July 16, 2002
Section: Metro
Edition: One Dot
Page: 04C

SEPT. 11 INSPIRED KICKBOXER
The Detroit News

Mike Martindale

KEEGO HARBOR -- Omar Akl was visiting his native Lebanon Sept. 11 when he watched in horror as the World Trade Center and Pentagon burned.

The footage of heroic firefighters on the other side of the world touched Akl, who grew up in Lebanon in the late 1980s in the war-torn Mideast.

"They (firefighters) were getting injured, you could see it," said Akl. "They were struggling as they worked to try and help and save the lives of others.

"I thought to myself that if, and when, I came back to the U.S., I wanted to do something to help."

With that in mind, Akl contacted Farmington Hills Fire Chief Rich Marinucci when he returned to Michigan.

Akl, a personal trainer and class instructor at Get A Grip Fitness in Keego Harbor, started training when he was 9 years old.

"My first love and hobby was soccer but my father wanted me to know the martial arts," said Akl, whose school near Beirut was destroyed in a bombing.

His father's insistence paid off. From 1993 to 2000 Akl held three championship titles for Lebanese boxing, kickboxing and Muay Thai. In 1996, he won the European kickboxing championship in Yugoslavia, and in 1998, won the world military boxing championship title in North Carolina.

Akl is just glad he can do something to help.

"The guys seem to like it. I start with the basics and discuss techniques: warm-up and then alternate between upper body and lower body focus. It's a way of exercising and learning some self-defense all at the same time."

"They can drop some weight and also build some muscle," Akl said. "We are in our fifth week of class and I don't know if they love it, but they don't get bored."