More than 20 years ago, Dosho Shifferaw was trying to make ends meet by driving cabs and working at hotels -- while he was hatching plans for an exercise chair that he was convinced would be a success.
That exercise chair became the Bowflex, patented by Shifferaw, licensed by the company now called The Nautilus Group, and sold around the world.
"I graduated from the school of Bowflex," Shifferaw, now 48, likes to quietly tell people with a twinkle in his eye -- if they find out who he is, which is unusual since he doesn't call attention to himself or his background.
"Not only did I invent Bowflex," he said, "it invented me. It changed not only my life, but also the life of my family and my relatives."
Go to his website (www.doshodesign.com), and you'll see that the Bowflex isn't the only thing he's accomplished since coming to this country from Ethiopia in 1973 to go to college and study political science in Southern California. But revolution broke out in Ethiopia soon after his arrival, his father was put in jail, and he had to turn to odd jobs to earn money -- dropping out of college and leaving him to dream about inventions.
People told him his ideas were silly and to give them up, but what did he do instead? Go sit on the beach in San Francisco, he said, to get rid of the negative energy from others and to move ahead with his sketches and ideas that became the Bowflex.
"I had a vision," he told SNEWS in a recent chat. "I just knew."
This year, Shifferaw is launching a new pet project called the Windjector (www.windjector.com), an item that had passers-by at the IHRSA show stopping to gawk curiously. Windjectors are wing-like devices that you wear on your arms to dance, twirl and move, adding the resistance of the air to a workout called "Windcore Aerobics," similar in concept to the way water workouts add resistance from pushing against the fluid. Shifferaw says the workout, although striking some people as strange, offers one advantage over weights: no uncontrolled momentum.
"Pioneering is always on the edge," Shifferaw said.
Soft-launched at IHRSA -- with a larger launch to come this summer at the IDEA show for fitness instructors -- the concept began in his head about a decade ago. But Shifferaw doesn't push his concepts; sometimes they need to sit awhile without being worked on until he can come back to them with renewed energy.
"I stopped at one point," he said. "I had other things to do. I had other fish to fry."
But one day he walked through his garage in the San Francisco Bay area and these wing-like paddles seemed to call his name, so back to work on them he went. Two years ago, he got a patent on them. The name? From his then 6-year-old daughter who walked into the room one day when he was experimenting with them and said, "Daddy, that's a windjector."
Other workout equipment to his name is the Ab-Lifter Plus touted by Kathy Smith on TV, the PowerBoard rebounder seen in infomercials, and the JamGym, which is a simple exercise device that attaches to your door jam. The Dosh Bell is "in development," the website says secretly. Shifferaw also told SNEWS that a "revolutionary free weight system" is in the works for later this year. "You'll go, 'Wow, why didn't I think of that?" he said.
"You can't satisfy everybody," he said, about his many projects. He paused before passing on another one of the sayings he so loves: "If your work speaks for itself, don't interrupt."
SNEWS View: Shifferaw is a fascinating, low-key, non-public persona who is that epitome of success story with the bottom line of perseverance. With the royalties he earns from Bowflex, he doesn't have to do anything, ever. But he continues puttering and inventing. He smiles faintly when asked about the Bowflex -- in a nearly fatherly way -- and quietly adds that he didn't agree with the company changing its name from Direct Focus to the NAUTILUS group. He still has close contacts to the company and has continued to help it defend his patent, calling copycats "cheap shots." ("Don't tell me they aren't ripping me off," he said, all the while managing to maintain his soft-spoken demeanor.) Nevertheless, as impressed as we are with Shifferaw and his creativity and business acument, we aren't really convinced about the Windjector project. Colorful, yes. Seemingly fun, yes. But as a regular workout? Hmmm, not sure how many people will want to look like fluttering butterflies.