Self-titled as “America’s Personal Trainer,” Tony Little is one of the most recognizable faces in the nation, averaging over 5,000 hours a year on TV. Tony encourages people to get into shape, but when it comes to his being a dad, he says, “Believe it or not, I’m absolutely not a hyper, pushy person to my children.”
Tony has not only motivated people to move their bodies, his infomercials have generated more than $4 billion in sales globally. He pulled from his positive mindset when his twin sons Cody and Chase were born 3 months premature. Tony – who is also dad to daughter Tara, 23, and son Trent, 22 – opened up to Celebrity Baby Scoop about his young sons’ struggle for survival, his parenting philosophies and how he’s learned to laugh at himself: “I love the parodies! Anything that makes people laugh and helps them have a good time is fine by me.”
CBS: Please tell us about your twin sons, Cody and Chase. Briefly tell us about their premature birth and their struggle for survival. How are they doing now?
TL: “Cody and Chase are miracle babies. They were born about 12 weeks early – they were due around March 6 and were actually born November 23. Cody weighed 1 pound, 15 ounces, while Chase weighed about 2 pounds at birth. It was all at once an extremely unfortunate, yet fortunate, event for Melissa and me. It was unfortunate because they were extremely premature. But it was fortunate because we knew someone above was watching out for us and our babies.
On the night of their birth, Melissa woke up in the middle of the night in pain and she was bleeding, so we rushed her to the hospital. By chance, our doctor was already at the hospital at 5:30 in the morning and the surgery room was ready to go with over 25 people on staff. They jumped right in and performed a C-section with no time to spare, as Cody’s head was already visible. There was no time to organize a plan – it was just go!
I was in the surgery room from the beginning to the end. One of the most horrifying things I’ve ever experienced was when the doctor held Cody up immediately after he was delivered. I looked at him and the doctor said, ‘Tony, he’s really small,’ which I knew meant, don’t get too attached.
The hospital staff at the neonatal intensive care unit at St. Joseph Women’s Hospital in Tampa were absolutely amazing. The babies were there for three months and Melissa was unbelievable. She was there day and night with Cody and Chase. Of course, for the first month or so, we couldn’t even touch them – they were really fragile and in incubators. But looking back, I think the most important thing was that the boys knew we were there. It’ll shock you how many preemie babies you’ll see in the hospital – and the parents are never there. That’s not only sad, but I think it’s obvious that it makes a huge difference to the children, their knowing mom and dad are there and that they love them.
Cody had a level 3 brain bleed, while Chase had to have surgery at about one month to close a heart valve. After all that, today they’re doing great. They’re both home and weigh about 20 pounds each. Chase is still on a feeding tube, but he’s starting to eat with a bottle. Cody has also been doing well. He’s cruising all over the house in his walker – just crazy! Recently, we received more challenging news when the doctors found a bit of water on top of his brain. We’re hoping it’ll dissipate on its own, but if not, they’ll have to put in a shunt in the next 30 days or so.”
CBS: What did that difficult situation teach you and your wife? Did you walk away stronger because of what you went through?
TL: “My wife is definitely coming away from this experience a stronger person. These are her first children, so she’s obviously very cautious, very emotional and very into her kids. But she already had a tendency to be more positive than negative about things, so that really helped her cultivate the strength she needed to handle this.
As for myself, I’ve always believed in going forward in life. I try to never think negatively about things, because you always have a better experience when you think positively. I’ve always been this way and I believe it’s this approach to life that’s always gotten me through tough times.”
CBS: You are the self-titled “America’s Personal Trainer.” Your over-the-top and enthusiastic approach to fitness sets you apart. Is that an act or is that really you?
TL: “No, that’s really me! When it comes to motivating people and doing something positive, I always get energized and excited. I feel that I’m promoting something that really helps people – it makes them look better, feel better and helps them get more out of life.”
CBS: We have to ask, are you ever going to cut your hair?
TL: “One of the first questions that many people ask me is, ‘Is your hair real?’ So I’m happy that you assume that it is. I was mentioning things that excite me before. Well, I’ve got to say, being 54 years of age and still having my own hair definitely excites me! Whenever I’m on an airplane and see all those people without hair in front of me, I think to myself, ‘No, I’m never going to cut it!’ ”
CBS: Why did you choose the field of personal training? What inspired you to inspire others for a living?
TL: “When I was young, I suffered a knee injury and couldn’t participate in the school’s athletic programs or even take gym class. But I convinced the principal to give me credit for physical eduction by letting me work out on my own with weights and cardio equipment in the gym. That allowed me to appreciate the ability I had to change myself, not only physically, but mentally.
That mindset also gave me the motivation to enter the world of bodybuilding and athletics, and become very successful at it. Just as important, it also encouraged me to want to teach others – to educate and motivate people to do what I had done. Personal training is all about being one-on-one, something I do best.”
CBS: Tell us some of the ways you inspire your children to be the best they can be.
TL: “You’re probably referring to my older children, Trent and Tara. Both of them are about to finish college and they’re planning to pursue graduate degrees in medical school and psychology, respectively. Obviously I’m a very proud father! They’re both self-motivated people and I think that comes from me not being pushy with them when they were growing up. Believe it or not, I’m absolutely not a hyper, pushy person to my children. I’ve always tried to be a good role model to them, basically trying to live a life that says, ‘I strongly believe there’s always a way in anything you face.’ It’s the truth and I think it resonates with my kids.”
CBS: Do your children have regular exercise regimes? Do they enjoy being active? Were you an active child?
TL: “I was an extremely active child. Before school I was out in the woods and at the end of the day, I’d jump off the bus and head back to the woods again. I love hiking, fishing, hunting – everything having to do with the outdoors and I was that way growing up.
I was also working by the time I was 14, so I was always active in that way. I remember my mom, saying to me – even in winter – ‘Go run laps around the house and I’ll count them for you!’ She would sit in the family room by the picture window and I could see her waving at me, counting how many times I went by. She was my very first trainer!
As for Trent, he keeps himself in shape. He works out regularly while at college, and on the weekends, we work out together at the gym. He used to be 70 pounds overweight, but he lost all of it and turned into a really buff kid and he keeps it up. To be honest, I didn’t push him at all – I think it was motivated by his interest in girls! As for Tara, she keeps herself healthy and in good shape, but her interests lean more toward the cerebral, which is why she’s so focused on becoming a psychologist.”
With Cody and Chase, Melissa and I play with them and are constantly working on their core strength – their midsection area – and developing their balance and flexibility. They see a physical therapist twice a week and a speech pathologist once a week, so we’re trying to get them off to a good start.”
CBS: You are frequently the target of parodies. How do you react to the impersonations? Are you able to laugh with them or do you get offended?
TL: “I love the parodies! Anything that makes people laugh and helps them have a good time is fine by me. And I always keep in mind the famous saying, ‘There’s only one thing worse than being talked about and that’s not being talked about.’ Also, I understand where the humor comes from. I mean, I can be on five-to-seven TV stations at the same time and my infomercials are on-the-air about 5,000 hours a year in the U.S., so how can I be offended by the jokes?”
CBS: Have your kids seen any of the impersonations? If so, how do they handle it?
TL: “I think they enjoy them as much as I do – we’re a family that’s certainly fun-loving.
Moreover, none of us think there’s anything wrong with parodying things like fitness or being hyper. These are all positive aspects concerning living a healthy life. Believe it or not, my infomercials have been used in more motion pictures than any others, so my kids think it’s cool for them to see their dad in all these things!”
CBS: What are your next projects?
TL: “One of my biggest projects is my line of footwear called Cheeks, which I’ve been working with for the past six or seven years. Our company has grown and we’ve just partnered with Fitness Quest, which is the company behind my Gazelle trainer, to take the shoe line into retail.
Also doing well is my Body by Bison buffalo meat products, which are based on the concept of ‘you are what eat.’ It’s all low-calorie, high-protein North American grass-fed bison, with no growth hormones, no stimulants, and no chemicals. I’ve already sold more than 3 million bison hot dogs, 3 million bison burgers and half a million bison steaks – and that doesn’t include my other areas of bison products.
I also have a new sports watch line coming out for both men and women, which will be available in the first quarter of 2011. And I’m really excited about a new Apple application we’ll be introducing for iPhones. I’m also in the sock business now – we recently closed a deal for sports performance socks. And of course, there’s the Easy Shaper, which we recently introduced. It’s only had limited airtime so far, but we’ve already sold more than a quarter million units.”
CBS: If you are working with any charities, please feel free to discuss.
TL: “I’m participating in a charity in conjunction with HSN for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. Seventy other celebrities and I created custom holiday ornaments, which will be sold on HSN, with all the profits going to benefit St. Jude. I designed an ornament called the Christmas Star of Hope, which has a message on the back about what I believe is the importance of Christmas and the holidays.”