It's 4:15 a.m. on a Thursday morning, and middleweight boxing contender Kassim Ouma is already drenched in sweat. As he leans back on a workout bench, his fitness coach — Jeff Goldstein — throws him a medicine ball, which the boxer catches over his head. Ouma grunts as he throws it back, completing yet another repetition in a virtually countless set. Hourlong workouts like this — held in the modest fitness room at Makefield Chiropractic and Wellness Center in Newtown — could make or break the fight of his life.
On Dec. 9, Ouma, originally from Uganda, will fight undefeated middleweight champion Jermain Taylor, a 28-year-old fighter at the height of his career, who twice beat Philadelphia's longtime champion Bernard Hopkins. Ouma tapped Goldstein for the training because he knows he's the heavy underdog going into this fight, and needs to be in peak physical condition to have any chance against Taylor.
"I can train with anybody in the world, but not with people like Jeff," said Ouma, who lauded Goldstein's variety and intensity in the gym. That's a big compliment coming from a fighter who has a record of 25 wins, one draw and just two losses.
"He's gonna shock the world," said the 48-year-old Goldstein, who trains everyone from boxers to businessmen.
Goldstein's road to becoming a professional trainer started first with crafting his own body. Growing up in Olney, he attended Central High, where the 170-pounder said that he often took verbal abuse for being a Jew.
"It was very anti-Semitic," said Goldstein, who was deeply bothered by what he described as a "very unpleasant" period.
After high school, he became dedicated to lifting weights, partly because of his anger at being ridiculed for his religion.
After swelling to 198 pounds of muscle, he entered his first weight-lifting competition in his early 20s — an experience that changed his life.
"It was kind of addicting," he said. "It's a huge rush, lifting in front of a crowd."
At his prime in the early 1990s, Goldstein weighed 242 pounds, could bench press 470 pounds, deadlift 711 and squat 755. Yet so much weight takes a toll; Goldstein suffered a herniated disc in 1993, which ended his career.
Now, as a trainer certified by both the New Jersey Board of Education and Fitness Institute of Training, Goldstein won't let his clients lift more than they can handle, telling them to "do as I say, not as I did."
He trains four boxers, as well as several high school football and baseball players.
"I feel like they're my children," said the trainer, who has a 15-year-old son with his wife, Bernadette. "It's like when your kid plays T-ball or scores his first basket — I'm getting the same rush again."
Ouma is especially close to Goldstein's heart because of the boxer's story of being kidnapped when he was 5 years old in his native Uganda, and forced to become a child soldier in the National Resistance Army.
"It's very disturbing for him. I don't really ask about it because it upsets him," said Goldstein.
Physically, no athlete on the trainer's client list is on a par with Ouma, who, in a 2001 fight against Verno Phillips, set the record for most punches thrown in a 10-round fight (1,331) and most punches landed (460), according to CompuBox.
So how do you make a record-setting, world-class fighter with plenty of motivation better?
"I'm going to make him faster; speed is power," said Goldstein. "I want the punch he throws to be harder. If he throws the same amount of punches with more capability of hurting you, he might just have to throw half as many cause the fight is over.
"He's overwhelming. He's going to set records for punches thrown again."