As a teenager, Aomalo Suesue was a young man with a dream, a premier athlete at the top of his game. As the youngest in a family of 5 boys and 4 girls, it’s easy to imagine there were some fairly strong expectations and pressures on him to achieve. And to not get lost in the shuffle, of all those Suesue children, AO (as he’s known to friends) wanted to become known for something.
In high school, not many young men know exactly what the American dream is, but at that point in his life, AO simply wanted success. The young American Samoan had been blessed with athletic frame and form and the talent to move all over the football field with skill and panache. Although athletics came fairly easily to him, life was far from easy in a large family where certain religious traditions were taught and adhered to unquestionably. If a teen questions authority, the parents’ answer “because I said so” works on most kids, but not so AO.
When he was attending West High in Salt Lake City, he formed his first dream: to play pro football, preferably for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He kept that dream alive when his family moved to Alameda County, California where he enrolled at Encinal High School and played there.
Suesue describes his teenage years as a period of constantly testing limits, his own athletic abilities and his parents’ patience. The family’s faith was Mormon, but as he looks back, AO wanted to experience religion for himself. At that point he wasn’t of that exact mindset, but he knew what he didn’t want to do or be, just like everyone else.
Not surprising, as the youngest would want to carve out his own niche, own identity, to stand out as Aomalo Suesue, not just “one more of the Suesue kids.” AO set his own standards and followed football as a religion, more or less. Football was everything, and he played on a few junior college teams as he sort of drifted, trying to find himself.
He’d almost succeeded, almost as far from home as he could get. In Nashville, Tennessee he was playing at Tennessee State. You almost know the rest. In his junior year, AO suffered a serious injury and it took him out of the game. He’d played linebacker and strong safety mostly, and he was a natural. His first American dream, to play ball for the Steelers, was gone in an instant.
Suesue says he fell into a funk that it took far too long to come out of than he’d like to admit.
As he mended, he realized that he was not going to ever realize his childhood dream. Depression grew stronger. He finally rehabbed his body to the point where he could play “arena ball” in Nashville, the equivalent of baseball’s minor leagues and farm teams. He didn’t earn much money doing that, because there’s a career ladder to advance to the level where you’re actually paid in arena ball to help the pros work out. Still, he set a goal to be one of “those guys.”
His attitude had not healed as quickly as his body had. He is open about his days of youthful indecision. Church was the last place he wanted to be. He’d rather party with up and coming country musicians. He hung out in Nashville’s bars and just coasted through the days, no sense of direction, with a million friends who he thought of as his extended family.
On one hand, the Tennesee Titans football team, who he practiced with, saw that this kid had something. In fact, Suesue’s cousin, Joe Salavea, played for them and offered encouragement. But, belief in yourself can wane without a full support system in place to encourage you.
Nothing was happening that was really good for AO. At that point, he could have gone either way—succeed or fail. And he certainly wasn’t in prayer for any answers. Not a chance.
But try and convince his wife, Marissa, that someone wasn’t praying for him. Beautiful, blonde and vivaceous, Marissa was a young woman who was herself a bit of a self-described rebel. She, too, tested her parents’ patience on more than a few occasions, but that’s probably why AO would listen to her. She was a young woman, far from home herself, on a mission in Nashville. And, no they didn’t meet in a church. They met at a dance.
Marissa was in Nashville temporarily as part of a Christian retreat that toured across the country—she was a program manager for the group. Suesue says of Marissa, “she helped me out of an atmosphere and life where I was lost. If it weren’t for her…” and his voice drifts off gently.
Soon they were a couple and eventually they married. What next? Both kids knew how to work, and work hard, but they were working ‘for’ someone. When they had their first daughter, Seven, they realized it was time to make a plan. AO saw how hard it was for his dad to take care of a family of 9 children. “He worked hard to take care of all of us, and he worked as many jobs as he needed to for us, to make that happen.”
Naturally that meant his dad couldn’t see every child’s sports event or other activity, and so AO’s first “must” for his future included a job where he would not just hear about, but instead fully participate in, his child’s life. “Marissa,” says AO, accepted me, believed in me, and it was such a great relief to have her faith in me. I learned from my mistakes. I got out of this box I was in, feeling under such pressure to be this or that to be accepted.”
Love does that. Suesue found one of his first niches in working with young people who were accompanying their parents to the gyms where he and Marissa own their own fitness program, Hot Body Boot Camps. In Montgomery, they work out of the Snap Fitness gym near the marina. AO was shocked to hear how some of the children spoke disrespectfully to their parents, and without anyone asking him, he began approaching their misbehaving with a stern look, backed up by the visage of muscles that were Mr. Universe-worthy.
When he spoke, they listened. Quietly AO said, “I don’t want you to speak like that to your mother.” Startled, the children’s attitudes changed. And that’s what a non-relative can do, as the voice of authority. Mothers appreciated that, so AO and Marissa opened their program to all ages. Walk in during a summer day and see a young mother with a 12-year-old working out side-by-side, and smiling in the ‘mom and me’ time. Fathers bring in high school sons and together you’ll see them building skills and confidence together.
Family first. Before starting their program, AO trained Marissa. She is ever much the female equivalent of gentle encouragement, forceful goal-pushing, and high fives ready and waiting when the participants complete a particularly grueling set of repetitions (‘sets’ and ‘reps’ to you gym regulars). She could easily grace a magazine cover as a model, but she wants to be in a gym, not on a cover.
AO says of his wife, “She is energetic; she loves what she does, helping people achieve their goals. She’s just like any other lady in that she is interested in looking her best. She watches her figure. She’s especially gifted in helping women regain their pre-pregnancy weight and shape. She’s been there.” The couple has an infant daughter, Story, as well as Miss Seven. To look at Marissa, you’d never believe she was the mother of two beautiful active, children.
Raising a family when you are in business with your spouse and working full-out is a challenge. Between AO and Marissa, they teach classes, alongside two additional outstanding trainers (Kara and Thomas) four and five times a day in two locations. On Saturday mornings at Montgomery’s Snap Fitness on Hwy 105 near the marina, Hot Body Boot Camps offers a free session at 10 am. In fact, AO is more concerned with your fitness than your wallet. Marissa makes sure a payment plan can be worked out, so all budgets can ‘afford’ to get fit.
From a business that began three years ago, the Suesue family has expanded simply through word-of-mouth. AO prefers it that way. He doesn’t hold much regard for advertising, preferring to let his clients tell their friends. He says, “how my clients feel about themselves when they work out with us is the best advertisement you could ever want.”
In case you think about falling off the wagon, you never know when you might get a text message reminding you to watch your diet, get back into class (5 sessions available daily) and to stay away from ‘bad’ foods. No hype. No fluff. No pills. And with classes at Snap Fitness in Montgomery, Texas and other locations from Conroe to the Woodlands, it’s possible they’ll expand into other areas, another notch up the ladder of the American dream.
Some of the pair’s success stories are best seen in photos on the wall of the gym than described. There’s upbeat music tapes to listen to while exercising. All ages from 17 to 70 appreciate high energy, even if they don’t understand all the lyrics in the song. Example: One of the funniest misheard lyrics came during a fitness routine observed, where the singer was singing about what the client thought was “mac and cheese sticks, mac and cheese sticks.”
The exercises going on were floor, core exercises. As the group was grunting, sweating and on their way to glowing, one patron said, “what is this song about, mac and cheese sticks? How is that healthy?” Marissa smiled sweetly and did not laugh as she said, “oh, that’s ‘Like a G6’ (as in Gulfstream).” No one could exercise after that for a few minutes, as they were all doubled over in laughter. Turns out it was a very popular tune by the Far East Movement. But, of course. That was a typical day at Hot Body Boot Camps. Hard work, laughter, plenty of camaraderie and encouragement among the clients for each other. Seems like the Suesues have created a nice little family wherever they are.
In Montgomery, AO acknowledges “Marissa’s church, Family Faith Church” in Huntsville, for “helping me feel comfortable there, welcomed us with open arms. They’re not judgmental and I enjoy going there.”
Marissa’s family also lives nearby, so there’s more family to be around. In fact, it’s all about family, as Marissa also has a sister and brother who are important in her life. And then there’s AO’s family. This past summer, his niece, Marquesa, came to stay with them for a few weeks during her summer vacation. Seems Marquesa’s father said to AO, “She wants to play volleyball in high school, so please get her into prime shape.”
Two-a-day workouts paid off. Marissa and AO are proud of their niece and grew so attached to her that it was lucky her parents got her back. Seems young Seven and Story loved having a ‘big sister’ around! And the results? With AO, it’s all about results. He says proudly, “Marquesa was one of ten who tried out for the (high school) varsity team and made it!”
Sometimes as a child, you don’t always get to see your dreams come true, but AO is determined. With a quiet fire in his eyes, he is going to try and help every person he sess achieve their dreams. Marissa, too, is equally determined, with a compassion and gentle nature who is unconditionally accepting, entirely nonjudgmental.
To spend an hour with this young couple is almost uplifting enough to make you want to enroll in their program. There’s discussion about “after you’ve been training long enough, we have seasonal competitions that challenge your skills.” Word to the wise: a TV production company ought to be watching these two and film how they do what they do. Watching that gym session shows that, with the Suesue’s faith in their clients, one American dream (of being fit) is coming true for a lot of people.
The family name is pronounced Sway-Sway, frequently written as Suésué, but you can just call them AO and Marissa, and you can call them idealists, but they are proof that, with hard work and a lot of quiet faith, you can accomplish anything you set your mind to, and it’s not such an old-fashioned thing, to search for, and find, the American dream.