Making it big in Miami
From hanging out with Hollywood star ‘The Rock’ to working as a Fitness Director on luxury cruise ships, Obert Morgan has packed much into his 47 years on the planet.
In 2002, after six years in the army, the Nshakashogwe native decided his future lay beyond Botswana’s borders and he quit the BDF for Britain.
Since that fateful day, Morgan’s international CV has flourished, with the ex-soldier now considered one of the country’s leading health, wellness, exercise and fitness specialists.
He has called exotic locations such as Mexico, Australia and the Caribbean home and is a frequent contributor on some of America’s biggest networks, including ESPN, NBC and ABC.
He is also regularly invited to talk at leading Fitness Conventions around the world.
Following a five-year stint in Miami, America, where he set-up his own fitness company, Obertfitness, Morgan returned home in 2009.
Since his return, the fitness fanatic has built an impressive empire, including gyms in Maun, Tlokweng and Gaborone.
In this interview with Portia Mlilo, Morgan briefly reflects on his career while also looking forward to his latest venture, the Kazungula Bridge Marathon event, set for 2 October.
Why did you choose a career in fitness?
I grew-up as an active person and used to walk 10km to-and-from school every day but that was not really the drive into the fitness business. Upon completing school, I joined Botswana Defence Force.
After training I was selected to do a military physical training course in 1996 at Force Training establishment.
Four months later, I was admitted at University of Botswana to do a Physical Education course.
That’s when I leant about commercializing fitness.
You were in the army for six years, how easy/difficult was it to leave?
It was not easy, more so that they had invested in my education with the quest that I will stay for some time.
Unfortunately, I developed a lot of interest in business and also wanted to study more so I had to leave.
And how much of an impact did your previous employer have on your career?
I’m still very proud of all my previous employers, especially BDF because I learnt a lot of life skills and discipline.
Once a soldier you always have a plan of how to survive after work so that’s the best thing.
The kind of training you go through when you join prepares you for the future.
It’s almost 20 years since you quit the BDF to pursue your own dreams. What highlights and lowlights stand out on your journey?
My highest career moments were when I was in the United States of America. It gave me the platform and exposure.
More companies engaged me on their fitness events. I had partnerships with private hospitals in Miami on lifestyle management services.
I offered body composition services to patients on obesity, coronary heart diseases and diabetes and referring them to fitness centres with a quality training programs.
I ran a boot camp in Miami for five years and also contributed in the Biggest Loser Florida, California and Australia.
I travelled the world, more than 65 countries, presenting in world class fitness conventions and workshops.
My lowest moment is the outbreak of Covid-19 when there were lockdowns and people were not allowed to go to the gym.
That’s some journey! What was it like living in Miami, is it as glamorous as we see on TV?
Miami is a great place, it’s a multicultural city and very popular with celebrities because of the weather.
This is one of the busiest tourism cities in Florida and USA.
What you see on TV is just the tip of the iceberg – if you want to see or enjoy Miami infrastructure watch NBC TV and most American channels.
Every celebrity in America enjoys their holidays in Miami, or connecting on a cruise ship to the Caribbean in Miami.
Miami has a huge cruise port, every day there is more than 50 cruise ships docking and leaving Miami.
Sounds amazing – so which stars have you met?
I have met so many celebrities! Dave Bautista [wrestler turned actor] regularly came to the gym I was working at.
I have also met Dwane ‘The Rock’ Johnson and many basketball stars, including Shaquille O’Neal and others.
On a daily basis, when you go to Miami Beach or South Beach you meet celebrities, especially on week days because there isn’t many people around.
And yet you left all this to return to Botswana?
I returned home in 2009 to set up my businesses. It’s true what they say, there’s no place like home’ and I have no regrets!
Fair enough. You mentioned the outbreak of Covid-19 as a low point in your career – how has the pandemic affected your business?
This is one of the worst times, not only for my business but for many, from street vendors to large scale businesses.
The protocols in place to curb the spread of the virus directly affect all businesses.
Before Covid, we had five operations: one in Maun, Tlokweng and then three corporate gyms in Gaborone.
Gyms were one of the first operations to be closed because they were deemed ‘super spreaders’.
As of today we are left with only one operation, which is Tlokweng.
Maun closed indefinitely and the other three corporate gyms also closed because now people are working from home.
We have lost 75 percent of our annual turnover. We have downsized our staff from 23 to 6.
But I would still say we are lucky because some businesses have closed completely!
Tell us a bit about the up-coming Kazungula Bridge Marathon, how did you come up with the idea?
Once you are soldier you always think of what works, how it can work and what are the benefits that come with it.
The thinking around this business model is all about promoting local and international tourism, as well as sports tourism.
The marathon is a business model that is going to create a new tourism wave in the country.
It will create employment opportunities for our youth in the filming industry, creatives, boat cruise operators, game operators and hospitality businesses.
We want to develop this event to reach the international standards and be on the level of London Marathon.
We are talking to serious partners who can make this event reach those magnitudes.
Wow, big plans indeed! So will the event benefit the community of Kazungula?
This is one of the events that any village or town would wish to host. The bridge itself is a centre of attraction.
Marathon participants and officials will book accommodation in Kazungula hotels and buy from their business.
Some villagers will turn their homes into guesthouses to accommodate visitors.
It will benefit the community businesses, both big and small.
Do you have any prior experience in organising a marathon?
During my stay in USA I was a volunteer in many marathons, especially Miami Marathon as an event coordinator.
I have put together an executive committee and an advisory board to organise Kazungula Marathon so that we can deliver a successful event.
What does a normal working day in the life of a fitness guru involve?
I wake up at 3:30am every day and get myself ready to open the gym at 04:45am.
At 5am, some days I train clients at the gym. 7:30hrs I am ready in my formal wear to look for business and marketing any product we have in place.
As Obertfitness we have adopted a system of coming up with a product every season, so right now we are focused on the marathon.
We are up and about with sponsors and other logistics. I’m not just a trainer who focuses on training people, I also do product development and customise it to a certain season or demographic.
What advice can you give to aspiring fitness specialists?
If you choose to be a fitness technocrat be equipped with Human Movement Science knowledge, don’t take chances with people’s lives!
Don’t get excited with seeing someone training people and feel like you can do it before you learn what is required or qualify to be a specialist.
It’s simple once you have qualified as a technocrat, it’s easy for you to know products in fitness.
On another note, fitness is all science based. Fitness trainers spend more time with clients than doctors so we need to go past the level of basic fitness courses.
Now human bodies are very fragile because some are recovering from Covid so we need highly knowledgeable trainers.
So trainers must now learn Human Movement Science that will give them more knowledge to deal with Covid recovery clients.
Who is your inspiration?
My inspiration is my former Mathematics teacher at Shangano JSS, who is now the FNBB Chief Executive Officer, Steven Bogatsu.
He gives me business management and leadership advice and I would say I have reached this far because of him.
Away from the gym, who is Obert Morgan?
It’s difficult to separate me from Obertfitness (laughing heartily).
In my spare time I spend a lot of time with my best friend, Tinabo Chabaesele.
We [are] adventure buddies and love travelling. I like my coffee at one of the coffee shops at River Walk Mall, so when you see me please don’t disturb, it’s my peaceful and brainstorming time!
With your rippling muscles and dazzling smile, you must be quite a hit with the ladies! Is there a special woman in your life?
(Laughing) Yes, but the relationship is still new and private until I am ready to reveal who the woman is and what my intentions are.
And finally, Thank God It’s Friday, with or without a woman, what are your plans for the weekend?
Nothing special, more so that I am still recovering from Covid so I will be spending time at home.
Please let’s stay home, sanitise and wear a mask.