Ihuoma Nwigwe went from a spin novice to instructing classes in elite fitness gyms across the United States. This certified fitness instructor has carved a niche for herself in the world of fitness and health. Nwigwe is definitely unstoppable. She shares her fitness career story with Azuka Ogujiuba, talking about how it all started, her formative years, her vision, daily routine and her take on domestic violence
What inspired you to becoming a fitness instructor?
My parents were fitness enthusiasts. My mom was a physical education teacher and my dad played soccer and lawn tennis for Total Nigeria. So, my siblings and I grew up being involved in sports from an early age.
How did you progress from being a novice to instructing in some of the world-acclaimed fitness gyms across the United States?
As any young girl or boy in college would, I joined the Track and Field team as well as Tennis. I was involved in sports throughout college in the United States. After I graduated, I signed up at LA Fitness, a major gym in the US and continued training. Then I met a Nigerian-born American, who was at that time, the current Mr. Connecticut. He got me involved in pro fitness and he started training me. I fell in love with fitness all over again, after changing my lifestyle and seeing how beneficial it was to me, health-wise.
What would you say to people out there who want to make fitness a lifestyle?
I would say, just start!! I tell my clients all the time that I was just like them at some point. Yes, my parents started me young, but remember I was by myself in College and I had to make the choice to continue training. Just start. There is never a perfect time to start. You must be consistent and dedicated to this lifestyle. No excuses.
What is your daily routine like?
I train at least five days a week, aside from clients’ personal training where I sometimes have to train side by side with my clients. I prefer to train in the mornings but if I can’t, then evenings.
I also own a meal planning business. So, I have to also make out time to follow up with my clients. I am also an hotelier by profession, so all these have to be done before or after work.
Tell us about your dieting
I always say, I do not diet. I more or less practice portion control. I learnt this style of eating over 10 years ago while I was working towards my professional fitness physique competition. I recognise that I must always have more vegetables in my plate than carbohydrates or protein. I use my 50/30/20 method. 50% Veggies, 30% protein and 20% carbohydrates and of course I do not fry any of my foods. My meals are cooked, sautéed or grilled. No fried food whatsoever.
Would you call yourself a feminist, and what’s your take on feminism generally?
No, I would not call myself a Feminist. I am all for women empowerment. My clients are women and men and I believe that women in general have their place in society. I would not want to take over the role of a man but as a woman, I am still strong, but gentle and feminine. Women do not have to be feminists to be recognised in society.
When you are not working, how do you relax?
I love to watch TV, yes I do. I love movies. I can stay at home all day watching TV or playing with my daughter.
If you had the opportunity to meet one particular fitness enthusiast in the world, who would that be and why?
I would love to meet Massy Arias. She is what I would call an Athlete. She understands that fitness is an entirety of everything that has to be done to get the body healthy. With the craziness of social media, a lot of people are springing up, claiming to sell fitness but to me, it doesn’t look that way. Massy is a real Athlete which is what I totally admire about her.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Cake; which is why you can’t find that in my home. But if I attended a party where there was cheese cake or red velvett cake, then I can’t guarantee you how I would behave. I have never shared this with anyone, but my siblings know this. While I was in the US, I literally used to have my mom or dad send cake to me from Nigeria. I never liked the cakes in the US. So, I would have my parents send cake all the time to me in huge amounts and I would store them in my freezer for months.
Where did you spend your formative years?
I spent my formative years in the US. I am a graduate of Quinnipiac University, Connecticut, Majored in Health Science with a minor in Sociology. Following graduation, I worked as a Claims Analyst at the world’s largest publicly traded Property and Casualty insurer, Chubb Insurance. For seven years, I handled claims, as well as lawsuits for sexual harassment and discrimination for top sporting athletes, and apex US companies – from professional basketball players to Yale University before relocating to Nigeria.
What was it like growing up there?
It was good but also somewhat lonely. My siblings and I are very close, so when we all started to move out to different colleges, it was hard. But, I am thankful for the 20 plus years I spent in the US. I am American as well, so coming back to Nigeria and sharing my knowledge here has been amazing but home is always home.
Can we say you were born with a silver spoon?
Hahahahaha…nope. We were comfortable and my dad was quite big on education. I wouldn’t use the word Silver Spoon.
How did your background shape your life?
Like I mentioned earlier, I grew up very close to my siblings. My parents have a peaceful marriage and I think that helped mold us a lot. Growing up in the US was also very beneficial to me. Americans are known to have a big heart and I think that trickled down to me. I try as much as I can to show love and kindness to everyone irrespective of their status.
My parents are still very much alive. My dad retired from Total Nig Ltd and my mom was a Physical Education teacher and also owned a very high end boutique back in her young days. My parents currently reside in the South-east, still happily married.
What was the best gift you remember receiving as a child?
A pleated black skirt my dad bought for me during one Xmas break. I can never forget that skirt. I wanted it so bad and one day my dad surprised me by going to the boutique himself to buy it.
What was the most difficult thing that ever happened to you in all your years and how did you overcome it?
My divorce. I was married to my first love who I met when I was 16. I moved back to Nigeria the same year of my divorce. I drove myself fully into my fitness lifestyle and truly, it helped me a lot.
What do you do that you consider the biggest mistake you have ever made?
I would never call anything a mistake. I believe that everything in life happens for a reason and we just learn from it. Let’s say there are four paths and you have the option of taking any path, my belief is that each path leads you somewhere entirely different from the other three. We just gotta keep changing paths in life in hopes that we can end up achieving our purpose here on earth.
What are some of your indelible high points in life?
I honestly can’t think of any.
What is your biggest fear in life?
Well, I wouldn’t call it a fear but more or less my goal. I want to be able to live my purpose to the best of my ability. I know my passion and purpose is fitness but also I want it to align with God and the plans he has for me. Trying to figure that out is where I am currently.
Are there still things you desire?
Of course! I would love to one day open my own fitness studio/gyms across Africa, something my daughter can always take over because she already shares this passion with me. My biggest dream come through would be to open a US standard type gym. I have over 10 years of experience in the fitness lifestyle and can’t wait to share it.
What are some of the lessons life has taught you?
Only place your trust in God not man. With God, all things are possible.
What’s your take on domestic violence and child abuse?
This is a very delicate topic that we do not address as a society a lot. I am currently working on a project that somewhat addresses mental health stemming out of abuse. From my personal experience, I believe that my current fitness lifestyle has helped me quite a lot mentally. Coming from the US where there are serious laws against abuse, whether of a child or an adult, I talk about this a lot. I have met people, especially women, who have gone through abuse and have joined this fitness lifestyle to help them cope. As a mother with a nine year- old daughter, I am always very hands on with my daughter.
I am her mother first and then her best friend. I built on that friendship in order for us both to be able to share and talk to each other freely. And she shares everything with me.