Rashad Harper’s fighting spirit

Rashad Harper, an accomplished boxer, routinely competes in MMA bouts. COURTESY PHOTO

Rashad Harper, an accomplished boxer, routinely competes in MMA bouts. COURTESY PHOTO

In life, we have to roll with the punches. This is especially true for MMA fighter and fitness guru Rashad Harper. Harper, a Key West native, spent his childhood running amok on the island. He was always in and out of fights and spent many of his early years getting into trouble.

By the time he was 7, his mother Beverly enrolled him and his twin brother, Dante, in taekwondo. Little did he know this was the beginning of what would become a lifelong love affair with fighting. Harper always thought being the bad guy meant being the cool guy, but over the next several years of his life he came to realize this wasn’t true. Instead, fighting provided both boys with an outlet and helped groom them into the fitness conscious men they are today.

In his early 20s, Harper reversed his bad boy inclinations and enrolled in his first mixed martial arts class as an adult in Key West. He would go on to spend the next ten years of his life cultivating and honing his skills to become a great professional fighter. Harper is disciplined, dedicated and determined in everything that he does. He has a great appetite for life and pursuing his dreams.

Harper poses ringside during a training session. COURTESY PHOTOS

Harper poses ringside during a training session. COURTESY PHOTOS

As his worldview expanded, life in Key West was no longer enough to fulfill Harper’s drive and determination, so the young fighter left the island he knew and loved to journey across the world. He would eventually land in Bangkok, Thailand, the epicenter for kickboxing and fighting.

“I needed to be far away from my comfort zone to really see what I was made of,” he explains.

Once he landed in Bangkok, Harper became a part of the fighting circuit, something he trained his whole life for. While in Thailand, Harper taught English and fitness to kids from age 2 to 17. He taught the fundamentals of western boxing to the youngsters while fulfilling something inside of him he never knew existed. Harper realized he wanted to spend the rest of his life inspiring children with fitness and, after a year and a half in Thailand, he found his way back home to the rock.

Harper loves to share his fitness knowledge with Key West’s youth.

Harper loves to share his fitness knowledge with Key West’s youth.

Now teaming up with his equally fit brother and counterpart, Dante, the duo is offering a three month summer fitness program for Keys kids. Dante Harper owns and operates Flex Key West, at 1204 White St. Fitness is a family affair for the men who have dedicated their lives and bodies to eating healthy and working out, and this summer you and your little ones can get in on the Harper action.

In the Harpers’ bully-free boxing class, children can explore the fundamentals of proper self-defense and healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime. The men are eager to help train children and put them on the right track when it comes to curating healthy lifestyle choices. The dynamic duo have also created a series of children’s books that will be available in the near future. The books come with a curriculum that is designed to inspire and educate children on the importance of fitness and clean eating.

“Kids are the future and I want to invest in them and aid them in a healthy and active lifestyle,” Harper says. You can sign your kids up for their program via the Flex Key West app, which can be downloaded easily for Apple or Android, or by calling 305-395-2017.

I wanted to get in on the action and decided to take Rashad’s kickboxing class. Mind you, I am by no means athletic in any sense of the word. Upon saying yes to taking the class, I knew my out-of-shape body would regret it the following morning. I was right.

I showed up to the class dressed like I was headed to my own funeral — wearing all black. Little did I know at the time, my leggings were see-through and my all black ensemble was a horrible idea for outdoor exercise on a sunny Key West afternoon.

I arrived in typical Jenn Potter fashion, late and unprepared. I rushed to grab a jump rope and joined in on the action. Ten minutes of jump rope seems totally doable right? It does, until you realize ten minutes is just shy of a small eternity. I was out of breath and felt out of shape the whole time. But Harper stood close by, telling me to keep going and providing me with a slew of positive affirmations that made me hate him less and less as the workout went on.

With the body of a god and the spirit of an angel, Harper comes off as intimidating at first. He’s the kind of guy who will have you regretting last night’s ice cream binge in the first five seconds of meeting him — I knew that mint chocolate chip cone I had was a bad idea the moment I set foot into his presence. I tried to suck my stomach in during the hour-long class, but gave up after I realized breathing was more imperative than looking skinny.

The class was unlike anything I’ve ever done before. Arriving with a lack of coordination skills and having never boxed or fought to save my life (besides cat fights I shared with my younger sister), I learned the basics. Jab. Jab, jab, cross. Jab, cross, left hook. I felt like I was going to die, but the all-women boxing class wasn’t intimidating at all. If anything, I felt empowered and motivated by the other women and by Harper himself.

The outdoors boxing class will push you to your limits while teaching you what you’re really capable of. I left with a feeling of great accomplishment and quickly decided to sign up for a month to see results and get ready for summer 2019. The group meets three times a week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) at either 5:30 a.m. or 6 p.m. at the White Street Pier. Once you sign up, Harper curates a meal plan and tags you in a group chat that not only motivates you, but holds you accountable. I mean, there’s a bikini with my name on it and, with Harper’s help, I intend on prancing around local beaches in it. After all, his specialty is making something out of nothing. ¦

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