBois is Executive Director of WellShare International, which works to improve the health of women, children and their communities around the world. She confirms the native Somali diet as Somali rice, camel’s milk, pasta, injera bread and some goat meat.
“That’s why most Somali men don’t get there,” says Hussen, referring to building muscle. And he continues, “the traditional Somali diet does not contain a lot of meat.” That’s why his current diet consists of lots of steak, mashed potatoes, greens, beans and cooked egg whites twice a day.
“Everyone is bound to certain natural laws. If you take in more calories than you lose, you will gain weight. Eating enough calories from a balanced diet of macro nutrients such as carbohydrates, healthy fats, and protein and following a specific mass building weightlifting routine will ensure results,” concurs Anthony Meyer, YWCA Uptown Fitness Instructor.
Hussein complements this diet with a rigorous five days of weight lifting workouts and only one day of aerobic exercise. This plan represents current thinking within the industry.
Philip Yannuzzi, Owner and Trainer at Custom Fitness Uptown, describes the muscle gain program, “training in lower repetitions and higher weights adds strength and power to your fitness routine. This forces muscle tissue in the body into ‘adaptation,’ growing by learning to lift heavy weights.”
So Hussein is teaching that although there will always be the super fast, slow, short, tall, strong or flexible individuals within a population, anyone can build muscle with the right diet and exercise plan. And this plan has allowed him to successfully pursue a future in football.
He started by learning the English language. Then he played recreational football at Balboa Park in San Diego in 2000. Already at the recreational level, Hussein was recognized by his coaches. “Keep playing and take it to the next level,” they told him.
From 2002 to 2006 he was captain of his high school football team and from 2007 until 2009 he played for Western Michigan College Football.
Then in 2010 he got his break. He became a free agent, the first Somalian to do so, and played for the Dallas Cowboys Reserve Team as a receiver.
Just this May he was invited to Training Camp with the Texas Texans professional football team for the potential to earn a pro roster spot.
“If the Vikings gave me a chance as a member of the Somali community I would be happy to go and play for them as well. I have 8,000 fans that would watch me from all over the world.”
How did he do it? With patience and application. His mom always said “Take baby steps and your time will come.”
Ambrose Acua who plays running back for Ridgewater College in Willmar has found Hussein very encouraging, “this guy’s out there as a warm hearted role model, getting information out and being a big brother.”
Hussein is modest and patient about this future and sums it up this way, “only God knows what the future will hold. Until then I will surround myself with fitness by helping those to achieve their goals.”
More information can be found on Hussein’s website at www.omarhussein.yolasite.com and a documentary, mostly in Somali with some English, about him can be found at www.youtube.com/watch?v=OehvI8yVUqU
Bruce Cochran is Assistant Editor, Art Director and in charge of Production for the Uptown Neighborhood News and lives in CARAG.