Richard Diaz is a man with a lot of horse power, an apt metaphor for someone born in Dearborn, Michigan, the home of Ford Motor Co. But to take the metaphor further, Diaz ain’t no Ford—he’s more akin to a Porsche, with a powerful motor and able chassis. Indeed, Richard Diaz is all about endurance and performance.
Diaz has had a curious trip. He picked up and left Michigan during a harsh winter and headed for Maui. There it was all tropics wonderland, a place where a man could make a living outdoors. Which is exactly what he did. “When I first got there, I made a living by landscaping,” he says. “While I was doing that I enjoyed getting out and doing things. I started running and riding a bike and swimming. Next thing I knew, I was training for a triathlon.” Diaz had never been serious about physical fitness until he moved to Hawaii. But that triathlon changed his life. It set him on a trajectory for what he does today, and took him from the islands to L.A. to Ventura County. It’s been a 30-year trip, and Diaz has been a bit like an accidental tourist: he sees something he likes and decides to stay.What he discovered in Hawaii was endurance. At first it was his own, but he realized it could be a portable philosophy, so he returned to the mainland and has carved out a living based on endurance. Only now, he shows people how to develop their own.
From what I’d read, DHP—Diaz Human Performance—his Camarillo-based business, sounded interesting, but I couldn’t really get what it was all about until I walked through the door. At first meeting, Richard Diaz has a very direct presence: a big healthy-looking guy with a solid gaze and straightforward voice. He told me about his background and how he developed his training, but the info didn’t kick in until I saw some videos of people he has worked with and experienced some of his equipment and methods. Then I got it.
His contraption room is rather high-tech: video cams, monitors, machines that look like medical equipment. This place is definitely not a gym; it’s a fitness lab, a place to get fit mentally, physically, emotionally. “Teach the mind, and the body will follow,” says Diaz. “The central nervous system drives, and the brain orchestrates everything you do. Others go for the muscle. I go for the brain.”
His premise is sound: You create a disconnect when you work a muscle by itself. He works the whole body. And I got to experience exactly what he meant. Diaz put me on a treadmill that was moving 22 mph. When I jumped onto it, I was holding some side bars, but I got to see how my brain forced me to find my balance and speed and agility. I jumped on the vibration platform and once again got to experience how my brain immediately found my balance and agility to stay upright on the thing. The endurance comes from building strength and agility in the whole body, not just one part. It’s the gestalt of workouts: don’t separate the body from the mind. “I make it very clear,” Diaz says. “I can’t teach you how to run. I can’t teach you how to play tennis. I can’t teach you golf. I teach movement. In order to do these sports, you have to move efficiently.”
Since he opened DHP last year, Diaz has been surprised at two new types of clients: teenage athletes and women in their 40s and 50s. The first group was something of an accidental walk-in. “The first kid was a track athlete, 16 years old. His mother saw the sign outside as she was driving by. She came in and asked if I could improve his speed,” Diaz recalls. “We put the boy through the course I worked out for him, and we improved his speed dramatically.”
After that it was word of mouth. Dads came in with sons who played soccer. Moms came in with daughters who played basketball. And the parents all agreed: This is exactly what my kid needs. According to Diaz, the training of young athletes has mushroomed.
And Diaz himself is a constant student. “I’ve studied everything about the physiology of the human body, and I used this analogy a lot with people: When you’re dealing with someone who’s a mechanic—and I look at myself like a Ferrari mechanic—that person has to understand how to make the car go faster and how to supervise and service it. In order to do that, you have to understand how it works.”
Diaz immersed himself in studying the cardio-pulmonary systems. He bought medical equipment and worked with NASA trainers and the Olympic training camp in Colorado Springs. He did testing at the Cooper Research Center in Texas, a cardiology center. Essentially, he was becoming a diagnostic specialist. He was ready to train the brain to lead the muscles. “This was sports training and program development,” Diaz says. “I was bridging the gap between physical rehabilitation and training. It was introducing therapeutic modalities to sports performance.”
One of the people who came to see him about sports performance was Lee Mondol, a young athlete who played quarterback for Ventura College. “I trained him all throughout the football season this year,” Diaz says, “and Ventura College had the best season it’s had in a long time.”
Lee’s father, J.K. Mondol, who owns the real estate sales and development company Pacific Rim Realtors, is thrilled at the results. “Lee played freshman football at the University of Michigan last year, in 2006. And when he came home to transfer to Ventura, he had very little time to get ready for football. He wanted to catch up as fast as he could, so he worked out with Richard.” The results paid off: Just last month, Lee was voted the most valuable offensive player on the Ventura College football team.
The business from women was another thing. Diaz decided he’d promote his business by offering a course he called Extreme Makeover, a takeoff on all the makeover TV reality shows. The women showed up—and they suited up, trained vigorously, and kept passing out the information about where they got their makeover.
One of the women who heard about the program is Helen Hilands, co-owner of Salon Murazo in Camarillo. “I was a professional woman who’d just had twins, in my 40s and I wanted to get back in shape,” Hilands says. “I loved the workout…It was a whole mind and body thing…After having twins, I never thought I’d get my stomach back.”
A major part of the course was building endurance, and that meant doing a 27-mile cross-country run, running through streams and mountainsides. Even running up the stairs at the Ventura stadium.
“I’m in better shape now, even though I’m older and eight months pregnant,” she says. “I developed a lot of good habits about working out. And it was great not to be stuck in a gym. I remember saying to my sister as we were trekking early one morning, ‘This is heaven for me.’”