Going the distance

Updated: 2011-07-22 12:10

By Zhang Xi (China Daily European Weekly)

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 Going the distance

 Tony Nicholson is hoping to officially open a fitness company in September. Zhu Xingxin / China Daily

British fitness coach comes to terms with tragedy through life changes

Discipline, focus, commitment and momentum are the four principles that underscore the life and times of Briton Tony Nicholson. The Beijing-based private trainer and fitness coach helps company executives, school students and people of all sizes and ages improve their health.

Like many expats who come to China for adventure and a fresh start, Nicholson saw it as an opportunity to reinvent himself. He is now pursuing a career he really wants, rather than a job he had to do.

The 25-year-old is a British citizen but has an international background. His mother is English, his father is Brazilian and he spent the first 13 years of his life growing up in the Middle East, where his dad was a football and swimming coach.

He returned to England to attend a military high school and graduated with a scholarship to attend a boarding school in the United States.

While in America, Nicholson made a fateful decision to take Mandarin classes because a year later, at age 19, he found himself living in China.

"My Chinese teacher asked me whether I preferred to take the easy route into China through well-established universities in Beijing or the hard route living and studying in rural China," he says.

"For a hot-blooded young man like me, the answer was definitely the hard way."

And the teacher was not exaggerating. Nicholson encountered many difficulties during his stay at a university in Chaozhou, in South China's Guangdong province.

"Being the first foreigner out of 13,000 students meant I had to quickly fit into this foreign environment and immediately learning how to speak, read and write," he says.

After two years he received a diploma, and soon scored a job teaching English to the staff of a cup-making factory. This project led to a successful business exporting goods to Dubai.

All was going well for the young entrepreneur until an economic downturn punctured his business and left him without work.

Determined to learn more about China, in 2007 he relocated to Beijing to attend the prestigious Tsinghua University.

For two years all was going well until major tragedy struck.


Going the distance

In 2009, he went to Dubai to visit his father, who had divorced his mother when he was very young.

On the last day of his stay, his father collapsed in front of him suffering from a heart attack. After three months on life-support in a Dubai hospital, Nicholson senior returned to Britain. Within a week he died.

The death of his father really took its toll on young Nicholson and after returning to China, the grief-stricken man worked 16 to 20 hours a day on various jobs to deal with the grief.

"I was very, very sad because I loved my father so much. I just did not know how to pull myself together," Nicholson says.

After three months, he realized he was trapped in the never-ending cycle of depression and knew he had to make a change.

"I started to tell myself: 'Tony, you have to stand up again. You have to gain energy and motivation to continue your life'," he says. "I tried recalling what made me happy during my life, and the answer was exercise."

When Nicholson was ready to change, he believes that life was ready to accommodate his transformation.

He says it came in the form of a 12-week health and fitness challenge. The Beijing event required participants to improve their bodies through self-control, exercise and diet.

At that time he weighed 113 kilograms with 24 percent body fat, which is considered 10 percent higher than a fit and healthy man with his body type.

As he took part in the challenge, he maintained his busy work schedule but also squeezed in two hours of training every day, six days a week.

He rarely had time to go to the gym, so he exercised at home and experimented with different training methods in his battle with the bulge. He also maintained a strict diet.

Every day his body ached, but he discovered that with great pain came great gain. By the end of the three-month challenge, he had lost 16 kilograms and dropped 16 percent body fat.

Out of 50 contestants, he won the best male category and best overall competitor and a 100,000 yuan (10,649 euros) prize.

The money allowed him to quit his other work and focus on a new career.

"More and more people got to know me through word of mouth and after my new clients worked with me for a while, they respected me for my dedication and focus," he says.

Requests from schools and companies came thick and fast.

Surprisingly, Nicholson trains many people for free. His official fitness company is in the process of being registered in China and a license is expected to be granted in September.

During the interview, Nicholson was quick to offer fitness advice for office workers who spend most of their day in front of a computer.

He demonstrated neck stretches, which are designed to release stress and also showed how to strengthen arms and legs by using an office chair.

All of his enthusiastic demonstrations and explanations of the science behind every movement reveal his passion for his subject.

"I thought about how I could help everyone here in China live healthier. The answer was to open a fitness firm and gym," he says. "I am living my dream by leading a healthy life and helping many people to get fit.

"I have gained what I wanted and even unexpected achievements through my insistence. I know I will be successful and famous as long as I stick to my goal."

Besides his current path, the ambitious young man has also set new academic goals.

"I will be a finance major at a Beijing university next year and after getting my bachelor's degree, I will apply to Harvard Business School. I believe my experiences will certainly help me make it.

"But I will come back to China for sure. People here are nice and big cities like Beijing can provide me everything I need. I always tell my foreign friends: 'the West is the past tense, while China is the present tense'."


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