“He meant everything he said,” Kevin Hart’s personal trainer tells me as we walk towards the 10th-floor elevator banks of the Boston Colonnade Hotel.
It’s the weekend of the 2016 Boston Marathon and the comedian is in town to pound the pavement with a handful of unsuspecting runners as part of a promotion with Nike and Uber. Hart’s trainer, a brolic 6-foot-tall ex-football player aptly named Boss, feels the need to validate a statement that Hart made before we left his hotel room, in which Hart put the likes of Kobe Bryant, Serena Williams, and LeBron James on blast.
“You’re looking at people who are underneath me, OK? I’m on the road to getting a statue,” Hart deadpanned in his signature bravado. “There’s been nobody to have this type of effect on people. Am I better than all of those guys? Yes. Do I throw it in their face? No.”
While Hart’s athletic prowess is debatable, he’s got something that none of those future-hall-of-famers have: a unique connection with people who don’t follow a particular sport, or even exercise at all.
“He’s not a runner. He just runs,” Boss tells me. We’re around the corner from the hotel to warm up. Afterwards we'll head to the Charles River Esplanade where we’ll meet up with Hart.
Boss tells me Hart only started running less than a year ago. The trainer says Hart has become religious about getting a couple miles in wherever he is in the world to the point where both Boss and Hart’s security guards have a hard time tagging along.
And thousands upon thousands of people across the country are trying to. Wherever Hart is looking to get a workout in, he doesn’t do it alone. He invites any able body with an Internet connection to join him via his Twitter handle.
“We see 60-year-old women and men, then we see 20-year-olds and 15-year-olds to small kids—a great mixture of people,” Hart says. “It’s a platform that can really be amazing and something that can go global.”
It all started last June in Boston, when Hart invited his 22 million Twitter followers (he now has 29.9 million) to join him on a spontaneous 5K run. Hart says that one tweet brought out around 300 people. The next pop-up workout in another city, 500. Participation soon ballooned to the thousands. And then Nike wanted in.
“Nike told me how they loved what I was doing and the fact that it was something different,” Hart says. “They said they could help with making it better and put some structure to it. They did that and it just got bigger and bigger.”
“What Nike wants to do is bridge that gap between what’s supposed to be a professional athlete and a person that doesn’t consider themselves an athlete,” Hart says. “I’m reaching a consumer that isn’t necessarily sought after.”
At a diminutive 5’ 4”, it’s hard to imagine the comic as the picture of peak physical fitness—and that’s OK. Whether people are coming to seriously burn some calories or just be in the presence of a celebrity, Hart slyly found a loophole to get people to exercise.
In a way, Hart has become an unexpected evangelist for running, spreading the gospel of physical fitness one Instagram post at a time.
“I’m not going to the Olympics. There’s no plans for me to go to the NBA. I’m not about to beat Michael Phelps in swimming,” Hart says. “But I feel like I can have the same work ethic and approach my day the way that those guys do, and just become the best version of me. That’s the attitude that I want to rub off on people. It’s contagious.”
Hart’s infectious personality is really on display when trying to keep up with him on a three-mile run. As he zooms through the Esplanade and other runners on the path catch wind of who he is, they quickly pull out their phones and switch up their routes to follow him. It’s something like a scene straight out of Rocky II, except funnier.
“You ever had to take a shit on a run before?” he jokes. “I did once. I had to shit on a tree and use a leaf.”
But there’s also the aspect of Hart’s persona that’s rarely seen and that Nike wanted to invest in—the encouraging drill sergeant side.
“If it doesn’t hurt, you’re not doing it right,” Hart yells to the group at the crosswalk.
Those quotes, and many others like it, that Hart reels off on a regular basis, are a part of the Nike sneaker that bears his name. His version of the Nike Free Trainer Instinct, the #HustleHart, is dipped in motivational quotes that were handpicked by the entertainer himself, including his personal favorite: “Everybody wants to be famous, but no one wants to put the work in.”
Words on both the left and right shoe are imprinted in 3M on purpose because A.) Hart actually wants people to work out in his sneakers and B.) Hart wanted to quotes to be visible enough to inspire people when they feel like giving up.
“These aren’t words that I pulled out my ass. It’s things that I’ve told myself to put that drive back in me. They’ve gotten me to the place where I am, who knows what it can do for others,” Hart says. “That’s why they’re reflective material, so that people can get a good glimpse of it when they feel like quitting.”
While exercise can be a tough task for most, Hart might have found his own cheat code to getting people to want do it: make it fun. There is a level of truth to Hart’s statement before we left his hotel. There are a lot more people that can get into shape like Kevin Hart than there are that can get in shape like LeBron James. As gifted and accomplished as Serena Williams or Kobe Bryant are, they could never be the mouthpiece, promoter, or movie star that's involved in a new project almost every month of the year that Hart is. Well, that is if you ask Hart.
“You haven’t had a person bring this type of personality to physical fitness and to athletic training at all,” he says in a dead-serious tone. “You can have a level of enjoyment with your workout and that’s what I’m bringing. I’m making it fun. It’s not just struggle. It’s appreciating the struggle while you still have that good time.”