From Jail Cell To Studio: Drug Dealer Becomes Personal Trainer Coss Marte went from being a drug kingpin to a fitness entrepreneur. The New York City resident calls his exercise plan "prison style" because it is based on his prison workout routine.

From Jail Cell To Studio: Drug Dealer Becomes Personal Trainer

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To mark the beginning of 2015, we have a series of stories about people or places that have changed by choice or by circumstance. It's called Starting Over, and it's a twist on the idea of New Year's resolutions. Today, we hear a story from New York City. It's about a former drug kingpin who now helps others get in shape. George Bodarky of WFUV reports.

GEORGE BODARKY, BYLINE: Twenty-nine-year-old Coss Marte grew up on Manhattan's Lower East Side. He says his childhood was surrounded by drugs, crime and poverty. On a recent chilly evening, he walked me around the neighborhood, recalling his days as a drug dealer. He would often sell from inside or outside the corner store.

COSS MARTE: I used to just hustle right off the corner, right in the bodega, in front of the bodega, sit on a milk crate or sit right here on the stoop and just sell drugs, like 24 hours a day. I was basically a land mine.

BODARKY: And by land mine, Marte means his drug business was booming. He says he started selling marijuana when he was 13. He later added cocaine and other drugs to his inventory. And by the age of 19, Marte says he was making over $2 million a year. He says at times he brought in as much as $30,000 a day. Marte says to him drugs weren't a big deal. It was just a job. Life was good for Marte - that is, until the law caught up with him. When he was 23, Marte was sentenced to seven years in prison. He was overweight when he was locked up. At five-foot-eight-inches tall, he weighed over 230 pounds. Prison doctors, he says, gave him a grim prognosis - he might not live to be released.

MARTE: They said I had high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels. And they said if I don't start exercising and start eating correctly, that I could probably die in just like five years.

BODARKY: Marte didn't want to expire behind bars, so he started working out.

MARTE: I created a series of workouts right in my jail cell that helped me lose over 70 pounds in six months.

BODARKY: Marte's jail cell was 9-by-6 - tiny. His workouts involved simple movements and relied solely on body weight. Now that he's out of prison, Marte is still working out, only not alone.

MARTE: Ready?


MARTE: All right, we're going to start with the jumping jacks. Let's go - one, two, three.

BODARKY: Marte is the founder of Coss Athletics, an exercise program he markets as prison style. Brooklyn resident Molly Cohen is in the class. She's impressed with Marte's turnaround in life and with his boot camp.

MOLLY COHEN: It's a really hard workout, and it's really no-frills. I like that it's just body weight.

BODARKY: Marte launched his business with the help of Defy Ventures. The nonprofit holds a "Shark Tank" style business plan competition to help people with criminal backgrounds become successful, legal entrepreneurs. Jose Vasquez is a program manager with the organization. He says Marte won about $10,000 to help transform his hustle.

JOSE VASQUEZ: I would say business is business, right, regardless of what you're selling. You could be selling batteries, you could be selling oranges, you could be selling what Coss was selling, right? But to run a business is the same concept.

BODARKY: Coss Marte has no regrets about his previous life as a drug kingpin. He says it was a journey he had to go through to become the legitimate businessman he is today. Marte has about 400 clients. He's holding 14 classes a week and has two trainers working under him. For NPR News, I'm George Bodarky in New York.

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