“This is relatable. I’m a regular person,” says Ishmael Hicks, a trainer who was raised in Peoria, Ill., and now operates his own fitness and training space, called the Underground Training Center, within a facility in the city. “I’m not ‘X’ professional, or no outstanding college superstar that came back with a big name and wanted to start a training facility, or come from a family with money, or a community that endorsed me with money. I’m just a regular person who started off with his daughter training in parks and in my garage.”
Hicks cut the ribbon in May on his new physical location within the Landmark Recreation Center, taking over some old sport courts and remodeling the space to fit his concept, which started humbly — above ground and outdoors — with Hicks and his young daughter named Seven. He had no training or coaching experience at the time. He says he was just a dad working with his kid in a park, and parents took notice, eventually asking him if their kids could join in.
“I said, ‘Well, really, I’m just out here working with her,’ and they decided to come on. They joined in,” Hicks says. He worked with a small group of kids outdoors that summer, and the next summer, Seven’s middle school friends joined in, too. That fed into an idea that Hicks started with his uncle — One Motion — a Central Illinois not-for-profit youth organization emphasizing track and field and cross country. One Motion started with about six athletes and has grown to support nearly 100, Hicks says. He eventually earned certification for track and field coaching from USA Track & Field. He also got certified for personal training, adult fitness classes, adult boot camp classes, and more in order to expand.
While growing One Motion, more athletes started to connect with Hicks — football players, basketball players, soccer athletes — and they wanted to train. That’s when Hicks was training out of his garage, at parks — whatever space he could get. Finally, he said adults were asking what he offered outside of youth training, and that’s when the partnership with Landmark got started. Eventually, Hicks took over six racquetball courts, remodeling the space into the 5,000-square-foot turf facility that features a performance training hill, a power lifting room with a rubber floor, one racquetball court, an updated kids’ room, a volleyball program and equipment, remodeled tanning rooms and a remodeled lobby overlooking the turf training area.
Now in its physical space, the Underground Training Center is geared toward teens, with specific programs, training options and youth camps. The inspirational fitness class that Hicks started for adults is also a part of the program, but not the focus. For youths 13 and younger, the Underground offers two classes a week for $50 a month, and for 14- to 19-year-olds, there are three classes each week for $75 a month.
“I didn’t grow up with a lot of money,” Hicks says. “I always ask myself when I’m setting my prices, ‘What could my mom have afforded for me?’ I understand that it is a business, but I don’t want to get so out of touch that it is not relatable and it doesn’t help.”
Hicks says the classes help bring in the athletes who can afford one-on-one personal training, and there’s a sports trainer in the facility at all times.
“What’s next for Underground Training is for it to make a huge impact in the community. I want it to be notarized for not just being an athletic training center, but a center that really changes human beings’ lives. Any way that I can do health and fitness through mentorship, I want to grow it, I want to expand.”