Tough Love: Pushing Limits, Gaining Fans
By Sabrina Enayatulla
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Observer Staff Writer

He is becoming a fitness phenomenon, a local celebrity, with women flocking to him after every class making small talk, asking him about his plans for the weekend or leaving him with a compliment. Ron West's ears should be burning around the clock, because his name is buzzing in the streets from Leesburg to Washington, D.C.

This kickboxing guru said he wants to be the next Billy Blanks, but some would say that West's high-energy style surpasses that of the man who made Tae Bo a household workout. West may not be training celebrities in Beverly Hills just yet, but on the East Coast, West is making a big name for himself. At an even 6 feet tall, West has a thin, muscular build, but said that wasn't the case 15 years ago when he weighed more than 250 pounds and had a 48-inch waist. Today, he weighs about 185.

West began working out seriously about five years ago and soon after began teaching classes. Today, West teaches the most popular form of kickboxing, known as cardiovascular (cardio) kickboxing, which combines elements of boxing, martial arts, and aerobics to provide overall physical conditioning and toning. In addition to teaching 36 classes a week and training 14 clients, West is also learning the techniques of stick and knife fighting.

It has come to a point now where West's classes are overcrowded and eager students have to call ahead of time to reserve a spot. One gym said students need to call in by noon, and in less than 10 minutes, the list of about 50 students is full. Other gyms pack close to 80 people in a room on the nights West is teaching.

But if you walk into one of his classes, it's no surprise why West has become one of the area's favorite fitness instructors. From George Washington University to SAIC, the National Renaissance Organization, Sport and Health to Fitness First, Elite Fitness and Freddie Mac, West puts in about 16 hours a day teaching classes and training clients. "I'm tough," West said. "I will push you and I will make you push yourself."

West, a native of Cincinnati, Ohio, stood in line at Panera Bread in Reston Town Center on a Sunday afternoon waiting for his lunch-a Pepperblue Steak sandwich and an iced green tea. He talked about how much he loved the East Coast but wished he had time to vacation in Miami. Instead, West opts to go camping and hiking, though he hasn't done either since last year, before his second divorce. West, 51, has been married twice and says he doesn't think he will ever marry again. He has two sons from his first wife: Rondon, who is 17, and Taylor, 14. "He made the honor roll for the first time this year," West said of Rondon, leaning back on his heels and looking up as if to burst with excitement.

"The younger one, wants to play football at Westfield next year," he added. West has developed a nutrition and workout plan to prepare Taylor for tryouts. With his clientele base made up almost entirely of women, West admits, with a smile, to dating some of his students. Although he has been seeing someone for a few months now, West said he doesn't have much time for anything other than work-and partying. West said he usually goes out three to four times a week adding that he can stay out all night and still make it to a 5:30 a.m. class with enough energy "to get the thing moving." West grew up in Cincinnati. His mother gave birth to him when she was 16 years old and worked hard to provide for her son. She worked as many as three jobs at one time and West's father worked for trash removal services. As an only child, West said he and his mother were always close, but his father's abusive tendencies and womanizing kept West from ever developing a relationship with him. When his father died of liver cancer in the early 1990s, West said he "wasn't moved by his death." After graduating from an all boys' Catholic high school, West received a scholarship to Cincinnati's College of Applied Science in chemical engineering, but dropped out of school six months before graduation. "I was young and dumb," he said. "I guess I just had other plans for my future. Catholic school was a bubble. When I went to college I saw a whole new world in front of me."

In 1995 West moved to Reston and now lives in Ashburn. Today, West is a Baptist and said he seldom attends church, but it would be a rare sight to see West without the gold cross he wears around his neck. Even during his classes, it is tucked away beneath his fitness shirts. West appears mild mannered and slightly reserved outside of the gym, but during his classes, he has more energy than a kindergarten class on a sugar high. His intense passion for a good beat has his students doing jumping jacks and throwing jabs to his own mixes of techno, rhythm and blues, club and hip hop music.

"There's just so much energy, it's crazy," he said. "The music, the people... It consumes me." Ultimately, West said he would like to slow down. Possibly tap into the right media outlet to produce videos and eventually have people teaching his classes for him. But for now, West is in high demand and he knows it. If you ask West what he thinks of himself as an instructor he pauses for a moment, leans forward, looks straight at you, and with his signature smile says, "I'm humble. But I will say this. I must be good, because I pack a house."