It’s been 30 years since Tony Horton left the University to chase his dream of making it in Hollywood. Give him 90 days of your hard work and sweat, and he’ll help you chase your dream of healthy living.
Not to mention a seriously ripped body.
The face (and body!) of the world’s pre-eminent home workout system got his start on the Kingston Campus. Horton and the team at BEACHBODY have transformed the workout program P90X into a $200-million franchise that is changing lives. Horton released his diet and fitness book Bring It! in January, and his exercise programs are causing the U.S. Congress to rethink the way the nation’s military forces are trained.
“Obviously there is a lot of debate that goes on in D.C., but physical fitness and wellness is a totally bipartisan issue,” Horton said. “It started with congressmen Heath Shuler and Paul Ryan working out in a hallway outside the congress-ional gym, but now they have completely restructured the gym so more people can use P90X.”
Shuler is a Democrat from North Carolina and a former NFL quarterback, while Ryan is a Republican from Wisconsin who learned of P90X through a friend who was a Navy SEAL. The two are now joined by dozens of congressmen who have made P90X part of their workout regimen, and they have arranged for Horton to visit U.S. military bases around the world to help incorporate his workout program into military training. Beyond the military, the issue of obesity, particularly in children, strikes a chord with Horton. Growing up in Trumbull, Conn., he remembers seeing a mere handful of overweight children: “Now, with the amount of sugar and salt people consume combined with lack of exercise, more and more people are simply unhealthy. My purpose is health and fitness; my goal is to change behaviors.
“I don’t offer a magic pill or potion, and I don’t give shortcuts,” Horton continued. “P90X requires hard work. I don’t pretend it’s easy because it isn’t. But it works.”
Colonel Steven Shepro is certainly convinced. After using P90X himself, the commander of the 316th Wing and Installation Command of Andrews Air Force Base, Md., made it a requirement for personnel at Andrews to workout with the program twice a week.
In spring 2010, Horton participated in the Armed Forces Entertainment Tour, visiting three U.S. military bases in northern Italy. Because the P90X workout can be completed in small spaces, it is ideal for troops on Army bases like Camp Darby and Caserma Ederle, or on the Air Force’s Aviano Air Base.
“It was really hard to believe at first, but our government and our military use P90X, which is a thrill for me,” Horton said. “I feel honored to be involved with something having that much of an impact.”
Beginning of a Dream
Horton arrived at URI in 1976 as a theatre major hoping to turn his passion into a career as an actor. A football player in high school, he also developed an interest in weight lifting and physical fitness.
“Looking back, it’s interesting that my two main areas of interest were on opposite ends of campus,” said Horton, who was a member of URI’s Phi Kappa Psi fraternity chapter. “Theatre was at the top of campus, and the gym was at the bottom of campus. The two passions combined in the middle and led me to my career.”
One of the key lessons Horton learned in a weightlifting class he took at URI has played a pivotal role in his teaching approach with P90X: “The guy teaching the class was willing to work with me and teach me at a speed and pace at which I could learn. I never forgot that, and it’s why with the P90X, I show each exercise with three different methods at beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels. If someone is struggling with an exercise, we show alterations he or she can make in order to keep pushing themselves. They do what they can rather than getting frustrated by what they can’t.”
In the summer of 1980, Horton was a handful of credits shy of earning his degree in communications. He was deciding what summer job to take while he finished his course work when a friend asked if he wanted to go out to California: “It took me about four seconds to think about it and say ‘yes.’”
Armed with two suitcases of clothes, his stereo (minus the speakers, which wouldn’t fit in the car), and $400, Horton headed for the West Coast. By the time he got there, he still had the clothes and stereo, but he was out of money. To get by, he made money as a street performer doing mime, a skill he learned and honed back in URI’s Fine Arts Center.
A Career Takes Shape
Horton landed small acting gigs and did stand-up comedy for a while. Eventually he landed a job as a production assistant with 20th Century Fox, and he worked out on the side to stay in shape for the auditions he went on. His boss noticed Horton’s physique and asked for help getting into better shape; this was the beginning of Horton’s career as a personal trainer. Through his boss, Horton was connected with legendary musician Tom Petty and helped him stay in shape for concert tours.
Word of mouth led to connections with other celebrities, and Horton began working with the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Antonio Banderas. He eventually met Carl Daikeler, CEO of BEACHBODY and creator of 8-Minute Abs, the parent company of P90X. Working together, Daikeler and Horton first developed Power 90, the precursor to P90X.
Over the last 12 years, Horton and Daikeler have worked to fine tune P90X, which has sold more than 1.5 million units. “P90X has been a 30-year journey for me, but it has really hit big in the last several years,” Horton said.
Once a personal trainer for celebrities, Horton has become a celebrity in his own right. Infomercials for P90X can be seen most any night on television, and he is often recognized by fans when he is traveling.
“It is weird for me to get stopped by people in the airport who get excited to see me,” Horton said. “But at the same time, I love it. It’s a constant reminder for me about why I am doing this. When people share their stories about how P90X has improved their lives, you realize that you are helping people make a positive impact on themselves. That’s just a great feeling.”
Shane Donaldson ’99