R.I.P. Customer Service…for now

A customer is the most important visitor on our premises, he is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so.—Mahatma Gandhi

Customer Service? What’s That?

These inspiring words from Gandhi give us a pretty precise idea of what the philosophy of customer service was in a time really not long ago, but seemingly so far away. Other old-school notions such as “the customer is always right” has faded away like Gandhi himself, which leads us to the ultimate question: What happened to customer service?

I worked in a department store in Philadelphia called Strawbridge & Clothier. Strawbridge’s, as it was locally called, was a multi-level beautiful structure in a style similar to the old Macys stores. The merchandise sold was considered classier and the ambience a bit classier too. You felt welcomed when you walked into this family-owned establishment and were often greeted by the Strawbridge family themselves, who chose to be among the shoppers over hanging out in a luxury penthouse suite.

Today, you are lucky to get a greeting in most stores. Instead are followed by leech-like employees looking to make a commission, or watching your every move to make sure you don’t shoplift a pair of $20 underwear. Cash register personnel are often low paid, miserable individuals who spend their hours day dreaming of that “someday” that they will get out of “this place.” The days of “thank you” and “please come again” have gone away thankless.

Not the best example (but one I’ll use anyway) is my recent experience at 7-11. The attendant seemed perturbed that I was actually asking him a question about a product. I guess I threw off the conversation he was having with the voice at the other end of the Bluetooth attached to his ear as he looked at me grimly and said, “I don’t know.” The woman behind me stepped up and said what I should have, “Just because you are a miserable person doesn’t mean you need to take it out on customers.” How true?

Ah, the cell phone, Bluetooth and self-service—yes, technology has played a part in the demise of customer service. Supermarkets have added self-serve areas. Now we have to scan and bag out own items. Gas stations are mostly all self-service and attendants have developed a reputation for ripping people off. (Did you really need a new filter?)

It is hard to speak to a real person these days, and often when you do, you are speaking to someone in another country and language barrier hold us hostage in longer, drawn out calls of re-explaining your situation.

Despite the banking bailout 3 years ago, Bank of America (America no less) has been on the firing and hiring binge—firing Americans and hiring overseas, mainly in the Philippines—where they can get cheap labor. Oh, and they get what they pay for. Wells Fargo followed suit outsourcing jobs to India and the Philippines. Then there are the robots, or automated customer service systems, where a real person is eliminated and replaced with a option of push-buttons and a voice command system. In many cases, the voice command system fails to do one important thing…understand your voice. 

In a study released in April 2012 by the research firm, Vocalabs, 11.14% of Hewlett Packard customers complained about language barriers, followed by 7.28% of Dell customers. Citi Group was cited as having the worse automated customer service system, with Verizon in at a close second. Among the highest complaints from frustrated customers using automated customer service systems:

  1. The system didn’t have the option they were looking for.
  2. They had to call back and start over.
  3. It was hard to reach a real person.

I had this experience recently with a company called Bill Me Later. When I called, the option I needed was not an option at all, and there was no prompt to speak to a real person. After hitting “#” and “0” several times, I finally tricked the system and someone answered. The other thing I noticed about my experience with Bill Me Later, is when I said the words, “I’ll never use this service again.” There was no effort made by the call rep to maintain me as a customer. It’s equivalent to saying, “So what? Leave.”

Back to the Gandhi quote: We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so.

 A concept that has totally gone out the window, especially in the food service and clothing industries. Have you ever been at a counter ordering food and felt rushed to give your order and step aside? Or had some snooty clothing store person treat you like you should be privileged they let you walk in their store? Attitudes like this are all to common in today’s world.

But is it too late to change the gruesome fate of customer service? No, bottom line, the numbers should reflect how much good customer service means to people. A company called BIGinsight compiled a list of companies for its Customer Choice Awards.

The Top 10:

1. Amazon.com

2. L.L. Bean

3. Zappos.com

4. Overstock.com

5. QVC

6. Kohl’s

7. Lands’ End

8. JC Penney

9. Newegg.com

10. Nordstrom

Now according to Forbes, Customer service in the conventional sense has generally implied face-to-face communication: greeting a customer; providing him/her with product information, demonstrations, additional options, or size assistance; suggesting add-ons or complementary products; and finally, completing the sale. Historically, the best opportunity to cultivate great customer relationships is within an environment where personal interaction between the retailer (i.e. sales associates) and customers is at its peak: a physical store.

That being said, how could an online service top the charts? Well, simple put, it adjusted to the times and gives people what they want now, which is quick, reliable service, a good automated system, and the option to have a customer service rep call you. Good thinking! And it’s working.

Topping the list of poor customer service are banks, insurance companies and telecommunications companies. The MSN Money Hall of Shame lineup includes: Bank of America, (remember them, they were mentioned earlier), listed as the worst in customer service. Also in the top 10: AOL, Citi Bank, Comcast, Chase, Farmer’s and Progressive Insurance, among others.

But why banks? Bankers were always portrayed in old-time movies as great customer service providers to the people. Right?  In a recent Time magazine article, banking analyst Dick Bove explains his theory, “For the last 40 years I believed the quality of the product was the key determinant to the success of the company,” he says. “There’s no evidence in the U.S. banking system that offering a labor-intensive personalized service is successful in terms of letting the banking intuitions survive. It’s very costly with virtually no benefit,” Bove says.

So maybe for your banking experience, there may be no hope for quality customer service. But the banks too may crumble. And, someday, somehow, maybe some of the immortal words of yesteryear will reign once again. Like Walt Disney once said, “Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends.” That’s what true customer service does!

This may need a part II

Kim Rhode

August 2012

Welcome Home Kim Rhode!

After a stint in London, and breaking records, this Monrovia girl is finally home.

 

Photo credit: Mitchell Haaseth / NBC Olympics

With another Olympics behind us, we look back at the most exciting moment. It may be viewing Gabby Douglas twist and turn in an amazing display of mid-air acrobatics and somehow landing perfectly on her feet. Or, maybe watching the U.S. Woman’s Soccer team kick their way to a gold medal? We also can’t forget the dynamic duo of Misty-May Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings slamming volleyballs across the beach to become champions for a 3rd and final time.

Something unique did stand out at these Olympic Games. Sorry Mr. Phelps—the women ruled! Women athletes captured an astonishing 2/3rds of all the medals won by the U.S. And somehow, in between the Queen jumping out of a copter with James Bond, and the Spice Girls riding the roofs of London taxis, Monrovia’s own Kim Rhode, quietly and tactfully, became the first U.S. athlete to win medals, for an individual event, in five consecutive Olympics.

Overshadowed by other events such as gymnastics, swimming and track and field, Rhode pulled off this amazing feat in a sport that takes great patience, a steady hand and an eagle eye—skeet shooting.

While growing up in Whittier and following family tradition spanning 3 generations, Rhode started competing in target shooting at local gun clubs at the age of 10. “The first time I remember shooting, I was sitting on my dad’s lap. We were in a lawn chair and he had the gun tucked under my arms, I would fire and he would take the recoil,” Rhode recalls. “It was something I remember just falling in love with—the moving targets, the fun of the outdoors, shooting cans and paper plates—it was fun and it just progressed.”

Soon after, Rhode soon found herself competing with a 22 rifle in local and state events, then advanced to moving targets and skeet shooting. At 13, she won the World Shoot competition and an Olympic coach took notice. Despite her age, the coach made an exception and invited her to the Olympic training center. It was there she learned international style shooting, the style used in the Olympics. “It was exciting and such an honor for me,” Rhode said. “I realized that it was about representing your country. I knew I had a chance at it, but I didn’t know I would be doing it five Olympics later.”

 

Photo credit: Mitchell Haaseth / NBC Olympics

Rhode entered the Olympic ceremonies in Atlanta in 1996, at age 16, and walked among stars like Andre Agassi, Kerri Strug, Carl Lewis and the Dream Team. “You don’t know what’s going to happen and what to expect and it’s so overwhelming,” she said. “I don’t really think you take it all in and realize what you’ve done until you get home.” With her trusty Italian-made Perazzi MX-12, she appropriately named “Old Faithful,” Rhode took home her first gold medal just a few days after turning 17. “Old Faithful” came through, and so did Rhode’s amazing skill. She would take both with her to the next 3 Olympics, winning the bronze in Sydney in 2000, the gold again Athens in 2004, and the Silver in Beijing in 2008. But, soon after returning home in 2008, “Old Faithful” was gone—stolen from her father’s car. “It was heartbreaking. I was devastated,” Rhode said. “At the same time, you have to pick up the pieces, move forward and make the best of a bad situation.”

Fans showed their support and, through anonymous donations, Rhode’s was able to get a new Perazzi 2000. With a bit of amazing luck, “Old Faithful” was recovered by police prior to the London 2012 games, but Rhode decided to retire her and went on to the games with her new gun. How’d she do? She hit 74 of 75 targets in the qualifying round and then went on to tie her own record in the final round securing her for her 3rd gold medal.

 

As for setting her record among U.S. athletes, Rhode is modest. “I don’t think you ever look at yourself as the best or the number 1 in anything,” she said. “Heck, my hat wouldn’t fit if I thought like that. The reality is that you just think of yourself as everyone else. No different.”

 

Rhode said she feels old seeing Kerri Strug as a commentator now, when she was there when she competed in dramatic fashion. At 33, Rhode certainly isn’t old, but unless your Carl Lewis or Dara Torres, most Olympic athletes in physically demanding sports tend to hang up their cleats and swim goggles by a certain age. But, in Rhode’s case, she has an advantage. As long as she has the will and the skill, she can compete for sometime to come. “In shooting it’s a game that isn’t necessarily about strength as it much about endurance, hand/eye coordination, muscle memory and experience in the elements,” Rhode said. Rhode pointed out that the oldest person to compete in the Olympics was Oscar Swahn, who competed in Belgium in 1920 at age 72. His sport? Shooting. For Rhode, “I’m going to take it one at a time,” she said.

 

For, now she will enjoy spending time with her family, her husband Mike and roaming around her favorite town—Monrovia. “I love the atmosphere in Monrovia and the fact that everything is so close. You can go to the market, the movie theater and go get some great food at Café Massilia,” Rhode said. Rhode also enjoys riding around town with her husband on their beach cruisers. My guess is she’ll be cruising her way to Rio in 2016.

Andre Agassi

August 2012

Sharing his secrets to staying injury-free

You might have heard of him. In a 20-year pro tennis career, which started when he was only 16, he was an international superstar earning 60 men’s singles titles including eight Grand Slam singles championships. Yep, you might have heard of him. He was once ranked number 1 in the world and is the only male to win all four Grand Slam tournaments, an Olympic gold medal, not to mention being a member of three winning Davis Cup teams in ’90, ’92 and ’95. His name is Andre Agassi. Ring a bell?

Though this elite athlete may have retired from the game, he is still quite an active elite individual. The Andre Agassi Foundation for Education is thriving—raising over $177 million dollars (since its inception in 1994) to help provide education to less fortunate and abused children, and his Boys and Girls Club helps over 2,000 children yearly. In 2001, the Foundation opened the AndreAgassiCollegePreparatoryAcademy in his hometown of Las Vegas. Its first senior class graduated in 2009 with a 100% college acceptance rate. Agassi writes on his blog, “I’ve watched many of these children grow through the years, from shy youngsters adjusting to their new school environment, to confident young adults ready to graduate.” In June 2011, as part of an effort to expand his impact on education, Agassi partnered with Canyon Capitol Reality Advisors to create the Canyon-Agassi Charter School Facilities Fund to promote the success and growth of best-in-class charter schools. The first project was the transformation of an empty warehouse in Philadelphia to a 23-classroom K–4 elementary school. Needless to say, Mr. Agassi keeps himself busy.

Married to Stefanie Graf (who won 22 Grand Slam singles titles herself), Agassi is still a model of fitness at 42, looking as though he is ready to play with the best of them. But you won’t find him playing pro. “I do play every now and again. I do a lot for charity and exhibitions to raise awareness for sources I believe in. I enjoy it, he says. He admits he has been up for a challenge against Stefanie too. “She treats it as exercise. We have a rule, she wants me to make her run so she can work out, and I make her hit the ball back to me, so it’s a perfect deal,” Agassi laughs.

On March 15, hidden away from the huge IHRSA convention going on in Los Angeles, Agassi and his long-time trainer, Gil Reyes, unveiled BILT by Agassi & Reyes, a circuit of innovative fitness machines based on the equipment they developed to help Agassi stay injury-free during his amazing career. “Together, Gil and I developed machines with the intent to make me a better player, always recognizing the importance of strength, conditioning and safety,” Agassi says. “Collectively, we wanted to give our gift to an industry and public that seeks and deserves innovation.”

Agassi met Reyes in 1989 and he helped him train throughout his professional career, which ended in 2006. He still remains one of Agassi’s closest friends. Looking back, Agassi recalls one of Reyes’ first lessons. “He taught me something pretty simple, which is if you have a muscle and you make it stronger, you make it more capable,” he says. “He taught me the difference between fitness (being fit) and being prepared. And through my experience in tennis, and in my experience with the battles between the lines…I’d much rather play somebody who is fit and unprepared than play somebody who might not be fit, but is prepared. Whether it’s mentally, psychologically, emotionally or physically.”

Agassi and Reyes introduce BILT in Los Angeles

Agassi reveals that his game wasn’t “all it could be” prior to training under Reyes. “It was lacking capacity. Gil said ‘I don’t see (tennis) as a sport of running, I see it as a sport of starting and stopping.’ It’s explosive. So it was lacking that—it was lacking power; it was lacking the ability to not cut corners when you come to a breaking point out there.”

Reyes brought that discipline and training to make Agassi’s muscles stronger. And once he got out there, Reyes helped him feel secure in the fact that he might get tired, but encouraged him to look across the net “because the other guy is more tired,” Agassi says.

Reyes and Agassi spent two decades developing the BILT system. But, what makes it unique from the many other pieces of strength training machinery out there? “Our equipment is built to make you stronger in the safest way possible and to make you most efficient in the uses of time,” Agassi says. “[In tennis], we realized early on…that we weren’t going to have the luxury of an off-season. We would have two- to three-week periods at a time where we had [time] to make the muscles stronger. Our equipment…has allowed us to maximize efficiency of our training by allowing us to maximize time and push for goals we could have never dreamed of,” he says. (See sidebar for more on BILT.)

Agassi prides himself on his injury-free career, and hopes he can pass on some of his secrets to help other aspiring athletes become as successful. “There are a lot of things to worry about when dealing with muscle. A lot of little things called ligaments and tendons and joints, and you have to make sure you’re not exposing yourself in these areas because your quads can do a lot of things that your knees can’t. And so you have to learn how to do it the right way. I can honestly say I’ve never been injured in the gym with Gil. We’ve removed that risk from the equation,” he says.

When athletes get older, exercise isn’t the only thing they have to focus on. Agassi points out the importance of proper nutrition as well. “I try to show a level of balance in my diet and intake and the level of restraint. I try to treat food as a fuel source as opposed to a luxury. I try to show balance in all of it—what I’m eating and how much of it I eat.”

And for those aspiring tennis stars out there, Agassi offers this advice: “Tennis is a sport where you can’t build up a lead, you can’t run out the clock, you can’t pass the ball, you can’t take time out, you can’t talk to anyone. You have to figure out a way to get across the finish line. So what that really is, is it’s problem solving. Because I don’t have to be good, I just have to be better than you.”

You can be sure that though you may not see Andre Agassi on the court as much, slamming the competition away, you will see him out there helping kids and setting a fine example as a humanitarian, hopefully inspiring others to follow his lead.

My Andre Agassi autographed copy of American Fitness!

Andre Agassi and yours truly

BILT: Changing the Game of Fitness

 

The BILT fitness machines developed by Andre Agassi and his long-time trainer Gil Reyes were modeled after the ones Agassi trained on to become a dominant figure in the world of tennis. BILT consists of 12 machines, designed by Reyes, that are built for productivity: high-intensity muscle isolation to safely build strength without injury. Key pieces include:

  • BILT Flat Bench: Retractable arms uniquely and safely lower the weighted bar over the user’s “sweet spot” across the chest and retract upon liftoff.This design eliminates the dangerous stress on the shoulders, which is imposed when the user reaches up and back to lift the weighted bar on a traditional bench press machine.

 

  • Change of Direction Machine: The ergo-efficiency of the moving parts allows for a safe squat movement as well as an intense yet safe lateral exercise series, including side shuffles, lunges and single leg squats. The construction provides for a safe, direct line of movement, which protects the spine and back muscles and conforms to the natural angles of the body.

 

  • BILT Abdominal Machine: This allows the user to safely and effectively isolate the abdominal muscles through a full range sit-up motion.  Designed to assist without risk of injury to the user’s back, the position of stability and support promotes sound technique for isolation of individual abdominal muscles.

Reyes on inspiration. “The simplest and yet the strongest drive behind the existence of BILT was my inspiration and love for Andre. I very quickly realized his talent level. He is a very elite, talented athlete. I soon was quite aware of his goals and dreams, but then there was a little phrase every time I saw him…‘faith’ and ‘fire.’ I wanted to provide Andre with equipment that would keep his goals in mind.”

Reyes on the importance of fluidity. “It is essential. Those who are not elite athletes do exercises with particular movements, such as a squat or bench-press, that puts weight on the vertebrae and strain on other parts of the body. Though these exercises might seem natural, they are not to our bodies. These exciting, innovative machines help exercisers move more fluidly and safely.”

Reyes’ recommendations. “There are systemic exercises and very specific isolated exercise such as the isocurl machine that works with the biceps. Then there is the COD (Change of Direction) machine and, if I was an athlete or just interested in a really good exercise machine, I might handcuff myself to that machine and stay there awhile. When people use it, they walk away with their muscles feeling good, they feel exerted systemically, their cardiovascular system has been taxed. We strongly believe that each piece of equipment in BILT does what it’s set out to do.”

 

For more info on BILT By Agassi & Reyes, visit http://www.biltbyagassiandreyes.com.

Heather Mitts

July 2012

Third time’s a charm

Heather Mitts is ready to go for the gold in the London Games

Opening ceremonies for the Summer Olympic games in London kick off on July 27 and a familiar face, representing the U.S.A. Women’s Soccer team, will be two-time gold medal winner Heather Mitts.

Mitts, who has played the last seven years professionally for the Women’s Professional Soccer league, finds herself without a team as the organization has halted play for 2012, citing internal struggles for their demise. All the more reason Mitts is excited to return to the Olympics for the third time as part of the National Team. But is it still thrilling the third time around? “Absolutely,” says the 34-year-old Cincinnati native. “Every time is unique and special. I figured if I made it this time around it would be my last time,” says Mitts, who is hinting at retirement. “To be able to say I had three, and on top of that to be ending my career at the Olympics, is the ideal way to go out of the game.”

How it Started

Mitts drew initial interest in soccer playing as a kid along with her older brother. Later, she attended St.UrsulaAcademy and played on the high school team. But she learned to develop her talent from her mentor Charlie Cooke, a former Scottish footballer who gave private lessons to Mitts in Cincinnati. “Probably the first person that ever taught me most of my skills and really encouraged me to want to be the best was Charlie Cooke,” she says.

Career Highlights

Mitts went on to receive an athletic scholarship from the University of Florida and was part of the Gators first ever Championship Team in 1998. By the end of her college career she had the most starts and minutes played in the team’s history. In 2000, she started her professional career with the Tampa Bay Extreme, as a defender/right back, then went on to play in Philadelphia, Central Florida, Boston and Atlanta. In between she made appearances in the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games as part of the National Team. In addition, Mitts was named the “Hottest Female Athlete” by ESPN in 2004 and made the 2005 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition.

Her career hasn’t been all glory and roses though. She had several setbacks over the years, including an ACL injury in 2007 and partially torn hamstrings in 2011. But they were enough to keep her at bay in these Olympic Games and working with some of the younger players.

Back to the Olympics

Mitt’s advice to new members of the Olympic Team? “Nerves are natural. It just means that you care and eventually those will go away. Embrace the moment because it is such a grand stage. Make the most of the moment and try to enjoy it,” she says. Mitts is also excited that the games are in London this year. “I truly love it. Soccer is huge over there and I think they will be a great host; there is so much to do and so much to see. I was able to go over there with the Olympic Committee and see the best of London. It is so beautiful and has so much to offer and will be a great place to hold the Olympics.”

Age Accommodation

Preparation for these games can be an exhausting challenge at any age. Mitts works with a strength conditioning coach, runs six days a week and fits in a weight lifting regimen as well. “It’s pretty crazy and very demanding,” she says, and age is a factor. “The one thing that I’ve learned because I am older is that I have to monitor my body better. Sometimes less is more. I try not to overdo it because I don’t recover as well as I use to, so I’m just trying to be a little more efficient in my training fashion. I do use a heart rate monitor and it makes a big difference for me,” Mitts says.

For athletes who are getting older, Mitts gives this advice: “It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Take it slow and try to enjoy whatever you are doing. It’s never fun to work out if you’re dreading it. So try to pick something that interests you and you want to work hard at.”

Although 34 may not be retirement age for most, for pro soccer players, it’s within the average range. Retired American soccer player Kristy Lilly set the bar high when she hung up her cleats at age 40, but Mitts has other things on her mind—such as raising a family someday. “Girls now days are having kids and continuing to play. I personally couldn’t do both. That is my full purpose for stepping away from the game. I had a great career and it’s time for what’s next,” says Mitts, who has been married to NFL quarterback A.J. Feeley since 2010. And because the football and soccer seasons clash, this gives Mitts even less time to spend with her St. Louis Rams QB hubby. “We rarely see each other. We both have been able to do something we love and support each other 100%, but it has also been pretty trying on our relationship,” she says.

Nutrition and Motivation

Two other key factors for athletes at any age is keeping motivated and eating right. Mitts says she is her own worst critic. “I just want to be the best I can possibly be. I just try to go out there everyday and get better. My days are limited, so I try to enjoy my teammates and enjoy the traveling,” she says. As far as eating healthy, “I consider myself pretty health conscious. I definitely eat different at home as opposed to the road. I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables when I am competing. Nights before a game I load up on carbs,” Mitts says.

New Goals

So what is in store for Heather Mitts after retirement? Maybe coaching? “I hold a summer camp every year and I love working with the kids. I love being able to come back and give back. It’s something that’s a lot of fun for me. It’s something that I really enjoy.” As for her own kids to coach someday, Mitts says, “It’s on the agenda!”

 

Bootcamp Moms

May 2012

Jennifer and Kyle inspire moms to take control of their lives and get fit.

Jennifer Pinder and Kyle Furlow

Being a mom is truly a full-time job. Whether you have a newborn, toddler or teen, balancing time between two lives can be a great challenge. And finding the time and the motivation to lose weight after pregnancy can seem like an impossible task.

Sometimes the motivation we seek can be drawn from other people. That’s just what happened with Jennifer Pinder and Kyle Furlow, two friends and moms, who realized their need to change diets and start exercising after adding extra pounds once they had children. “We committed to work out together at the Y, and by supporting and encouraging each other we began getting in shape,” said Furlow, mother of a five-year-old boy. Along the way they met AFAA certified personal trainer Paula Ruff, who Furlow credits with giving them the extra push they needed. “She became our mentor. What started out as a need to get healthy, became a hobby, then a passion…and with Paula’s help, a career,” Furlow said.

Furlow and Pinder lost a total of 100 pounds between them, which for some, may have been satisfaction enough—but these moms took it many steps further. They both became AFAA certified and started Boot Camp Moms to inspire other women, especially busy moms, to take control of their health and get fit.

“Becoming healthy and stronger is more than a physical change. It positively impacts your mental and spiritual well-being and gives women confidence,” Furlow said. “It’s our hope that our program and the community of women involved will provide the resources needed for each participant to accomplish this complete image of healthiness.”

But it wasn’t easy. During the start-up program at Harrington Grove Clubhouse in Raleigh, N.C., the two friends faced more challenges. “Our first challenge was how to get the word out about our company,” recalled Pinder, mother of a five-year-old girl and three-year-old boy. “We did not have any equipment! We put up flyers in neighborhoods, preschools, diet centers and any location that would allow us. We told potential clients all they needed was a set of hand weights, bottle of water and a mat. The rest is history,” Pinder said.

Bootcamp Moms!

Say hello to the bootcamp moms

Now, a year later, Furlow and Pinder have a solid, energizing, group exercise program that concentrates on cardiovascular and strength training, all presented in a fun atmosphere. Pinder feels this boot camp program is unique and that their clients truly benefit from having two AFAA trainers guiding them through their workouts. “We notice the subtle milestones in them and are able to encourage them,” Pinder said. “When they are able to do 10 extra push-ups or sprint faster…we notice and sing their praises.” Ages and experience vary—Boot Camp Moms participants range in age from 25 to 65 and from the elite to beginner exerciser.

In addition, these two moms set the tone with different styles to help motivate and get the most out of their clients. “Jennifer is often recognized as the cheerleader while I am considered the drill sergeant,” explained Furlow. “That balance allows us to get participants beyond their comfort zone in a way that creates a relationship of trust and respect, not intimidation.”

Both moms feel their own story has inspired their children as well. “I am so thankful that this world is all my kids know. Growing up, diet and exercise was never instilled in me. For years I struggled with my weight and had no form of fitness regime. I can honestly say that I never truly ‘got it’ until my 30s,” Pinder said. “My children are outside playing, running, biking every day. That is all they know and all they want to do.” Pinder said they have also instilled good eating habits in their kids with diets that include a portion of fruits and vegetables in every meal. With such high rates of childhood obesity in America these days, Furlow and Pinder hope to pass on good values and lessons to their own children.

“The most important thing for our children is to understand that you need balance in life—and physical fitness is the foundation for that balance,” Furlow said. “A healthy body leads to better mental, emotional and spiritual health which will allow our children to be successful in whatever way they choose to define success.”

In the future, these two Boot Camp Moms are hoping to expand into different programs, as well as different towns. They have already added TRX® Suspension Training, BOSU® and the Lebert EqualizersTM into their classes, and Pinder has added a Zumba® certification to her repertoire. “Expansion would likely come in the form of more classes in surrounding neighborhoods, but we want to keep classes at less than 20 people, so they can remain personal,” said Furlow. “It’s the relationships with each other and with our participants that make this special. Without that bond we wouldn’t be Boot Camp Moms.”

 

Dodger Great Cey Meets Fans at Hall of Fame Cards

 

October 2011

The ’81 World Series MVP likes what he sees in Kemp and Kershaw 

Dodger Great Ron Cey signs autographs at Hall of Fame Cards in Arcadia

When it comes to baseball, you don’t have to be from Los Angeles to recognize the names Garvey, Lopes, Russell and Cey—one of the greatest assembled infields ever to play the game. This quadruple threat helped lead the Dodgers to win the NL Pennant in ’74, ’77 ’78 and the World Series in ’81 against their heated rivals, the New York Yankees. Who was the MVP of that World Series? Ron Cey.

Cey met with many fans at Hall of Fame Cards to sign autographs, pose for photos and, most importantly—talk baseball. Enthusiasts of all ages showed up to meet and greet the 6-time All-Star, ranging from those who followed his career from the beginning as rookie with the Dodgers in ’68, to little leaguers who aspire to be major league players themselves someday. “It’s very gratifying,” Cey said of the fan turn out on the corner of Foothill and 5th between 11 and 12:30 Saturday.

“The Penguin,” as Manager Tommy Lasorda called him due to his waddle-like run on the base path, Cey was a staple at third base during the fantastic run the Dodgers had in the ’70s and early ’80s. During his impressive career with the Dodgers, Cubs and A’s, Cey posted a .261 batting average, hit 1,139 RBIs and belted 318 home runs. The 228 home runs he had in a Dodger uniform is the 5th highest in the club’s history.

 

Yours truly with Ron Cey

Still remaing very much active with the Dodger organization in a marketing, sponsorship and community affairs capacity, C ey still keeps in touch with former teammates including Steve Garvey (1B), Davey Lopes (2B) and Bill Russell (SS) who he played eight seasons with. It was the longest any infield ensemble played together in major league history. “I’m very pleased with the era of baseball I played in, and the group of players I played with,” Cey said. “We had the individual and team success that lived up to the history and tradition of the Dodgers. Anything less than that would have been a disappointment,” he said.

Disappointment is a word that Dodgers fans have gotten use to these days compared to glory days Cey spent with the team.  The 2011 team barely finished above .500 in September, 11 ½ games out of first place, with a cloud of uncertainty looming over them thanks to the ownership woes that still are still waiting to be settled.

But despite tough times, Cey sees a promising future for the team. Especially with names like Kemp and Kershaw in the mix. “I was very pleased with the way that Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw performed this year under some difficult circumstances,” he said. “I thought both Ned [Colletti] and Donny [Mattingly] did a good job during this period of time. We had a club that was well under .500 midway through the season…and finished above .500 playing very well the last month of the season,” Cey said. Cey went on to say tha Kemp is “very deserving” of the MVP award for the National League and hopes that Kershaw follows in the footsteps of other Dodger pitching greats, such as Newcombe, Drysdale and Koufax by bringing home a Cy Young award.

In a bit of advice to all the youngsters playing ball today in hopes of making it to the big leagues some day, Cey says “Have fun!” “If it works out to where you are pretty good and have a dream, you should follow it and see where it leads.”

Hall of Fame Cards owner Bob Newton has hosted similar events with Steve Garvey and Bill Russell, as well as Maury Wills. He hopes to have Davey Lopes at his family-owned card shop soon…the missing piece of that ’81 World Series infield.  For more information about upcoming events at Hall of Fame Cards, visit .http://www.halloffamebaseballcards.com.

Gina Long

Local Photographer Captures ‘Quirky’ Small Town Life

August 2011

Photographer Gina Long

What makes a small town like Sierra Madre a great place to live? Surely, a number of things come to mind. But in the end, most of these reasons are essentially derived from being a part of a close-knit community. It’s something that tends to get lost in bigger cities.

Walking down the streets, being greeted by friends, family and neighbors alike has a certain feeling; a feeling of camaraderie. Meeting for BBQs, parades and picnics in the park are some of the things that truly make a small town special.

With that in mind, it’s easy to see how, for a photographer, Sierra Madre just may be the perfect town.

Just ask Gina Long, who says she lives for bringing out those extraordinary small town moments: the unexpected glimpses of joy in the lives of her subjects, the surprises, and the simple beauty of a town that prides itself on its uniqueness and splendor.

Long moved to Sierra Madre, along with her husband Steven, because she was happy with the educational choices for her son Nolan, now 7-years-old. Her family has since found their niche here. And now, Long is the first photographer to ever have an exhibit on display at Sierra Madre City Hall.

Her photography, on display until Aug. 19, is collection of “life’s moments and quirky things,” she says.

While Long says she does shoot traditional portraits, it’s the quirky shots she enjoys capturing the most.

“I’d like to make the quirky more common and the common more quirky,” she said. “I would also like to draw attention to some unusual subjects and show the world that you can find beauty in everything when you seek it. I especially love taking striking and interesting photos of people who don’t like to be photographed.”

Long’s portfolio features some beautiful family shots, intriguing neighborhoods, curious pets and children photos that are so cute they might bring a tear to your eye.

So why call the show “The Unexpected Portrait”?

“I’m not traditional and I wanted my name to speak to that,” Long said. “It would be horrible for clients who hire me to be disappointed by the results of their shoot and I look for adventurous, out of the box type subjects.”

At Home in Sierra Madre

Sierra Madre, and the audience she has found here, are very meaningful to her work, Long says.

“With a nudge here and a bravo there, I gathered enough self-belief to bring my photography to others. It has been really fulfilling.”

Long was greeted by many art-loving attendees during her show’s official opening on July 22 at City Hall. And Long is quick to thank Community and Personnel Services Deputy Director, Kristi McClure and the members of the Arts Committee for putting together the event.

“I think it was really successful. I love having my work at City Hall,” Long said in an interview following the reception.

Some Favorites

“Comfortably Numb”

One photo Long featured, “Comfortably Numb,” was snapped outside of Sierra Madre and is one of her favorites. “I love “Comfortably Numb” because it juxtaposes the timeless beauty of a restored old train sitting at the Santa Barbara station with the reality of the life in a cart position of the homeless man who is basically living there un-restored and watching the trains come and go in this beautiful place from a place most people can’t and don’t understand,” Long said. “I feel I was able to convey a sense of how every person, place and thing has many sides, some that you see and some that you don’t. It’s truly an “Unexpected Portrait.”

Another favorite is a picture of her son bringing in the mail entitled “On Arrival.”

“On Arrival”

“I took it the weekend we moved into our house in Sierra Madre in a very innocent and cute moment when he was gathering our mail for the first time from the post box and bringing it into the house,” Long said.

“It’s also an “unexpected portrait” and, in fact, the “Unexpected Portrait” which inspired the name of my business and is on my business cards. It truly represents my work.”

For those who take a serious interest in photography of their own, Long offers some advice.

“Take your camera out with you and shoot,” Long said. “Make up a story in your mind and shoot the photos that tell it. Use your eye. We are all photographers and we each have a unique way of seeing the world, find the parts or patterns or activities you love to translate through the lens and shoot, shoot, shoot!”

Long says aspiring new artists should remember one thing, “Art is so subjective. Take both praise and criticism open-mindedly and make what moves you. It will move others.”

Try to catch Long’s display during City Hall’s normal business hours and, who knows, you might come away inspired.

And for those who like what they see, Long offers her photography services on her websitewww.theunexpectedportrait.com, and is available to visit your home to snap those special moments during birthday parities, holidays and other special events.

Jack LaLanne

His inspiring message will live on

March 2011

Jack back in the day on “The Jack LaLanne Show”

When it comes to legends, you may mention names such as Clint Eastwood or Katherine Hepburn when it comes to movie stars, or Babe Ruth or Muhammad Ali when it comes to sports figures. There are, indeed, many other great actors and athletes that could be mentioned. But when it comes to the fitness industry, what defines greatness? Who is truly a legend? For many, Jack LaLanne is that legend. Jack died on January 23rd at the age of 96, and American Fitness would like to pay homage to him and his amazing life.

Referred to as “The Godfather of Fitness,” LaLanne was born in San Francisco in 1914. As a child, he had struggles with junk food. At 15, he heard a speech from wellness pioneer, Paul Bragg. It changed his life. LaLanne focused his energy on proper diet and exercise from that point on.

He studied Henry Gray’s Anatomy of the Human Body, which enhanced his focus to include bodybuilding, chiropractic medicine and weight lifting. He truly pioneered these fields in the early ’30s. LaLanne opened his first health spa in 1936 and designed the world’s first leg extension machines, pulley machines using cables and weight selectors—now a standard in the fitness industry. LaLanne was the first to suggest that women can work out with weights.

“People thought I was a charlatan and a nut. The doctors were against me,” LaLanne recalled. “They said that working out with weights would give people heart attacks and they would lose their sex drive.”

Jack LaLanne’s other achievements include:

 

  • Age 37: Launched The Jack LaLanne Show which spanned 34 years, making it the longest running exercise TV show

 

  • Age 40: He swam the length of the Golden GateBridge under water tugging 140 pounds of equipment, setting a world record

 

  • Age 60: He swam from AlcatrazIsland to Fisherman’s Wharf handcuffed and shackled, while tugging a 1,000-pound boat

 

  • Age 70: Handcuffed and shackled again, he towed 70 boats, accompanying 70 people for a mile-and-a-half through Long BeachHarbor

 

  • Age 80: He was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the State of California Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness

 

  • Age 90 and beyond: LaLanne, along with his wife of 53 years, Elaine, graced TV once again promoting his Power JuicerTM

 

When it came to nutrition, LaLanne was once quoted as saying, “If man made it, don’t eat it,” and “if it tastes good, spit it out.” He only ate two meals a day consisting of raw vegetables, egg whites and fish.

American Fitness has spotlighted LaLanne on several occasions including a cover in March of 2000, the launch of his nephew’s (Chris LaLanne) gym in November 2008, and in September 2009, he was featured in an article on Denise Austin. “I went on Jack LaLanne’s TV show right out of college…,” recalled Austin. “I still credit him with giving me what I really wanted in life—to be an active part of the fitness world.”

LaLanne has been an inspiration to many fitness professionals, including AFAA presenter Lawrence Biscontini. “In the fitness dictionary for all generations, Jack LaLanne’s name was the living personification of the words ‘youthful,’ ‘motivating’ and ‘inspirational,’ Biscontini said. “Let us carry on his message for generations.”

On his blog at http://www.jacklalanne.com, his wife wrote, “Jack has left the world a happy, healthier, more fit place, and his legacy will live on forever.” This will hold true—not only with the man himself and his many achievements—but in his words as well: “Anything in Life is Possible, if YOU Make it Happen!”

Dread Zeppelin Front Man Tortelvis

Local to the San Gabriel Valley, Tortelvis is still a rockin’

January 2011

Tortelvis leads the band that has spanned 2 decades

Penny Marshall’s character on the classic TV show Laverne & Shirley use to enjoy a refreshing combo of milk and Pepsi. Yum! Or how about the combination of baseball and basketball in the movie BASEketball? Some combinations are not fondly remembered, but one that has stood the test of time is the combo of Led Zeppelin classics to the tune of Reggae music, with a sprinkle of Elvis Presley style to top it off. What you get is Dread Zeppelin.

In 2009, the band, (Tortelvis, Butt-Boy, Spice, Bob Knarley, Ziggy Knarley and Charlie Haj) celebrated their 20th anniversary. They have local ties to the area, but have seen the world while performing material from 15 albums including Un-Lead-Ed released in 1990 and their latest Bar Coda, a take on Led Zeppelin’s Coda. They have also released a greatest hits collection from their IRS years which includes fan favorites such as “Black Dog” and “Your Time is Gonna Come.”

I had a chance to talk to front man and Elvis impersonator Greg Tortell (Tortelvis) about the band’s success.

KM: Dread Zeppelin has been together with various members for over 20 years now. What are your feelings on that, and is it something you envisioned back in ’89 when the band formed?

Tortelvis: Someone said “Dread Zeppelin” Wow, what a moment! We all started as friends getting together in a garage and messing with Zeppelin songs and Reggae. I tried to sing like Robert Plant, but too high. So I went with the Tortelvis persona, but without the outrageous costume, and hot dang, it fit. Zeppelin, Elvis, Reggae.It was always about friendship. Still to this day. You lose some members along the way due to various reasons. But it’s just the way. We’ve had pretty much the same core guys playing in the band for the last 15 years.

KM: What has kept the band going for so long?

Tortelvis: It’s all about friendship and musicianship. These guys are like my family and killer players (with the exception of myself of course). It’s a goofy idea that caught on and even spawned other similar groups, but without the great playing, it could not have lasted this long.

KM: Tell me how Tortelvis came about. Were you performing as an impersonator before Dread Zeppelin?

Tortelvis: I performed as Tortelvis in another band a few years before Dread Zeppelin was created called “Pete The Butcher.”Our motto was “we suck, but were fun to watch.” At least we got one of those right. I had two names back then, Tortelvis, and Gregelbert Torteldink. Pete the Butcher still plays now and then. Torteldink still gets to put on his graduation gown and fake beard and play Partridge Family songs until they just can’t take it anymore.

KM: Robert Plant was quoted as saying that Dread Zeppelin was “one of his favorite bands” and that you guys did a better job on “Your Time is Gonna Come” than Led Zeppelin did. What are your thoughts on that and has the band had the chance to meet original Led Zeppelin members? If so, how did that go?

Tortelvis: It was surely a great endorsement from Robert Plant, as there were a lot of diehard Zep fans who thought we were making fun of Led Zeppelin. I was a bit worried that the Elvis fans would be a bit ticked. But no, come to find out that some Zeppelin fans didn’t have much of a sense of humor about it. But Robert Plant got it! It quieted up some of the dissenting voices, that’s fer sure. We met Jimmy Page in England in 1990. I don’t think he knew who the heck we were. And I had a chance to speak with Robert Plant on a Rockline interview in 1991. I was so nervous to speak to him my low Elvis drawl sounded more like a twelve year old Justin Bieber [voice]. Robert thanked me for giving him “months of entertainment.”

KM: Any comments from Pricilla or Lisa Marie Presley on Dread Zeppelin?

Tortelvis: We met, or should I say saw Lisa Marie in a dressing room in the early ’90s as her husbands’ band was opening for us at the UC Irvine Auditorium. She was probably used to all the goofy impersonators so didn’t pay much attention to us. Until we rocked the Zeppelin and Reggae!

KM: Are you surprised by the success of the band and having the chance to play, not just in your home town, but across America and the world?

Tortelvis: Surprised yes. Once we started playing in other countries we started seeing that the reactions were the same no matter where we went. Japan, Europe, South America. Wild nutty fans. What the hack man? Maybe it’s the Elvis…or the Zeppelin…Or the Reggae.

KM: Many of the members are right from the Pasadena/Sierra Madre area. Where did you attend high school? Give me some thoughts on how you feel about this area and why you stay.

Tortelvis: I attended Arcadia Schools, and have lived in Sierra Madre for over 10 years. Sierra Madre is just a great town for friends, family and kids. Plus it’s home to Graceland West, an exact replica of Graceland here in town where I live, which also houses the man who hands me my water and towels on stage…Mr. Charlie Haj! (don’t mind me if I slip in and out of character).

KM: Tell me about the Annual Fund Show at Sierra Madre School. What will the proceeds go to? What is the importance of the event? Are you looking forward to seeing some of the local school talent that will be performing as an opening act?

Tortelvis: This is year three of the event for us and we just love doing it. Benefits go to Sierra Madre Elementary. And when you play to screaming 3rd graders, it almost sounds like a Beatles concert. Except in a Reggae style.

KM: What is coming up next for Dread Zeppelin?

Tortelvis: A new CD this year and two days at Zep Fest in Washington D.C. in May. Some shows planned for the Midwest this year. And a local show at T. Boyles tavern on February 19th. Let’s get it on!

KM: What advice can you give to local kids who are playing in their parent’s garage and hoping to make it big someday?

Tortelvis: Put towels on the drums or your mom is gonna come running out and shut it down! But seriously folks… Keep on singing and strumming. Do it every day. Learn from the great musicians but don’t copy them. Think outside the box. Practice, practice, practice. Slap on those sideburns and wiggle them hips. Sing it baby, sing it! P.S. Remember to wear earplugs.

Jillian Michaels

Still chalking up the losses

September 2010

 

The Biggest Loser on NBC, Now in its 10th Season is still going strong and Jillian—even stronger.

She has been on the forefront of the fitness/gaming craze with her release of “Jillian Michaels’ Fitness Ultimatum 2010” for the Nintendo Wii system. In addition, Jillian launched her own TV show in June 2010, Losing It With Jillian, where she moves in with a family and not only motivates them to get in shape, but to make difficult lifestyle changes as well. Jillian influences families on what to buy, what to get rid of and yes, invades their refrigerators too. Not an easy task. Says the world’s toughest trainer, “It’s intense. Seriously intense. Honestly, it’s impossible to describe. You have to see it with your own eyes.” In one episode, Jillian has her adopted family working out on a football field and later clearing out their cluttered home of junk that they seem determined not to part with—but it’s all part of a lifestyle change.

Accepting the Truth and Willing to Change

Jillian has experienced situations time and again where persons have had multiple failed attempts at weight loss. “They lack self-esteem and they are uninformed about the facts [regarding] weight loss,” says Jillian. Changing eating habits for many is a tough pill to swallow and is different in each scenario. There are many factors to consider: Metabolism varies from person to person, as well as blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels. Each diet plan has to take these (and other) factors into consideration. Yet some people seem to eat anything they want and not gain an ounce. “[It’s] because of genetics,” Jillian explains. “While some of us are predisposed to gain weight, it doesn’t mean it’s a sentence. Genetics are static, not dynamic, so if we eat right and exercise regularly we can maintain a healthy body weight.”

In Jillian’s experience she has worked with some tough clients including persons with hormonal disorders such as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and lipodema, which causes people to be heavier from the waste down to the ankles. When it’s unclear why clients are overweight, or when they are holding back from revealing their true reasons for overeating, Jillian finds a different approach to get them to open up. “I ask a series of questions when they are fatigued from exercise and their defenses are down,” she says. “I help them uncover the roots of their self-destructive behaviors.”

Mind Over Matter

Lack of motivation can be a major issue when it comes to breaking old habits and starting new, healthy ones, but Jillian points out another prime factor—willpower. “Willpower is like a muscle. It can be built and it can also be fatigued,” she says. “You can build willpower by shifting the part of your brain you use to think. You can literally go from impulse to reason, by stopping and asking yourself a series of questions before each choice you make.” Jillian believes this is a good way for clients to rethink their food choices. “So the next time your client wants to reach for the donut, tell them to think the whole choice through. They eat the donut—then how do they feel 10 minutes after? What is it going to do to their body? How is that going to make them feel? And so on.”

Smart Eating

Speaking of food choices, the typical approaches to weight loss include portion control and calorie counting. For many, it just doesn’t work. Jillian believes in calorie counting in conjunction with exercise. “The truth is that weight loss is an energy equation [and] you have to exercise to utilize stored energy—a.k.a. fat,” she says. As for Jillian’s own diet? “Ezekial English muffin with almond butter for breakfast, grilled fish tacos on corn tortillas with black beans, apple with raw nuts…grilled fish and greens for dinner,” she says. But is there room in the toughest trainer’s diet for a snack? “Only between lunch and dinner,” Jillian clarifies. “Snacking throughout the day is terrible for weight loss and weight management. My snack is about 15 percent of my calorie allowance. I will have [a] protein and carb combo like fruit and raw nuts or hummus and veggies. Baked chips and salsa with yogurt instead of sour cream.”

Success Doesn’t Come Easy

Jillian’s own success took a lot of motivation and willpower on her own part. She was overweight as a teen, about 50 pounds, and was motivated by her mother to take up martial arts, then on to working with her own personal trainers. So who trained the trainer? “I fell into fitness training at 17 while training for my black belt. People would see me training in the gym and they approached me to train them. Fate took its course.” And training doesn’t stop now that Jillian has found success. “I have many trainers. I believe a good teacher is a good student,” she says. “I work with an MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) and kettlebell guy named Steve Lee in L.A., a Capoira guy named Brett Hoebel in N.Y., and a yoga woman named Heidi Rhoades in L.A.”

But being where she is today wasn’t always Jillian’s dream. She says, “I fell into it and loved it. I switched careers at [age] 24 to 27 and went to work as an agent in Hollywood. I hated it. Then I went to work at a sports medicine facility as a PT aid. Fell back in love with this type of work and the rest is history.” So for the trainer who pushes people to be the best they can be and find that inner strength that drives them, what drives her? “I am driven by my own feelings of helplessness. I wrestle with those emotions by trying to help other people. It makes me feel less helpless.” Hard to believe while watching Jillian’s tough as nails exterior on TV, that she is indeed only as human as the rest of us.