To say that I’m proud of my husband would be a tremendous understatement. I’ve mentioned that he opened a fitness studio, and without knowing his past history, that’s impressive on it’s own. But when I share his story and what he’s been through to get here, it brings tears to my eyes because I know Amalia will look up to her dad in a very special way.
Anel grew up in Bosnia. When he was seven years old, a horrifying genocide and war broke out. I remember reading about the war in school, but he actually lived it. He heard the bombs going off at night. He had to watch people in his family sent away to concentration camps. He had to watch his father hide in the woods day in and day out so that he wouldn’t be taken away to dig trenches for the bad guys. He saw his country ripped apart, and he saw way more than any little boy should ever have to see.
His uncle lost both of his legs during the war so the American Red Cross sponsored him to come to the US. After the war was over, his uncle was able to sponsor Anel and his parents as refugees to come to the states as well. They were immigrants. They were Muslim. They were and are not dangerous people. They were scared and fleeing a broken country to make a better life for their only son.
Anel got on his first ever airplane ride with only the backpack on his back. He was understandably terrified. He and his parents landed in Queens where his uncle had been placed as a refugee. Queens isn’t the easiest place to grow up. There was crime and grime, but it was better than living in fear for his life. None of them spoke English, so Anel taught himself the language through TV shows and playing with other kids during that first summer.
By the time his first school year came around, he spoke the language pretty well. Over the next few years he played varsity basketball and graduated early from high school without any support from guidance counselors, teachers, or any of the people that most of us took for granted in our childhoods. And by the way, during this time he was one of the only white kids in his school which means he got picked on a lot. He learned how to stand up for himself and fight back, a skill that has come in handy as an entrepreneur.
Fast forward to 2009 when he was running live events for the nutrition school where we both worked. He was training to become an EMT so he could become a New York City fireman and save lives. After we got married, I remember the moment when he decided that if he was going to be a father one day, he couldn’t put his life at risk in that way. I sobbed when he told me, and I knew in that moment, years ago, that he would be the most amazing father. Spoiler alert: I wasn’t wrong.
He found a new dream that still involved helping people, but in a very different way… He became a personal trainer at one of Manhattan’s top fitness studios and excelled there, gaining a following with some of the city’s elite.
When we moved to Connecticut for a quieter life and for my job at the time, he dreamed of opening his own business out here. But we bought our house and had literally no money to spare, so instead he went part time at his job in NYC and started training out of a shared space in Greenwich on the other days. The week Amalia was due, he and his boss in the city decided it was best for him to move on and do his own thing full time. A week later, we had a baby and no guaranteed income from either of us.
It was terrifying. Because of that, I had to go back to work only two weeks postpartum and let me tell you, I don’t recommend that to anyone! But Anel worked his butt off. He went to every local event, networked with as many people as possible, and his training speaks for itself. Just look at the before and afters we’ve posted to his website! He cares about each and every one of his clients. He not only helps people look and feel their best, but helps with posture, confidence, back pain, and so much more.
Eventually, we saved up enough money to find a space that he could call his own. We knew that a chic and sleek design was important for his Greenwich-based clientele, so we hired Robert Passal, a big-time city designer who is expanding his business in Connecticut. We had no idea how amazing he would make the space! My vision was light and bright and minimal… He shut that down real quick and I’m so glad that he did.
The dark and sexy vibe he’s created feels like a private gym in a giant mansion. It’s homey, it’s aspirational, and it even smells amazing. It’s unlike any fitness studio I’ve ever seen. Yesterday we held a grand opening event for 20 influencers, and the whole group was floored by the space and by what Anel has created.
You mark my words, he’s going to be famous one day. He knows so much about the human body and knows how to make a huge difference with only 30 minutes, once a week. Whenever we tell people how his slow-burn workouts work, they think it’s bullshit. You barely sweat, you’re in and out, and it’s only once a week? I actually didn’t even buy it at first! But I’m sold and all of his clients are sold. What he’s doing is truly incredible.
My husband has overcome adversity and stereotypes and is literally living the American dream. He is an immigrant who is bettering the lives of others every day of his life. He is an incredible man, husband, and father. Anel Dzafic, I’m so beyond proud of you, you have no idea. Volim te puno!
Design by Robert Passal. Photos by Julia Dags.
Wow…what an amazing story! Thanks for sharing, Julia! Congrats to your family.
thank you for sharing, Julia! Anel’s story is inspiring, and like last night it’s bringing tears to my eyes, he persisted and it payed off! Sending lots of love and positive vibes y’all’s way from a fellow Bosnian from NC.
Yay! I notice a “DZ” anywhere 🙂 Thank you so much xx
The space is gorgeous, and your post brought tears to my eyes! Congratulations to you both.
Hi Julia – I’ve been reading your blog for a long time, but first time commenting. This was beautifully written and a wonderful tribute to your husband, his hard work and perseverence. Congratulations to you both on this accomplishment. Wishing you all the success!
Thank you so much, Cait. That means a lot to both of us!
I absolutely love success stories like Anel’s, especially with all of the hate that seems to be floating around this country towards immigrants (and many others) right now.
Those before & afters are really compelling. I wish I was in Connecticut to take advantage of Anel’s training! I need it, six months postpartum. Lost most of the weight but have NONE of the tone!
Beautiful story, beautiful family.
Thank you Megan! You should try one of Anel’s at home workouts. They’re free and actually make a big difference: https://countdownfit.com/beginner-workout/
Wow Julia – the space looks amazing and also, I am crying.
Anel you are amazing!!!
Thanks Grace! I have been crying for two straight days so I feel ya lol
Brought tears to my eyes. So honored to know you both. He definitely will be famous one day.
I think he will too! Love you, B!
Congratulations to Anel and your whole family! What better proof that immigrants and refugees make our country better.
Yes!!! Thank you for saying that.
Congratulations! This story made me teary too. You should occasionally share some of his tips and tricks. Looking at his specializations in lower back pain (which I suffer from chronically) and having trained NBA & NFL athletes (dope), I’d love to see some content from him on your blog.
I definitely will! Check his blog for some tips and exercises in the meantime. We have one on back pain: https://countdownfit.com/blog/
*EMT not ENT!o
This is the most amazing story. I had no idea about Anel’s background and was brought to tears. Wishing him all the best and I’m sure he won’t settle for anything less 🙂 Congrats to you both!
Anel has a truly amazing story. I love seeing how you support each other in your business endeavors. I with Anel and his studio a ton of success!
So sweet, thank you Justina!
Such an amazing story about a (clearly) amazing human! Congratulations!
He is a pretty amazing human! But I might be biased 🙂
What an inspiring story and a beautiful space! Congratulations! I only wish I lived closer so I could try it out!!
OMG! Anel’s fitness studio is absolutely stunning! I wish I didn’t live so far away.
But what’s more stunning is his backstory. We need to hear more like his to drown out the ignorant, hateful ones that seem so prevalent today. Congratulations, Anel, for living the American dream, and having the determination and immeasurable strength to achieve it. What a tribute to your family and all who came before you. I wish you every success.
Finally, Julia, you’ve done such a beautiful of paying tribute to Anel. The love and pride you feel for him is palpable. Amalia is one lucky little girl to have parents like you two.
Thank you Julie. This comment is so sweet! We are truly lucky to have him in our lives, that’s for sure 🙂
Wow, what an inspiration. Congrats to you and your husband! The true American Dream. Best of luck with the new studio.
Inspirational story. You are blessed ♥️
this made me cry! you found one of the best. GO ANEL!
Amazing story!! And how inspiring!! The gym is beyond gorgeous!! Wish I lived close so I could train with him. The 30-minute, 1x per week plan sounds AMAZING!!!
Thanks for sharing and best of luck to you both!!
This is beautiful. Thanks for sharing.
Julia, this is an amazing story! I have been following your blog for a long time and have been doing your husband’s 20 minute workout that you posted in 2016! I’m a music teacher at a Catholic school and have a side hustle after school, so I use my lunch break to do that 20 minute workout and it’s amazing. I get a good sweat and can feel EVERYTHING for a least a day or two afterwards no matter how good of shape I think I’m in! Congratulations to your husband and the work that he’s doing–really showing everyone what the American dream can be!
Such an inspiring story! Wish i was closer because this gym looks amazing. Really well done. Open your next location in the Chicago burbs please! 🙂
What a wonderful story! I’m so happy for you guys. Although I just moved to New York, so I wish his gym was still here!
What a wonderful story! I love when good things happen to good people. Congratulations to the both of you and wishing you the best of luck! 🙂
Congratulations to both of you! You are both living such an inspirational life by going after your dreams! Can’t wait to following along as the future unfolds!
This is such an amazing story! I’m inspired – thank-you so much for sharing. Ax
Your husband has a great story! You shouldn’t generalize with statements like “Queens isn’t the easiest place to grow up”. That would be like someone saying Greenwich, Connecticut is filled with snobby rich people…
Fair point! What I should have said was, “In his experience, Queens wasn’t an easy place to grow up.” I’m sure that’s not true for everyone!
I love Anel’s story. I teach ESL in the city and this is my dream for my students. I love reading about successful immigrants and hope I can help my students achieve their dreams. This is amazing. Thank you for sharing.
What a beautiful post! A very encouraging read on a difficult day. Thank you.
What an inspirational story! I love hearing about the dedication and determination despite many factors of adversity.
My own story is similar to your husband’s.
To help process my own story I went to Amsterdam after graduating with my Masters to visit the Anne Frank House. It was an incredibly moving experience and at the end I wrote “a little Bosnian girl knows your pain.”
Sending you and your husband my positive vibes and Banja Luka love.