Ngo (pronounced EnGo) Okafor has gone through many interesting career transitions. Okafor, originally from Nigeria, started out as a successful boxer and, after creating his own fitness program, has become one of the most sought after fitness trainers in NYC.
He is a two-time Golden Gloves award-winning boxer, but his boxing career was atypical. He started in his early thirties even though most boxers start much earlier.
From boxing, he ventured into modeling. And why not? He had the look and the body for it. “I started working out at the age of 13 because I was being bullied by bigger kids in school, so I wanted to get stronger in order to protect myself. I worked very hard in the gym and when I moved to New York City, the physique that I built helped helped provide me with a successful modeling career,” he says. “I’ve had the privilege of doing shoots with supermodels like Gisele Bundchen (in V Magazine) and musical luminaries such as Mary J. Blige and Lil Kim (for MAC Cosmetics’ Viva Glam campaign). I have appeared in over a dozen issues of Men’s Health Magazine, produced two best-selling calendars, and have been featured in publications such as Vogue, W, ESPN, Fortune and the Wall Street Journal magazine.”
He also started acting. He’s appeared on hit television shows such as “One Life to Live” and “Law and Order: SVU,” films like “The Rebound” starring Catherine Zeta Jones, and commercials for brands including Gatorade. And this spring, Okafor will appear opposite James Franco and Jonah Hill in the motion picture, “True Story.” He is also working on “Three Rounds,” a documentary about his interesting journey.
But even though he has built a thriving career in modeling and acting, Okafor wanted to do something else. So he started his own fitness regime. “Even though I had a thriving modeling career, I felt a deeper need to fulfill my childhood dream of playing sports. Boxing analysts called me one of the quickest studies the boxing world has ever seen. I first stepped into the ring at the relatively advanced age of 31—a time at which most boxers are already hanging up their gloves,” he says. “But I immersed myself in the sweet science with the same fierce dedication I apply to everything else, ascending to the pinnacle of the fight world in record time. Within only a few years, I had already earned amateur boxing’s highest distinction—the Golden Gloves Championship—twice, back-to-back.”
RAKA! fitness program is a 45-minute boxing-inspired cardio-strength class, that requires no weights or equipment and is done with a backdrop of African music. “Boxing is a huge part of my life and has taught me so many life lessons. I wanted to share my passion for boxing with the masses, but I knew that most people were intimidated by boxing. I knew that for people to open up and try boxing, I had to make it fun. I also wanted to make it affordable, so that everyone could enjoy it,” he explains. “That’s how RAKA! was born. Once the rhythms of the Afrobeats grabs a hold of you, 45 minutes fly right by. By the end of the class, you would have thrown hundreds of punches and used your body weight to build long and lean muscles, while leaving behind sweat and hundreds of calories burned!”
Okafor is excited about growing RAKA! “Since leaving the ring, I have parlayed my boxing experience into a thriving training enterprise, building an innovative and effective fitness system from the ground up. I created a unique melding of boxing, strength training, and cardio intervals, which provides stunning results, attracting a client list that reads like a who’s who of the NYC media and fashion industry elite. When the most image conscious people on earth trust you with their appearance, you’re definitely doing something right,” he says.
And people are taking notice. “Even the New York Post has caught wind of the buzz, naming me one of ‘New York’s Hottest Trainers’ in a recent feature. Nike has also taken notice, signing me as a chapter leader for its NIKE+NYC Training Program,” he says.
Despite all his success in the U.S., to which he came at the age of 18 to attend college, Okafor doesn’t forget his homeland. “I make an effort to get to Nigeria, at least, once a year. At times, I’ve gone home to Nigeria more than once in a year,” he says. He has also created the Champion Spirit Foundation, which provides safe and positive facilities in Nigeria where young boys and girls can exercise and learn the art of boxing – free of charge. The goal is to keep them off the streets, teach them the benefits of hard work and raise their self-esteem.
And for now, it doesn’t seem like Okafor will be changing careers any time soon. He’s enjoying too much of what he’s doing. “What I enjoy the most about fitness is the freedom to have fun! I feel like a kid every time I work out because I have the freedom to run, jump and pick up heavy things,” he shares. “My boxing career and my career as a fitness specialist went hand-in-hand. I was doing both at the same. The fact that I worked in a gym while I was boxing was perfect because I could work and make money and work out throughout the day without worrying about traveling.”