He is a fit 45, energetic and muscular, a coiled spring ready at a moment’s notice to send his 5-foot-5, 162-pound frame leaping forward into a martial arts form, putting full force into each strike and movement until sweat begins to bead on his bald head.
Darrell Gough personifies fitness, and that isn’t just for his own sake, but for the sake of others as well. As a personal trainer who also teaches Aerobox, boot camp and cross conditioning classes for Columbia Association (CA), Gough believes he must practice what he preaches.
Gough moved with his family to Columbia in 1976, taking his first job with CA in 1989 as a camp counselor at Supreme Sports Club. After working part-time in various roles there and at the Columbia Athletic Club, he took a full-time role with CA about five years ago. His official job title is “member success coach.”
He lives in Harper’s Choice now with his wife of 17 years, Lisa, and their two teenage sons and one teenage daughter. And even though he now spends much of his time in more of a teaching role, the man whose childhood was defined by a martial arts icon still dedicates himself to training: Most recently, he’s trained in Jow-Ga Kung Fu under instructor Derek Johnson.
Gough recently spoke with CA Today about the role fitness has played in his life and work:
How did fitness become such a major part of your life?
“Just seeing my father and how active he was. He was really motivational, because he wanted his boys to be really active and do the sports that he did, so he wanted us to be in football and do wrestling. My earliest memories of my father in Baltimore were actually doing pull-ups, chin-ups, all different assortments of push-ups and sit-ups before he’d go to bed at night. He took us to the YMCA when we were younger, but then we moved out to Columbia … one of the major factors was the paths and all the open areas and space.”
But he wasn’t your only fitness influence. There was someone else on the big screen?
“Bruce Lee! Love Bruce Lee! I was a very overweight kid when I was in middle school. I think it was around the time when we got cable television in 1978. He was really instrumental in terms of I’d see this figure on screen [and think]: ‘Man, I want to be like him. I want to have muscles like Bruce Lee. I want to have flexibility like Bruce Lee. I want to kick like Bruce Lee.”
How long have you been in the kind of shape you’re in now?
“Probably since I was 14. I really stepped out and got more into wrestling, got more serious about my martial arts. It just became a part of what I regularly do. My father was really the one who started that. You had the competitive atmosphere of my brothers being in the house, too, so it was like my brother did like 50 push-ups, I said, ‘Look, I’m going to go for 60!’ ”
How has your martial arts training contributed to your overall fitness?
“It’s given me a real good foundation. I tell anybody that in terms of your kids, if you get them into any type of programs, get them in a martial arts program. The flexibility, the different body weight calisthenics that they can do with that, because with the movement of the forms, they can actually condition your body, too. There’s just overall body conditioning benefits from martial arts.”
Why have you stayed with CA for so long, and what do you love about your job?
“Well, I have a personal love for the Athletic Club, because that’s actually the gym that I trained in when I wrestled at Oakland Mills. All the facilities between the Supreme Sports Club, which I worked at for 11 years, and Columbia Gym, they have a different nuance, a different feel to them. I love the variety of the clubs. Each club is different.
“What I enjoy about my job, I just love the interaction with the people. My coworkers are awesome, so that’s another thing. It’s just great overall. Even now, at 45 years of age, I still run into my elementary-school teachers, my high-school teachers, people I grew up with like 30 years ago. It’s a really nice, family-type atmosphere, too. That’s the other thing I love about it.”
What makes a good personal trainer?
“A good personal trainer needs to live what they do. I really feel like it’s hypocritical for a personal trainer to have somebody do something, or tell you that you need to eat right, and they’re not eating right as well. I’m a real stickler for that. … I won’t ask anybody to do anything that I wouldn’t do, but if you want that challenge, oh yeah, I’m going to give you that challenge.”
What are the most important things for the people you train to know?
“The most important thing is to definitely have a goal, get out of the box. You don’t want to be complacent. You want to definitely challenge yourself. Change is hard. Change is very hard. Believe in yourself. Have a vision in mind, and you can achieve it. But change is hard.”
– Interview by David Greisman. Video by Erin McPhail