Sami F. Kader is standing in front of a green screen that reads “Sami’s Circuit” in large block letters. He is tall and barrel-chested with a strong jawline. He is wearing a limited-run Stuck at Home Edition t-shirt that says “Never Give Up” across the chest. “Today, I think we should go to outer space,” Kader exclaims, his authoritative voice booming like a caricature of a superhero’s. As he says the words “outer space,” Kader’s already Superman-esque voice distorts into a deeper, synthesized version.
A disembodied announcer’s voice starts a countdown in the background, and the Sami’s Circuit logo begins to shake and blasts off the screen. It sounds as if he sampled the take-off hissing from the Apollo missions. The screen transitions, exploding into a vibrant nebula.
The average five-year-old might not realize that this circuit workout live stream is being broadcasted from Kader’s mother’s house.
As he moves to the floor, he excitedly suggests that we exercise here, in the vacuum of space. We start with a two-minute butterfly stretch.
Before California’s statewide lockdown, Kader’s day job was as a children’s motivational speaker, traveling to elementary schools across California to speak about the importance of self-esteem and an active lifestyle. Following the ongoing shutdown of most California schools since March 18, Kader’s in-person assemblies are no longer possible.
For the past month, Kader has live streamed workouts from green screen locations including “Under the Sea,” Egypt, France, London, “A Waterfall,” the North Pole, and Hawaii. For his French workout, live streamed to tens of thousands of homes across the country, Kader sports a drawn-on mustache and holds a baguette.
“I love French bread! You know, I don’t normally eat bread all the time, but when I’m in France, you eat French bread,” he says,taking a comically large bite.
He continues, “In France, it’s not actually called French bread, it’s called ‘la bread.’” If the line is a subtle homage to Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction,” it most likely goes over the heads of most of his elementary school-aged viewers.
On any given day, Kader would spend between 12 and 15 hours going from one school to the next, speaking in front of crowds of assembled children and leading them in exercises. But Kader’s transformation into a regular component of many California schools wasn’t always the plan.
At the schools he frequents most often, those nearest to his home in suburbs of Sacramento, students might see him as many as four times in one year. Even though I’m over the age of 11 these days, Kader is still inescapable. Dozens of kids at the summer camps where I used to work as a counselor had Sami’s Circuit water bottles or bracelets or t-shirts. You just couldn’t get away from this guy.
That’s why, before I even speak with him over the phone, I already know much of his story — I’ve heard him give motivational speeches twice.
He tells crowds that in his sophomore year of high school, he weighed more than 300 pounds, was frequently bullied, and had poor self-esteem. He says that a family friend intervened and “saved” his life, introducing him to healthy eating and exercise. By his senior year, he had lost 100 pounds.
After graduating from high school, Kader began working as a trainer at a local gym. While he credits his weight loss photos with securing the job, he explains that at the time, he didn’t think he’d be very good at training others. During these same years, Kader was still struggling with his body image and self-esteem, even after losing such a significant amount of weight. He explains that it took many years of therapy to feel better about the change in his body.
Those years after high school have shaped how Kader communicates about health to his youth audiences. In his speeches, he doesn’t only focus on his weight loss. Instead, Kader emphasizes the importance of overcoming “negative self talk” and never giving up.
Kader attempts to de-link “looks or a number on a scale” from having “a happy, healthy life.”. But while Kader is careful not to equate weight loss with happiness or self-esteem, he acknowledges that mental and physical well-being are linked.
“The fact is, when you get up off the couch and you move, you’re gonna put yourself in a better place mentally. And the byproduct of that is physical,” he says.
Now, during a statewide lockdown, Kader says he feels a specific obligation to provide kids an opportunity to get off the couch.
After realizing he wouldn’t be able to continue to speak at schools, Kader received a message from a teacher.
The teacher had issued a request: “Sami, the kids are really scared and nervous right now,” he recalls them saying. “[They] really need to hear from you right now.”
He took this as a call to action. Luckily, he tells me that he had a vision that he needed to buy a camera months before the lockdown began. Though he had initially thought of live streaming as a tool that could enable him to reach more children, it has now become his sole medium of communicating with his audience.
Kader announced his live streaming decision on Facebook a short time later. The post was seen by over 150,000 people and shared over a thousand times.
The first week of live streaming was “one of the hardest weeks of my life,” he says. Like many people around the globe, Kader struggled to balance what he considers his “calling” and the needs of his family.
Just days before his first live stream, Kader and his wife learned that they had lost their unborn son. In the same week, Kader realized that his revenue from speaking at schools had been cut off “indefinitely.”
“By the second week, I realized that it was really taking a toll on my family because they were going through a tough time and I wasn’t there because I was trying to help all these other kids,” Kader reflects. “You’ve got your family and you’ve got your calling, and you’re stuck in the middle.”
Still, Kader feels a duty to persevere through these stressors.“Sometimes if we don’t have a choice, we just do things that we normally wouldn’t do,” Kader says of staying positive and performing for children. “I don’t feel like I have a choice in it. I just feel like I have to keep going.”
“The show must go on,” Kader says.
Today, I tune into “Sami in Space!”, the twentieth episode of Kader’s live stream. Even though these videos are mainly targeted towards elementary school-aged kids, I figured that I could use some exercise since I haven’t left my house in weeks.
I have on my favorite high school athletic shirt, and after having followed along with Kader’s stretch and listening to “Sami’s Circuit Volume 1,” I am jazzed to get this workout underway.
We start with squat kicks, which I handle no problem. Next, we move on to the invisible jump rope exercise. Sami grabs two light sticks. (These are for sale as “Invisible Jump Rope Light Sticks” for five dollars on his website.) Regrettably, I do not have my own invisible jump ropes and I will have to make do with the next best thing: imagination.
I manage to push my way through the next few exercises, but by the time we get to chair dips, I have to acknowledge that the workout is kicking my ass. Kader frequently reminds viewers to “never give up!” and that if “you are moving, you are doing it right!”, but that does little to help quash the feeling that somewhere, out there, some eight-year-old is crushing me at this workout.
Mercifully, the first round of the workout ends, and I am able to catch my breath. During a short break before we start exercising again, Kader receives a note from off-screen. It is from his wife, who says that his workouts have been way too easy as of late and demands that Kader step it up.
Come on, help a guy out! I barely made it through round one. For the love of God, don’t make round two any harder.
I manage to finish the workout, but I will be extremely sore for the next three days. That being said, I can at least take some solace in the fact that I hit my Apple Watch movement goal for the day.
— Staff writer Harrison R. T. Ward can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @Harri_son_Ward.