timberland classic boots sale How celebrity trainer Shaun T went from Camden survivor to fitness superstar
The sun baked stretch of Camden’s North 23rd Street outside Calvary Bible Tabernacle is mostly empty, save for a musclebound man in a red polo shirt. An older man with a salt and pepper beard approaches, flagging him down.
“Is your name Shaun?” he shouts, moving closer.
“Mr. Shaun! Mr. Shaun!” he yelps, introducing himself as “Bunny.” Dropping low to the sidewalk, he busts out a few breakdancing moves outside the church gates. His effort is earnest, if a bit rusty, but the man in the polo shirt can’t stop smiling. He extends an arm to give the man a hug.
“Hallelujah!” Bunny howls, dancing down the street. “I will never forget this.”
The Shaun in question is Shaun T, the fitness celebrity who made his name off late night TV infomercials for funky dance workouts and intensive plyometric drills. Since Beachbody released his first DVD, “Hip Hop Abs,” in 2007, the company says he has sold more than 8 million workout videos, including the strenuous yet popular ”
“This is my life,” Shaun says. “People aren’t nervous in my space.” And it’s not just in Camden, his hometown. Wherever he goes, he gets recognized at least a few times a day.
Floyd Anthony Harris, a Camden local known as ‘Bunny,’ busts out a few breakdancing moves for Shaun T outside Calvary Bible Tabernacle, where Shaun’s grandfather was pastor. To wit, just a moment later, Bunny the breakdancer returns to ask Shaun, 38, for help getting into in a drug addiction program. Shaun’s representative takes down contact information for the man’s family.
“The feeling that you felt in that moment, you have to live in that,” Shaun tells Bunny, talking about his breakdance routine. “You know what I’m saying? Trust and believe. Never give up.”
For nearly a decade now, Shaun T has been telling those embarking on home workouts the same thing “trust and believe.” But long before he was conquering living rooms across the country with his positive thinking mantra and glistening torso, Shaun T was a teen survivor of sexual assault who considered Calvary Bible Tabernacle his second home. Raised on food stamps, he wore socks with holes in them and didn’t give up on his shoes until the soles were “talking.”
“It builds so much character,” he says of his tumultuous upbringing. Now, with a slew of workout videos to his name, he has enough money to live on a golf course in Arizona. Still, Shaun T says he gets his high from raising people up telling them to “dig deeper,” whether that means helping someone in a wheelchair dance or driving the daily routine that helps someone lose half their bodyweight.
“Money does not drive me,” he says. “It just doesn’t.”
His voice snatches dozing insomniacs from the dim cast of their TVs at 4 in the morning.
“If you give me 25 minutes, I’ll give you a life,” Shaun T promises in one intense infomercial, wearing a headset mic, his face coated in sweat. His pitch is for “Focus T25,” a workout that sounds like it traveled from 2029 to assassinate Sarah Connor. The routine promises all the fury of a full blown fitness regimen in less than half an hour, sans weights.
“He comes through the screen into people’s living rooms,” says Lara Ross, a Beachbody executive vice president who previously worked on Richard Simmons videos. “He crosses that boundary like no one I’ve seen in my entire career.”
Part of the sell is Shaun T’s actual body. The Camden native’s sculpted biceps, washboard abs (“His abs have abs!” one devotee proclaims) and penchant for dance based cardio have likely compelled someone you know to sweat it out with one of his flashily named workouts, like the supercharged “T25” and the body shaking “Cize.” He’s brawny, but not in the way bros who spend all day at the gym can be his muscles bulge out, but he’s no Popeye.
In fact, last year Shaun T addressed critics who thought him too thin. While filming his “Insanity: The Asylum” videos, he clocked in at just 4.1 percent body fat. But the fitness celebrity says that’s no personal benchmark.
“It’s too much work and I like doughnuts,” he says (toasted coconut or butterscotch, please). “But I still keep a six pack.” He adheres to a system that favors clean eating, but not to the exclusion of all else 85 percent healthy, 15 percent fun.
People consume Shaun T’s workouts either on DVD an “Insanity” kit sells for $145 or on their phones and laptops through a subscription to Beachbody On Demand, the company’s streaming platform, which costs about $13 a month.
Beachbody, founded in Santa Monica in 1998, claims a billion dollar network of customers and fitness “coaches” that help sell workouts, diet plans and nutrition shakes to friends and family through social media. While some consider the pyramid style business plan to be suspect each coach gets a cut of sales, and a cut of the sales of their customers who in turn become coaches “Team Beachbody” diehards swear by the system, which uses portion controlled eating and “accountability” groups.
Workouts from Shaun T, one of 13 trainers in the Beachbody stable, are another tool in the program. In 2003, P90X, an advanced level workout from Beachbody trainer Tony Horton, became one of the company’s earliest successes former vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan name checked the program in the run up to the 2012 election.
But beyond Beachbody, the larger business of Shaun T Inc. includes his Facebook page “liked” 1.6 million times a YouTube channel with 84,000 subscribers, corporate speaking engagements, Shaun T apparel and a sneaker line with Fila. This year the fitness guru hosted “My Diet is Better Than Yours,” an ABC reality competition series that pits health and fitness experts against each other in a kind of reverse “Biggest Loser” the trainers, not the ones who need to lose weight, get sent home.
For diehard Shaun T fans, there’s also Shaun T emoji, a Shaun T podcast and a Shaun T organic meal delivery service.
Shaun T’s transformation
Shaun T is a lightning rod for stories of personal growth and change Shaun T helped someone lose 100 pounds, Shaun T helped save a marriage. But there was a time growing up in South Jersey when even he was in desperate need of an escape.
Shaun Thompson was born in Camden and spent his early years with his mother and brother in Philadelphia. Feeling trapped by what he describes as four years of sexual abuse by a family member, he took refuge with his grandparents in Deptford.
“It completely changed the course of my life,” says Thompson, who now goes by his married name, Shaun Blokker he wed former professional soccer player Scott Blokker in 2012. “I didn’t feel like I was actually born until I was 14 years old.”
His grandmother, Effie Dawson, was his “everything,” he says, the “right hand lady” to his grandfather, the Rev. Charles Dawson, pastor at Camden’s Calvary Bible Tabernacle, who on Saturday mornings would go to a farmers’ market to collect bread and distribute it to the community, then stand at a street corner near the church and preach with a megaphone. Today Blokker traces a direct line between his grandparents’ example and his fitness empire.