This fitness guru triumphed over childhood trauma through bodybuilding | Chicagoans | Chicago Reader

This fitness guru triumphed over childhood trauma through bodybuilding 

"When I embraced fitness, I became complete, I was well," Sunny Akhigbe says.

Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe

Sunny Akhigbe

Sunny Akhigbe

Jiayue Yu

Chicagoans is a first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford. This week's Chicagoan is Sunny Akhigbe, 44, bodybuilder, fitness model, trainer, and actor.

I grew up in a very remote village in Nigeria where you have no cars, no road, no water. I was rejected by my own family and left to live with my grandmother. I was molested, I was abandoned, I was rejected. I just wanted to have a big hug from a dad, and I never had it.

I could not find a therapy to help me feel better about myself. So doing bodybuilding was therapy for me. I was training with bricks and engine blocks. Each time I lifted bricks and ran, I felt better. I didn't even know what it was; I just knew that whenever I exercised, there was part of me that was happy: "This thing is making me feel better. This thing is making me be a normal human being."

Eventually I moved to a city in Nigeria about the same size as Michigan City, Indiana. I was online one day, and a lady reached out and said, "My name is this. I'm a Christian. Do you believe in God? This is my e-mail." So I reached out to her: "Hey, my name is Sunny, I live in Africa." Then I gave her my phone number, and we started talking. She flew to Nigeria, and she found out that everything I talked to her about was real. She told me she's gonna bring me to the United States, and she did. We did all the documentation, and before you know it, I was here and we were married. That was in 2004.

I started working and training at a YMCA in LaPorte, Indiana. My body started transforming. People started saying, "Why don't you go compete?" I said, "What does that mean?" I never heard about it. So I started training heavily and eating right, and I went to compete. I didn't know what I was doing, but I was ready. So when I stepped onstage, I won the whole show, I won the division, I won overall. Now I am an [International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness] pro.

I was like, OK, this is my calling, and I became a fitness model and personal trainer. My targeted audience is the business owner who doesn't have time for themselves, so I help them create a program that's gonna regain their health. I talk to all my clients every day, and they have to meet with me once or twice a week. Between eating and exercising, it's gonna take you two hours per day to take care of your health and wellness so you feel good.

I'm also an actor; I just finished with Chicago P.D., the TV series. I wrote a book called A Boy and His Dream, and I have a foundation to help every child who is going through adversity like I did. Here in Chicago, I go from school to school talking about life skills.

Fitness is my therapy. It gives me life. The trauma that chased me, it helps me to control it. When I embraced fitness, I became complete, I was well. I became healed from my trauma. Without fitness, I wouldn't be able to focus. Yes, fitness gave me life. I'm healed.   v

Support Independent Chicago Journalism: Join the Reader Revolution

We speak Chicago to Chicagoans, but we couldn’t do it without your help. Every dollar you give helps us continue to explore and report on the diverse happenings of our city. Our reporters scour Chicago in search of what’s new, what’s now, and what’s next. Stay connected to our city’s pulse by joining the Reader Revolution.

Are you in?

  Reader Revolutionary $35/month →  
  Rabble Rouser $25/month →  
  Reader Radical $15/month →  
  Reader Rebel  $5/month  → 

Not ready to commit? Send us what you can!

 One-time donation  → 

Comments

Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

Agenda Teaser

Performing Arts
April 30
Performing Arts
April 08

Popular Stories