(CBS SF)- Tareq Azim can’t help but help other people.
The son of Afghan refugees who settled in the Bay Area in the 1980’s, Azim found a philosophy through boxing that still drives him to this day in his mission to help people with what he calls a disease of fear.
That drive and philosophy is what led him to found Empower, which is much more than just a gym to Azim.
“The philosophy behind Empower is primarily us honing in on key mental and emotional deficiencies that are preventing human maximization,” said Azim in an interview with CBS Local. “There is nothing other than physical activity that exposes true character and human ability. My mission with the Empower concept was to utilize physical activity to conquer internal peace. Use physical activity to recognize abilities and be able to show correlative activities and exercises to life outside just the gym.”
Azim’s focus on helping others has been evident since he decided to forgo taking his shot at the NFL after playing college football at Fresno State. He instead traveled to Afghanistan to help his father with a dispute over familial lands.
What was supposed to be a short trip turned into four years in which Azim grew a neighborhood soccer league before setting his sights on providing boxing training for women in his home country, something that seemed nearly impossible when he first conceived of the idea.
That willingness to be a disruptive force for positive change for others is what led him back to the U.S. and his home of San Francisco where Empower was born. Azim credits former Oakland Raiders head coach and current offensive line coach Tom Cable with being the first person to really get behind his training philosophy as he began to build out Empower.
“He said, ‘The world has to feel what we’re talking about, what we’re doing,'” said Azim. “I ended up opening up Empower, things started going really well just because of some of our background and our name. And I said that there has to be a process for getting people into this thing. The process was that nobody can be a client at Empower, no athlete, individual or organization, cannot walk through our doors without doing a gameplan. A gameplan is my branded term for an honest conversation. At the end of the day I have made a business off of just having honest conversations.”
Look at a list of Empower’s clients and you’ll see some of the biggest names in the NFL, MMA and business. Marshawn Lynch, Marcus Peters, Khalil Mack, Jed York, Luke Rockhold are just a few of the names to walk through Empower’s doors. All have come to see Azim as something akin to a brother, and those relationships all come from Azim simply being real. What Azim is after with his training philosophy is a more concrete understanding of who these people are as humans. He wants to push them while at the same time allowing them to realize they don’t always have to fight their fears, just recognize what they are.
“The reason I want that honest conversation is that I don’t want the physical activity that I put you through to not be maximized on,” said Azim. “It’s to show you all of this correlates to these key mental and emotional deficiencies that are preventing you from getting to that maximum state of contentment. If I don’t have that conversation with you, I’m not coaching you because I don’t know what my responsibility is to you.”
“The communication is what really lowers the waterline for my brothers to make them feel safe to feel and be because they don’t have many places where they can be vulnerable where it doesn’t get used against them,” continued Azim. “With our community and our establishment, it has become a safe place to just feel like themselves and be okay feeling like themselves.”
Though Empower’s physical location is in San Francisco and can be called a gym, Azim sees his style of training as one that is so much more, which is why he’s currently working on several new projects that will attempt to spread the word further. In the next year, Azim says that he an his team are planning a podcast, book, and a few other ways to help spread his mission of helping others further than just the Bay Area.
“I think our program really pulls out what I’m looking to push in this next year with a strong media play around a podcast and a book that is called The Human Side,” said Azim. “The whole goal is literally about pushing out the human side of things.”