Who Is Forbes Riley?

When I phoned Forbes Riley for this interview, I expected a high-energy performance, but not one as compassionate and candid. 

In addition to being an actress and fitness expert, Forbes is a martial arts expert, and I therefore expected her to be more guarded.  She spoke with me for over an hour from her St. Petersburg, Florida, production TV studio. 

Forbes was inducted into the National Fitness Hall of Fame in 2010, only two years after she leveraged everything to invest in her trademark fitness product, SpinGym.  Sales of this product on Home Shopping Network in January reached $1.5 million in 24 hours! She is now the host of her own TV show, Forbes Living, which is partially a talk show about overcoming obstacles, and partially a platform for business innovators. It is almost impossible to pinpoint the beginning of her career because there is no identifiable path.  She is composed of multiple facets: actress, TV host, inventor, top sales person for HSN, Broadway dancer, and fitness guru. According to Forbes, she was never looking for the money but for the adventure.

WHO DOES FORBES WANT TO BE?: My burning question was, “You’ve had such a diverse career, where are you going with all this?” to which she replied, “I want to become recognized as the health and wellness Martha Stewart to effect transformational change in people.”  She stumped me by asking, “Who is the female Martha Stewart or Suze Orman of fitness today for Baby Boomers?”   I came up short, with the exception of reminiscing about Suzanne Somers and Jane Fonda. Given her multifaceted skills, why does she want to do this now?  As an actress, she can be many people, but at age 53, she is honoring the many obstacles she has overcome, the most foundational one being the ugly little girl that she was. “I had a seriously bad nose, frizzy hair, was overweight, with braces, no friends and lived a lot in my head,” she explained.  She dreamed big as a little girl and suffered when her father had an industrial accident that required fifteen surgeries on his hand over the course of three years in the hospital. These surgeries financially crippled her family, but one day her father’s doctor offered to fix her nose.  After eight years, her entire exterior changed; her nose was fixed, her braces were off, and she started smiling.  Her outside finally matched her inside.

Her signature mantras include “You are the sum of the obstacles you overcome” and “Nothing tastes as good as fit feels.” She tipped the scales at over 200 pounds during her pregnancy with twins at age 41 and gave up the idea of doing anything related to fitness on camera until the phone call came to work with Jack LaLanne.  She forged herself into presentable shape in three months, but it was Jack LaLanne who  really changed her life and philosophy on fitness and food. Today, She wears a size 2/4 now and, at 5 feet 7 inches tall, weighs 128 pounds. 

“I have always been at about 165 pounds my whole life, but now I maintain this weight through clean eating and keeping my metabolism up with my SpinGym,” said Forbes, who engages people everywhere she goes with the SpinGym, including saunas, elevators, and shopping malls.

For the full article pick up a copy of the June/July issue of South magazine.

Story by Paula S. Fogarty