America’s obsession with health and fitness has reached a fever pitch. Gyms are packed, and personal trainers are hoping to capitalize on the trend. Obiora Nwoye is one such trainer. He owns The Partners Gym, a boutique fitness studio on Franklin Avenue in Thornwood. However, much like his gym, Nwoye’s story is utterly unique.
You won’t find Nwoye drinking a protein shake while yelling at a client to push through one more rep of bicep curls. In fact, Nwoye hasn’t done a single curl in 10 years and rejects the traditional thinking preached in most gyms across the country. The 34-year-old takes a simple, intuitive approach to well being. “I urge my members to pay little attention to the scale,” he says. “Exercising has many benefits beyond weight loss.”
Nwoye’s holistic view on health and fitness can be traced back to his childhood in Nigeria, when the burgeoning athlete was steeped in a culture in which exercise and nutrition were a part of everyday life. Not in a traditional sense of barbells and Bosu balls but in various sports. As a child, Nwoye got his exercise by means of a soccer ball instead of a medicine ball.
Nwoye is the third of five children. His father was a physician and his mother a caterer and guidance counselor. Medicine was the family business, and Nwoye was expected to continue the lineage of doctors. However, Nwoye’s father moved to Saudi Arabia to teach medicine when Nwoye was only seven years old. Upon his return, Nwoye’s father brought home a computer that his son took to immediately.
At the same time, the then-15-year-old Nwoye, who admits he was “skinny” in those days, found himself fascinated with the Total Gym infomercial from the 1990s. “I ended up fashioning a barbell out of construction equipment and two gallon-bucket concrete molds for weights,” he explains of his first strength-building efforts.
With his love of technology in mind, Nwoye enrolled in a computer-science program at The University of Texas at Dallas in 2000. “My Dad paid for all five of [his children’s college tuition] out of pocket,” Nwoye says of his education in America. “For a Nigerian medical doctor, this is quite remarkable.”
It was during his time in college that Nwoye first set foot in a gym. “I knew what a fitness center was growing up, mostly from American movies,” he explains. “Soon after my arrival in Texas, I asked my Uncle Patrick if he would take me to his gym. He did. It was a Bally’s in Plano.” Nwoye started performing the first exercise his uncle showed him: the decline bench press. He couldn’t stop. “My chest was sore for almost two weeks,” he says of his first workout session. “That was it. I was hooked.”
At UT Dallas, Nwoye would spend his days majoring in computer science and hitting the weights after dark. In six months, the 6’4” Nwoye went from a lanky 165 pounds to more than 200. He attributed his 40-pound gain to a combination of passion and intuition. “It all clicked when I tuned into the frequency of my body,” he says. “It was talking back to me, and I could hear it.”
Yet, Nwoye’s dream of opening a fitness center of his own didn’t come to fruition immediately. Upon his 2003 graduation from UT Dallas, he took his bachelors degree in computer science to IBM in Poughkeepsie, where he received a full-time offer as a software developer. It was in Poughkeepsie that he joined his first gym: Mike Arteaga’s Health and Fitness Club. After a few years at Arteaga’s, Nwoye started informally training friends and members who admired his work ethic.
Obiora Nwoye (right) with brother Uche Nwoye (left) and friend Chukwuma Ndibe (center) in Nigeria.
“I always said ‘Yes,’ but I also found that it limited my engine of creativity,” he explains of training others. “There is tendency to go with the tried-and-trusted methods, but that limits innovation.”
At IBM, meanwhile, Nwoye was also growing impatient with the solitary, noninteractive nature of software programming. “I don’t think I had ever really been passionate about software development, even though I was quite successful at it,” he admits. “My heart had always been in improving people’s lives through fitness and creating better outcomes in business.” Even his eventual promotion to first-line manager didn’t meet his expectations. “I was surprised to realize how limited a role I could play in implementing significant and original ideas,” he says. It had become inescapably clear to him that his creative, problem-solving management style needed an outlet.
In late 2014, Nwoye finally set out to purchase a gym of his own. After an exhausting six-month search, Nwoye bought a Thornwood gym called “Will2Lose” and rebranded it “The Partners Gym,” though the entrepreneurial Nwoye hadn’t immediately notified his parents of his new career trajectory. “I didn’t know if they would try to stop me, and I didn’t want to find out,” he recalls. “I was already pushing it with computer science [as a career], while my four siblings were in the medical field.”
Secrecy aside, Nwoye immediately knew Thornwood was the perfect location for his new venture—and his new home. “I just fell in love with the place and the town,” he says. “I’m fairly new to it, but I love the fact people here value small businesses.”
The purchase came at a steep price. “I bet all my assets with the exception of my house, my 2010 Honda Civic, and the parts of my 401(k) that I couldn’t borrow against,” he says of his $130,000 acquisition. “The name symbolizes my view of how clients and employees should relate within a business. It’s a partnership.”
Nwoye enacted unique policies and practices at The Partners Gym that appear to be working. For one, Nwoye doesn’t set up long-term contracts with members, only month to month. He insists this allows him to be more accountable to his clients and work harder to ensure results.
Nwoye, who is single, credits his views on diet and nutrition to his Nigerian upbringing, eating food grown and cultivated from the one-acre farm and vegetable garden behind his house. Nwoye channels his passion for nutrition into cooking. “I love to make things from scratch,” he says, “including sauces, dressings, and cheese.”
At The Partners Gym, exercise is based in simple, team-oriented workouts focused on functional movements that make exercise more enjoyable. “You must create a warm and friendly community around the burpees and box jumps,” he says.
The Partners Gym provides more than just fun sweat sessions. The gym is also very active in charitable efforts around Westchester County. This has included hosting a car-wash fundraiser for local schools, sponsoring the Mount Pleasant Education Foundation’s annual Turkey Trot and holding a Zumba class to benefit the Food Bank for Westchester. Charity is Nwoye’s way of repaying the community that has helped his dream come to life. “A business in itself has no conscience or causes outside of what is infused in it by the people who compose it,” he explains.
Nwoye would love to expand The Partners Gym to other locations in Westchester, but his main priority is making his Thornwood location the best it can be. “I would like us to continue to bring in new and cool equipment, as well as the best trainers in the area,” he shares, “to make fitness less of a chore and more of a fun, exciting challenge.”
Nwoye is deeply committed to this effort, so much so that he recently resigned from IBM to focus full-time on Partners. “I am entering a phase of my journey where I will have no income,” he explains of his decision to leave computer giant after more than 10 years. “I’d rather be homeless and wake up knowing the next 20 hours be spent working on something I believe in than make $200,000 a year at something that requires me to check my convictions at the door.”