KINGSTON, R.I. – July 16, 2010 – It’s been 30 years since Tony Horton left the University of Rhode Island to chase his dream of making it in Hollywood. Now, give him 90 days of your hard work and sweat, and he’ll help you chase your dream of healthy living.
Not to mention a seriously ripped body.
The face of the world’s preeminent home workout system got his start on the Kingston campus. Horton and his team at Beachbody have transformed the workout program P90X into a $200 million franchise that is changing lives and causing U.S. Congress to rethink the way the nation’s military forces are trained.
SUPPORT IN HIGH PLACES On Saturday, July 17, Horton will be in Washington, D.C. to serve as the race marshal for the annual National Press Club 5K: Beat the Deadline race outside the historic National Press Building.
It’s just the latest visit to the nation’s capitol for Horton, who has grabbed an attentive audience in the U.S. Congress.
“Obviously there is a lot of debate that goes on in D.C., but physical fitness and wellness is a totally bipartisan issue,” Horton said. “It started with (congressmen) Heath Shuler and Paul Ryan working out in a hallway outside the congressional gym, but now they have completely restructured the gym so more people can use P90X.”
Shuler is a democrat from North Carolina and former NFL quarterback, while Ryan is a republican from Wisconson who learned of P90X through a friend who was a Navy SEAL. The two are now joined by dozens of congressmen who have made P90X part of their workout regiment, and they have arranged for Horton to visit U.S. military bases around the world to help incorporate his workout program into military training.
Beyond the military, the issue of obesity, particularly in children, strikes a chord with Horton. Growing up in Trumbull, Conn., he remembered seeing a handful of overweight children.
“Now, with the amount of sugar and salt people consume combined with lack of exercise, more and more people are simply unhealthy,” Horton said. “My purpose is health and fitness, and my goal is to change behaviors.
“I don’t offer a magic pill or potion, and I don’t give shortcuts,” Horton continued. “P90X requires hard work. I don’t pretend it is easy, because it isn’t. But it works.”
Colonial Steven Shepro is certainly convinced. After using P90X himself, the Commander of the 316th Wing and Installation Commander of Andrews Air Force Base, Md., made it a requirement for personnel at Andrews to workout with the program twice a week.
Earlier this spring, Horton participated in the Armed Forces Entertainment Tour, visiting three U.S. military bases in northern Italy. Because the P90X workout can be completed in small spaces, it is ideal for troops in army bases like Camp Darby and Caserma Ederle, or the air force’s Aviano Air Base.
“It was really hard to believe at first, but our government and our military use P90X, which is a thrill for me,” Horton said. “I feel honored to be involved with something having that much of an impact.”
BEGINNING OF A DREAM Horton arrived on the URI campus in 1976 as a theatre major hoping to turn his passion into a career as an actor. A football player in high school, he also developed an interest in weight lifting and physical fitness.
“Looking back, it was interesting that my two main areas of interest were on the opposite ends of campus,” said Horton, who was a member of URI’s Phi Kappa Psi fraternity chapter. “The theatre was at the top of campus, and the gym was at the bottom of campus. The two passions combined in the middle and led me to my career.”
One of the key lessons Horton learned during a weightlifting class he took at URI has played a pivotal role in his teaching approach with P90X.
“The guy teaching the class was willing to work with me and teach me at a speed and pace at which I could learn,” Horton said. “I never forgot that, and it’s why with the P90X, I show each exercise with three different methods, at beginner, intermediate and advanced levels.
“If someone is struggling with an exercise, we show them alterations they can make in order to keep pushing themselves. They do what they can, rather than getting frustrated by what they can’t.”
In the summer of 1980, Horton was a handful of credits shy of earning his degree in communications. He was deciding what summer job to take while he finished his course work when a friend asked if he wanted to go out to California.
“It took me about four seconds to think about it and say, ‘Yes,’” Horton said.
Armed with two suitcases of clothes, his stereo – minus the speakers, which wouldn’t fit in the car – and $400, Horton headed for the West Coast. By the time he got there, he still had the clothes and the stereo, but was out of money. To get by, he made money as a street performer doing mime, a skill he learned and honed back in the Fine Arts Center at URI.
A CAREER TAKES SHAPE Horton landed small acting gigs and did stand-up comedy for a while. Eventually he landed a job as a production assistant with 20th Century Fox, and he worked out on the side to stay in shape for the auditions he went on.
His boss noticed Horton’s physique and asked for help getting into better shape, thus beginning a career as a personal trainer. Through his boss, Horton was connected with legendary musician Tom Petty to help him stay in shape for concert tours.
Word of mouth led to connections with other celebrities, and Horton began working with the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Antonio Banderas. He eventually met Carl Daikeler, CEO of Beachbody and creator of 8-Minute Abs, the parent company of P90X. Working together, Daikeler and Horton first developed Power 90, the precursor to P90X.
Over the last 12 years, Horton and Daikeler have worked to fine tune their product in P90X, which has sold more than 1.5 million units.
“P90X has been a 30-year journey for me, but it has really hit big in the last several years,” Horton said.
Where once he was a personal trainer to the celebrities, he has become a celebrity in his own right. Infomercials for P90X can be seen most any night on television, and Horton gets stopped regularly by fans when he is traveling.
“It is weird for me to get stopped by people in the airport who get excited to see me,” Horton said. “But at the same time, I love it. It’s a constant reminder for me about why I am doing this. When people share their stories about how P90X has improved their lives, you realize that you are helping people make a positive impact on themselves. That’s just a great feeling.”