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From Dumbbells to
Diamonds to Trailblazer:
Interview with Bob Cheek

By Carin Chea

Not many people can say they’re a celebrity in their country. To be fair, Bob Cheek didn’t exactly say that either, but it was easy to surmise.

Cheek, a retired professional footballer, politician, journalist, and fitness club owner, is a success story hidden behind a self-deprecating demeanor.

His book, Dumbbells to Diamonds, chronicles his varied career, its losses, and his inevitable comeback. Cheek, whose “overnight” success came when he was 65, is an inspirational tale for us all.

His story is not just one of financial and career triumphs, but a reminder that regardless of age and despite adversity, dreams are always within reach if you have enough gumption and perseverance.

Dumbbells to Diamonds by Bob Cheek

Are you originally from Tasmania?

I’m from Tasmania, a little island state at the bottom of Australia. My family immigrated from England, from Essex, in 1855. I’m sitting here now staring at the ocean.

Tell us where you started off professionally. I see that you were a politician, journalist, and footballer.

I’ve had a pretty varied life. I was brought up on a farm in northern Tasmania. I played Australian football professionally. Australian Rules football is Australia's biggest spectator sport regularly drawing crowds of more than 80,000 fans, and then journalism has been my main profession over that time.

I went into business building fitness studios, then went into politics along the way.

Back in the old days, fitness wasn’t mainstream. I had had gyms on and off, even when I was in politics, but none of them made much money.

Football is one of Australia’s greatest national pastimes. Because I played football, it was a natural progression, that you retired from that to go into that [fitness]. I took great pleasure in helping people lead happy, healthy lives.

What’s Dumbbells to Diamonds about, and what inspired you to write it?

It’s part memoir of my time in the industry. I went into it in the 1980s, before Jane Fonda revolutionized the industry with her fitness tapes. Having been in it for nearly 40 years, I saw there weren’t many books on the fitness industry. There are books on how to lift weights though.

A lot of people go bust in the fitness industry. In my book, I have 33 workouts on how to be successful in the industry.

When I came out of politics, I always subscribed to a magazine from the fitness industry IHRSA [International Health Racquet, and Sportsclub Association].

One day in 2008 I was just looking through that and saw all these new sorts of gyms opening up in the states. I got an economy class fare to the US, hired a mustang convertible, and put the Beach Boys on to try and get into the American mood.

I saw these 24-hour gyms in San Diego and thought, “I think I could do this in Australia where this is unknown.”

I was nearly 65 years old when I opened one up. I ended up building 37 of them. I didn’t franchise. I built every one of them and owned them all. I worked 24 hours, 7 days a week.

I have since sold out for a substantial sum of money. I didn’t want to, but I was well into my 70s. It's been a real success story.

Having been a former journalist, I thought I’d suggest to other people how to succeed in that industry. I’ve had my ups and downs, and lost and earned money. It took me 40 years to be an overnight success.

My father had a saying, “Son, don't get off your bike. Keep pedaling.” It’s just a matter of never giving up. It might take you a long time to succeed, but eventually you will.

It’s a very unique industry, the fitness industry. I had other businesses, but nothing like this.

The other great thing is to always be inquisitive. As you get older you think you’re set in your ways, but you have to be curious in your life.

Bob Cheek

What do you hope to convey in your latest book?

Curiosity is important, especially as you get older. You have to be aware of what’s going on in the world. Some people don’t like change, but I think it’s very important to not stagnate.

The main thing is: You’re never too old. You’ve proved that with your president in the US.

People seem to think I was too old. I started out from scratch. I didn’t borrow any money, just equipment and luckily it was successful. Always keep trying, never give up, and age is a state of mind.

And: Work hard. Keep having a crack, as we say in Australia. You’ll end up being successful. A lot of it is luck and timing. I was lucky in that I got in early on that 24-hour small box fitness gym trend, which was just getting started in the United States and was unheard of in Australia.

To be successful, you have to be out there and get your name out.

Do you have any projects you’d like us to know about?

At the ripe age of 78, I’m looking to open a wellness retreat in Tasmania. Wellness is such a huge scene now, with people wanting to get away from the world and go back to nature.

I’m also looking to write another book as well, but completely different from the fitness industry. It’s an autobiographical novel set in a 1950s country town in Tasmania.

For more information, visit www.BobCheek.com.



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