By Dawn Van Osdell
Pregnant with her second child and looking for a way to celebrate, Linda Okwor is throwing herself a gender unveiling party. “It’s my way of waiting without really waiting—and to have my family and friends be a part of a really special moment,” says Okwor, a former NBA cheerleader and more recently, founder of the South Bay’s branch of Baby Boot Camp, a fitness and nutrition program for moms with babies in tow. She won’t know her new baby’s gender until her guests find out, though her husband, Megel Brown, a technology marketing consultant, will take a peak just before they and the couple’s two-year-old daughter, Isabella, do. He prefers to keep his emotions more private, Okwor explains.
We talked with Okwor about creating a community of women in the trenches of motherhood, and how she stays fit and healthy and motivates other moms to do the same. Read on!
Are you a Southern California native? No, my family moved from Nigeria to Durham, North Carolina when I was 10 years old. A few years later, we moved to Minneapolis. I was old enough to know that I didn’t want to move, but living somewhere so cold forced me to reach out and connect with others. My best friends today are the friends I made as a preteen in Minnesota.
I moved to Los Angeles after college—first to Marina Del Rey, just a few blocks from the ocean, and last year we moved to the South Bay so I could be closer to work and to the moms that have become so much a part of my world.
How have you made LA home and built such a strong network? It’s hard to feel like part of a community in LA, but I’ve created one that has truly become my entire life through my business, Baby Boot Camp. It’s more than just a place to work out and earn an income. It’s a community of nearly 10,000 moms—some who come to my classes, some who come for our moms’ nights out, some who just follow me on social media. We are all deep in the motherhood stage. We’re in it together.
How were you inspired to start a business that caters to new moms? Isabella was four months old when I attended my first Baby Boot Camp class in West LA. As a first time mom, it was one of the few times I had left the house since she was born! As luck would have it, she was hungry and fussy when I got there. The teachers told me, ”Nurse her—she’s hungry! And hey, do a few squats while you’re at it.” I was in heaven. I could be with my baby, give her what she needed, and also take care of myself. I knew that I’d found my place. Within two weeks, I was in the process of opening my own baby boot camp.
Why is fitness so important to you? I was an extremely skinny child, and teased relentlessly for it—Skinny Mini, Bag of Bones, every name you could think of. The pain I felt from it was very real. My school counselor helped me by getting me involved in sports and teaching me how to eat better. I followed her advice and noticed that not only did my body change, but my attitude did, too. I felt so great that I did more and more; and I realized what diet and exercise could do to change other people’s lives. It changed me from being miserable to being the homecoming queen. I went on to compete in fitness competitions, cheerlead professionally, earn my MBA to help others through corporate fitness jobs, became a trainer and a nutrition and fitness coach.
Motivating moms, most of whom are sleep deprived, must be tough. How do you get them to stick with it? It’s more than fitness they come for. They come for the community—for friends and family. Some come just to get out of the house, to connect with other moms, to give their babies interaction with other babies. Some come to get in shape, lose weight, fight post-partum depression, or to manage a medical problem. Our class is at 9:00 am. Everyone is up by then, it’s usually an active time for kids, and there’s no need to get a babysitter.
The other real motivation for my moms is that we all get what they are going through. We get that someone’s kid had a blowout that morning, someone was up all night with a screaming baby. It’s that “Me, too!” that gives you the extra push to keep at it.
Do you get all the exercise you need teaching your classes? I’m a stickler for form, so I’m often helping moms get in position or I’m holding someone’s baby so she can get in another set. I get a workout, too, but I also walk, do yoga, and I love trying out new studios, like SoulCycle and Believe Fitness Studio. I’m taking a group of moms to an aerial class there. They won’t let me do it while pregnant, but the other moms will love it!
At 2, your daughter is too young to get what you do, but do you think your commitment to healthy living rubs off on her? Yes! I take her to Baby Boot Camp as much as possible. I’m always catching her getting her own workouts in. She does burpees, shuttle runs, shuffles. It’s so adorable and so great.
Megel and I have had our time without kids and to ourselves, so we really want Isabella with us as much as possible. We love doing 5K walks together, hiking Runyan and Fryman Canyon, and going to the beach. We take Isabella with us to The Counter for salads and burger bowls and Shophouse Southeast Asian Kitchen, where she always orders her own brown rice, chicken meatballs, and charred corn.
Do you have any tips for staying healthy—and keeping your family healthy, too—while pregnant?It’s about staying sane and keeping it simple. I live in my uniform—usually Athleta workout clothes. I throw on a cover-up shirt, change from sneakers into riding boots, and head to a meeting. No one knows that I taught boot camp two hours earlier.
It’s also about knowing how to eat. I know that cravings come from deficiencies and I know that I’m going to have to eat a whole lot of spinach-topped pizza to fulfill a craving caused by a vitamin K or A deficiency, so I skip the pizza and eat spinach. When I eat out, I order a side of corn instead of fries.
Moms are busy and tired, so when I cook, I make it easy by using five ingredients or less. We love stir-fries that we can pull together with bags of pre-chopped veggies from Trader Joes, a bit of protein, and brown rice or quinoa. Izzy and I also make a lot of healthy homemade pizzas. I can get her to eat a variety of veggies that she wouldn't normally eat if I load them on a pizza. To make sure we’re getting everything we need, I often sneak a JuicePlus supplement into our food—even sprinkling a capsule of it into pancakes. It’s about keeping it simple and easy, and keeping us all healthy.
Photographs by Kyle Monk. Family photo via Linda Okwor.