A flood of friends help local fitness instructor recover from the storm
By Richard D. Smith l September 22, 2021
“Give me five good ones!” Alex Obe cheerfully exhorted a group of fit and energized people.
But Obe wasn’t talking about pushups, and this wasn’t an exercise class. It was Monday, September 6, and Obe hoped for at least five stationary exercise bikes that hadn’t been ruined when the adjacent Millstone River inundated his Iron Core Fitness gym in Rocky Hill.
A flood of friends, clients, and neighbors showed up to heft dumbbells, kettlebells, and barbell plates. They washed mud from the equipment, and neatly arranged the items inside the building.
“Alex will want us to move all this one more time,” joked one member of the team, to knowing smiles from the others. “It’s all a trick to get us to train!”
The real trick had been played by nature on September 1, when the remnants of Hurricane Ida created a brutal weather event in the Mid-Atlantic region and flood waters engulfed Obe's Iron Core Fitness gym.
In response, some 50 people – Alex’s fitness clients, parents of Montgomery school first graders taught by wife Stephanie Shaffer Obe, plus friends and neighbors – readily gave up Labor Day holiday plans to labor in a pumped-up cleaning effort.
“We knew how much work they’ve put into the gym, the sacrifices they’ve made,” explains Alexis Soron of Montgomery, who was on hand with husband Nate and their two teenaged children, all good friends of the Obe family.
“People just kept showing up,” says Johnny Rooney of Rocky Hill, a fellow Montgomery school teacher with Stephanie Obe. “It was all hands on deck!”
Alex Obe (pronounced oh-BAY), 44, is of Nigerian heritage. He and his sisters were born in the United States, but he lived in Nigeria during part of his childhood. Their mother worked for Nigerian Airlines; their father was an entrepreneur with computer and alarm system businesses. Alex and Stephanie met as students at Bucknell University. Both graduated in 1999, he in psychology and she in education.
Alex worked for a time in corporate information systems. But “fitness always felt good, it felt right,” he says, adding with a smile, “I needed to make people sweat.”
He worked for New York Sports Club chain, eventually managing two locations including Princeton Shopping Center. In 2006, he purchased Personal Training Studios in the business center across Rt. 206 from ShopRite, later moving it to the nearby Research Park complex.
Selling PTS in 2019 allowed the purchase of 200 Washington Road in Rocky Hill – originally a 1700s grist mill and most recently the studio/showplace of John Shedd Pottery Designs – for Alex’s new Iron Core Fitness gym. (The Obes were already Rocky Hill residents, having moved from Lawrenceville in 2009.)
Stephanie Shaffer Obe has taught in the Montgomery Township school system since 2000, first as a substitute and now as a fulltime first grade teacher. (“She’s very well-respected,” says Johnny Rooney. “The parents and kids just love her.”)
The Obe family was in Jamaica when the storm powered through Rocky Hill and the Millstone surged. (It was something of a working vacation for Alex, who was giving training sessions there.) Word quickly spread on social media that Iron Core Fitness had been flooded. A happier deluge followed, of friends and acquaintances asking to help.
It was Stephanie who had suggested to her husband that he “really should put out that you need help.” And so Alex, who is a do-it-yourself tough guy, did, via texts and Facebook postings. (Their children also got word to friends.)
Johnny Rooney, wife Angie, and their two children responded. “It was such a great event,” he says. “It was so `community,' for a very good family who are so well loved and respected.”
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Belle Mead resident Alexis Soron, who has trained with Alex, added, “It was a daunting task. But there were so many people and everyone was working so hard, that everything got done quickly. It was amazing.”
Alexis first met Stephanie (who subsequently taught their son in first grade) through mutual friends. She’s trained in-person with Alex and also took his virtual workouts during the coronavirus quarantine.
“He really cares about everyone who shows up at his classes,” she says. “That’s why there was such a turnout. He deserves to be successful.”
Multiple persons interviewed compared the Iron Core Fitness cleanup to the ending of the classic Christmas movie It’s A Wonderful Life in which a community rallies to rescue a beloved family-owned savings and loans bank threatened by a sudden crisis.
“It was amazing and humbling,” says Alex Obe, “because I did not expect it.” ■