While many people took state and federal at-home advisories during the spring and summer months of the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to stop exercising and start overeating, junior Noble Ohakam decided to put those weeks to good use — by capitalizing on his passion for fitness and kick-starting his brand, Built by Noble.
Originally from the Bronx, Ohakam grew up constantly exercising and full of energy.
“My parents told me that out of their six children I was the youngest to start walking … ever since then I’ve had a lot of energy,” Ohakan said. “I’d always move from one room to the other, never standing still … what got me into the project was my lifelong interest in physical activity in general.”
When he started high school at Phillips Academy Andover, Ohakam decided to try soccer, football, wrestling and track and field. Ultimately, track and field stole his heart and he continues to participate on the team at Tufts. He credits the Tufts gym and various memberships at local gyms in his hometown for being able to always keep up a physically intense, weightlifting-driven lifestyle, whether at home or at school.
However, the loss of his brother in April, the restrictions on gym access due to COVID-19 and an itch to try new workouts pushed him to depart from his traditional concept of fitness.
“I started to become more conscious about my place in the world. What can I bring to the world? Does it have value?” Ohakam said. “Over the summer, I thought about certain insecurities I have academically, physically, mentally and emotionally. I wanted to stop feeling sorry for myself and wanted to pick myself up and start building up to a man I can be proud of.”
Through his journey, Ohakam also realized how much he did not know about fitness and healthy lifestyles. He started reading a textbook to learn about nutrition, and is taking Director of Sports Performance Dan Kopcso’s class this semester, Advanced Principles of Exercise.
Before, when Ohakam was only focusing on strength, he felt discouraged if his body didn’t look a certain way after workouts. Now, however, he is learning to enjoy exercise purely for the self-gratification and mental health benefits.
“Fitness is more than just obtaining a certain look. There was a fear and social expectation that because I’m a man I need to become stronger and muscular,” Ohakam said. “I liked both of those goals, but there came a time where I felt too bounded by it.”
As soon as he let go of the traditional societal norms surrounding men and fitness, Ohakam found himself open to new varieties of exercise.
“Once I was able to tune limiting ideas out, I was able to enjoy training for myself,” Ohakam said. “Now, I’m able to enjoy jogging, riding a bike, sprinting, yoga, pilates and hopefully dancing at some point. I know last year I would not have been able to allow myself to try any of those activities.”
Most importantly, and particularly after his brother’s passing, Ohakam has discovered how exercise serves as an excellent emotional release and encourages a mentally healthy lifestyle.
“Back in April I lost my brother, and when I first started to advertise the page, I couldn’t help but think of him. There were many ways in which I followed in his footsteps,” Ohakam said. “Physical activity gave me new hobbies and something to be proud of as a passion. Having something you can do that gives you life again is incredible. I can go through a long day, but at the end of it I can work on my handstand technique and that’s still exciting.”
Ohakam developed his hashtag, #buildupnotdown, based on the idea of athletes building themselves up in all realms of their life.
“To me, that means each and every day, by any means, whether it’s physical, mental or emotional, I’m learning and developing myself in order to understand how to better my body’s ability to move, but also how to improve my mentality,” Ohakam said.
However, even though he wants to encourage people to build up, he does not want to send the message that people should not take the time to reflect on their emotions or events that happened in the past. Most importantly, Ohakam wants people to remember that mental and holistic wellness are a part of fitness and building a sustainable lifestyle.
“I started this path to self-improvement before I was able to realize how much I missed my brother,” Ohakam said. “It’s not just about building up and not down. As one builds, they must always take time to pause and assess what they have. It’s great to have a goal to live up to … but don’t sabotage another aspect of your life.”
The name of his brand, Built by Noble, reflected a similar idea based on his dream of building a life to be proud of. From a business perspective, he initially chose to include his own name in the title to make his brand unique.
“I want to remind myself that even though I’ve received so much advice and knowledge from YouTube, friends, counselors, at the end of the day I have to be the one to know it’s time for me to apply the information to my life,” Ohakam said. “I was the one who started waking up at 6 a.m. to go run in the park, I was the one who started recording myself and then I was the one who started to advertise. Having it be a one-person job solidified the idea that I am building myself. All it takes is you to build yourself up.”
Ohakam said one of the major benefits of starting the project has been getting the opportunity to meet new people in the athletic community, inside and outside of Tufts. He has also enjoyed talking to Tufts and Andover alumni about how to further the Built by Noble project professionally and athletically.
“I’ve spoken to alums in different capacities … about how to progress into a career and personally develop one’s body, mind and soul,” Ohakam said. “Being able to talk to alums allowed me to flesh out what this project can be. I’ve gotten advice about how to turn this dream of mine into a reality by thinking about what I can produce, and considering if it is valuable to another person.”
In the future, Ohakam would like to use his computer science degree from the School of Engineering to create a webpage or mobile app for Built by Noble. Ideally, they would be platforms for him to put out programs and content for his followers.
Ohakam had trouble with his major in the past, saying, “The learning curve of [computer science] is very competitive — it increased my anxiety academically in my first year.” He now appreciates the challenges that the field brings.
“Now I can see that there are some pockets in the field that interest me,” Ohakam said. “I’m getting more comfortable programming and working with other people.”
For now, he wants to continue his programming classes and keep learning about how to develop individual training plans with the objective of getting officially certified soon.
When reflecting on the best advice to give people beginning a fitness journey, Ohakam first shared the importance of education.
“Spend time learning the science behind fitness so that you’re not persuaded by the next fitness influencer that has a six-pack who claims you need to eat a certain way to look like them,” Ohakam said.
While many social media influencers say that special diets or certain supplements can change someone’s body rapidly, Ohakam wants people to remember that physical activity is a lifelong endeavor, not a one-month program.
Furthermore, when beginning a fitness journey, Ohakam emphasized the idea that his followers should always enjoy what they are doing and be sure to think about all aspects of their life beyond exercise.
“Pick something that is fun for you and see what your body can do. Think about your level of physical activity, injury history, nutrition and sleep schedule. Physical activity is only one leg in the stool of overall health,” Ohakam said. “You have to remember the emotional aspect, nutrition and sleep. Once you consider the other parts, it makes it easier to be physically active.”
His last advice for anyone remotely interested in fitness is to remember that at the end of the day, you are the only person that can motivate yourself.
“You’re going to have your body for the rest of your life, so you might as well enjoy being in it,” Ohakam said. “Take your time, and no rush.”
“Thank you for everybody that’s been supporting me so far from the Tufts and Andover communities, and even back home,” Ohakam said. “Always remember to build up, not down.”