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Athlete and Advocate Brendon Ayanbadejo Says What Doesn’t Challenge You, Doesn’t Change You

You played football for UCLA before embarking on a 13-year career with the NFL and a Super Bowl win with the Baltimore Ravens in 2013. But since then you’ve transitioned to developer of several Orangetheory Fitness studios in California. How did that partnership come about?

BA: For the origin of my Orangetheory involvement, we have to go back to 2013 and the Super Bowl. I was under the impression that after becoming a newly crowned Super Bowl champion, I was going to be able to take some time off, rest and relax for a couple of weeks. Well, my wife had other ideas. She dragged me into an Orangetheory three days after the Super Bowl. I walked into my very first class very stiff. I sat on a water rower for the first time, and my body warmed up and I started feeling good.

My entire life I had been working out and doing group fitness with the best athletes and trainers in the world. As a pro athlete you get paid to work out—around $150 a day. It’s not a part of your salary either. Some guys have huge, seven-figure, off-season workout bonuses and entire teams they employ to get an edge. It’s a different beast when you’re working out to improve upon your health, to improve upon your fitness, to live a longer, more vibrant and better life as opposed to for your career only. And so I felt that energy and joy immediately.

Eventually I went to OTF’S corporate headquarters, and they welcomed me with open arms. We haven’t looked back since. I found my passion with Orangetheory. I am now part of a group that owns 45 studios and counting in Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay area, Sacramento, and in and around Cincinnati, Ohio, as well as Melbourne, Australia. We literally are improving thousands of people’s lives on a daily basis.


Now that many gyms and studios are returning back to somewhat normal operations, how has Orangetheory approached their classes and general operations? 

BA: We are elated to be back to normal operations. We were able to navigate the ups and downs of Covid but are so thrilled to be back doing what we love, 100% of the time. While we have always kept our studios impeccably sanitary, we will continue to go the extra mile to maintain the highest standard of cleanliness.

We really want to welcome everyone back to the studios with open arms. We’ve had the world famous Orangetheory DriTri, the Transformation Challenge, 90 minute classes, family & friends referral initiatives, and named Steve Aoki our Chief Music Officer. We are pushing hard to make our OTF community stronger and better than ever. We are also continuing to pour into our staff to enhance the OTF experience.

 

 

We’re going on two years removed from the protests and civil unrest that occurred in the wake of George Floyd’s death. You’ve talked much about being the son of a Nigerian father and a mother of Irish descent. What particular struggles did you encounter as a young, biracial man?

BA: I would say it was more so when I was a kid. People would say, “Oh, is Brendon Black? Is he Latino? Like, what is he?” So I had to adapt and fit into every single crowd. I think that’s what taught me to be a chameleon and fit in with any group. Between living in the inner city of Chicago and then living in Santa Cruz—a beach town that is predominantly White but also Latinos and Blacks—I got to spend time with a lot of different people. I was pretty fortunate to have two extremes of places that I grew up in. But I also felt like I always had to represent being Nigerian American. Being Black, I just felt like I had to stand up and represent so much more. I had so much more on my shoulders. I had to represent the entire race of Black people in a very positive light at all times, and I accepted that responsibility.

But, you know, you shouldn’t have to feel like you’re representing a whole race. You should be able to be an individual, seen as an individual and treated equally. Those are still things I’m sorting out today as a man. But, yeah, it’s made me who I am today, so I wouldn’t change anything. Also in June, we recognize Loving Month. There were anti-miscegenation laws, so racial mixing wasn’t allowed. So now we celebrate the United States allowing Black-and-White couples to get married. It’s hard to fathom that America still attempts to dictate who we can and can’t love. Ask the LGBTQ community.


There’s still so much we can learn as a people and lots of room to continue to grow.

BA: A lot of things have already changed (in the past two years). We’re addressing incarceration reform. We’re addressing police reform. We’re addressing things you can do socially to support people of color. We’re talking about different ways you can acknowledge and confront your own racism, things you didn’t realize. It isn’t necessarily that you’re a bad person. It’s just that you had some blind spots. So we’re addressing those things, and we’re working on those things with our allies who want to change. I think overall the good that is going to come out of this will overwhelmingly outweigh the bad. I’m excited about the country we are building through this tough time. We’re not there yet. We’ve still got a ways to go, but we’re finally starting to address it.

 

 

Pride month is also coming up in June, and you have been a huge advocate for LGBTQ rights, specifically for same-sex marriage. What ignited that passion in you?

BA: Well, I think everybody’s always looked at it as gay rights, but just take off the LGBTQ for a moment. Now let’s just call it RIGHTS. That’s my way of addition by subtraction. We have to now add back all the disenfranchised groups in America. Let’s throw in people of color. Let’s throw in women. Let’s throw in children. Let’s throw in immigrants and DREAMERS. Let’s throw in religion. I started with LGBTQ because it was their time. Nothing is more powerful than an idea in the right time and place. 2012 was the year of “love is love.” As human beings, we should want everybody to have the same rights and to be treated equally.

I started talking about LGBTQ rights in 2009. It’s been awesome that so many NFL players have reached out to me. They’re saying, “I get it. I finally understand what you are doing and why you are doing it. I didn’t get it before. It’s RIGHTS, and it’s RIGHTS for everybody.” Loving v. Virginia ignited all this in me. This country’s always been trying to tell people who they can and cannot love. But love is love, and LGBTQ love will ultimately build upon the family unit. You need two parents who love you and take care of you. We need these families to have health care, marriage rights, adoption rights, rights in the workplace. This will make our children stronger and more capable adults. After all, the divorce rate is lower in the LGBTQ community than the straight community. We could use a lesson in love.

 

What’s next for you and Orangetheory in 2022? How do you hope to grow your personal brand and the business at large?

BA: My personal brand is entwined with Orangetheory and the “Orange Nation.” We will continue to push and innovate the fitness space. OTF continues to publish science-based data on the best ways to be healthier and strong, truly forging more life! OTF has just opened its 1500th studio globally and it’s here in the Mar Vista community of Los Angeles. We have new treadmills that go up to 15 MPH. We have integrated connected fitness not only to the treadmills but the rowers as well. Connected fitness tracks all your speeds, distances, wattage and other valuable metrics that you specifically perform in class. There’s nothing quite like it. Much like an OTF class and OTF the brand I personally like to operate in the uncomfortable zone. When I’m there I know I’m forced to get better!

One final question. You go by your middle name, Brendon, but your first name is Oladele. What does it translate to?

BA: In Nigerian culture, your grandmother typically names you. I was born in Chicago, and my grandmother knew we’d be coming home to Nigeria soon. So Oladelemeans “wealth follows me home.” I thought that was a beautiful name and a good tribute to the motherland.

 

To help you achieve your fitness goals, Orangetheory is giving you the chance to win a free year of unlimited classes in their Spring Into #MORELIFE Giveaway. You can get details and enter here.


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