Defining Destiny


Trainer Luan Nguyen’s amazing heritage.

By Molly Griffin, Photo by Beau Gustafson

Luan Nguyen

At the young age of twenty-four, Luan Nguyen opened a Fitness Together franchise in Vestavia Hills.

It was a decision that shocked his family, but Luan followed is heart and pursued a career in the fitness industry instead of the medical community. Today he enjoys interacting with clients and impacting their lives on a daily basis, but he’s also a smart and savvy entrepreneur.
Seven years of success at Fitness Together, anchored by strong family values of unwavering determination and fortitude, ultimately led Luan to his current role in the CrossFit community as the director of training at Iron Tribe Fitness, a leading provider of CrossFit training in Alabama. Luan found his calling in this close-knit fitness community, setting his goals high in terms of building a business from the ground up. As the only CrossFit level two certified instructor in Birmingham, and one of only two in the state, Luan thrives on personal client interaction, perfecting technique and increasing strength for time.
Luan’s path to success was molded by his family’s escape from North Vietnam, a story that gives insight into the heart of this gracious man with an amazing heritage.
His father, Sao Nguyen, escaped from a North Vietnamese prison after enduring a five-year sentence for serving as a captain in the South Vietnamese army. But this was merely the beginning of his family’s journey of overcoming all odds.
Vietnamese prisons were not brimming with luxuries of their modern day American counterparts. There were no weight rooms, no family visits or contact with the outside world. An amazingly humble man with dogged-determination, Sao risked death as he escaped prison in an effort to lead his family to freedom. Aided by a prison guard who was also a childhood friend, Sao Ngu he escaped prison and began planning his family’s escape.
After his escape, Sao spent the next eight months in a coastal town roughly 8o miles away, covertly planning with friends and family to raise money to build a boat for his escape at sea.  His plan was not seamless, but it ultimately succeeded on its sixth attempt. Sao’s wife learned of his escape from the North Vietnamese police but had not heard from her husband until one life altering day when she returned home to find a letter instructing her to pack essentials and bring Luan to a cave across the street from the escape point on the beach.  Her emotions vacillated between sheer terror and much anticipated relief.
Nguyen risked sabotaging his entire plan by offering North Vietnamese police gold in exchange for orchestrating a routine traffic block that would provide a safe route for his wife and other escapees to cross the busy street to the beach.  It was worth the risk. Nguyen’s wife, along with two-year-old Luan and sixty-five others crossed the street, making it safely into the water all while North Vietnamese guards were only several hundred yards away.
Their timing was impeccable, leaving promptly at 7 p.m., not quite under the cover of darkness but during the nearby guards’ thirty-minute dinner break. The small window afforded them enough time to load the boat and travel out of eyesight, leaving no time for emotion. Chaos quickly ensued as the outboard motor bent and passengers scurried furiously to repair the shaft and continue their trek to safety. Their efforts eventually proved successful, and sixty-seven passengers sailed slowly into the darkness on a boat built for a capacity of forty.
Each day at sea brought a new challenge. Passengers feared for their lives as a strange ship trailed ominously in the distance, they faced risky geographical challenges, and on day three the water supply sprung a leak, the gas supply was low and a food shortage was inevitable. Soon passengers awoke from delirious slumber and began to shout for joy at visions of a beach in the distance, thinking that they had reached their destination of the Malaysian Islands. Reality painstakingly surfaced as passengers realized their vision was a merely a mirage due to severe dehydration and heat exhaustion from days of relentless brutal sun exposure.
Their future, once threatened by captivity and death, changed rapidly on the afternoon of the fourth day at sea.  The U.S.S. Thomaston, a ship sailing nearby, rescued all sixty-seven passengers and gave them each a twelve-hundred dollar stipend and plane ticket to anywhere in the United States.  The Nguyen family chose Ft. Walton Beach, Florida since a friend offered his home as temporary shelter.  A trial three-month apprenticeship in Mobile and no money for a daily commute, forced Sao to seek shelter in his car while he hoped for permanent employment. His boss discovered him early one morning and hired him immediately as a permanent employee, allowing the family to plant new roots in Alabama.
Luan describes his father as one of the most humble men he knows, as someone who does not seek recognition for the noble acts of heroism that brought his family where it is today. He is a man who did it for the love of his family and nothing else, a trait that has played a fundamental role in his son’s success. Thrilled with his achievements thus far, Luan Nguyen is truly happy to be right where he is, with a hope for many new opportunities in the future.

At the young age of twenty-four, Luan Nguyen opened a Fitness Together franchise in Vestavia Hills. It was a decision that shocked his family, but Luan followed is heart and pursued a career in the fitness industry instead of the medical community. Today he enjoys interacting with clients and impacting their lives on a daily basis, but he’s also a smart and savvy entrepreneur.  Seven years of success at Fitness Together, anchored by strong family values of unwavering determination and fortitude, ultimately led Luan to his current role in the CrossFit community as the director of training at Iron Tribe Fitness, a leading provider of CrossFit training in Alabama. Luan found his calling in this close-knit fitness community, setting his goals high in terms of building a business from the ground up. As the only CrossFit level two certified instructor in Birmingham, and one of only two in the state, Luan thrives on personal client interaction, perfecting technique and increasing strength for time. Luan’s path to success was molded by his family’s escape from North Vietnam, a story that gives insight into the heart of this gracious man with an amazing heritage. His father, Sao Nguyen, escaped from a North Vietnamese prison after enduring a five-year sentence for serving as a captain in the South Vietnamese army. But this was merely the beginning of his family’s journey of overcoming all odds.Vietnamese prisons were not brimming with luxuries of their modern day American counterparts. There were no weight rooms, no family visits or contact with the outside world. An amazingly humble man with dogged-determination, Sao risked death as he escaped prison in an effort to lead his family to freedom. Aided by a prison guard who was also a childhood friend, Sao Ngu he escaped prison and began planning his family’s escape.After his escape, Sao spent the next eight months in a coastal town roughly 8o miles away, covertly planning with friends and family to raise money to build a boat for his escape at sea.  His plan was not seamless, but it ultimately succeeded on its sixth attempt. Sao’s wife learned of his escape from the North Vietnamese police but had not heard from her husband until one life altering day when she returned home to find a letter instructing her to pack essentials and bring Luan to a cave across the street from the escape point on the beach.  Her emotions vacillated between sheer terror and much anticipated relief.Nguyen risked sabotaging his entire plan by offering North Vietnamese police gold in exchange for orchestrating a routine traffic block that would provide a safe route for his wife and other escapees to cross the busy street to the beach.  It was worth the risk. Nguyen’s wife, along with two-year-old Luan and sixty-five others crossed the street, making it safely into the water all while North Vietnamese guards were only several hundred yards away. Their timing was impeccable, leaving promptly at 7 p.m., not quite under the cover of darkness but during the nearby guards’ thirty-minute dinner break. The small window afforded them enough time to load the boat and travel out of eyesight, leaving no time for emotion. Chaos quickly ensued as the outboard motor bent and passengers scurried furiously to repair the shaft and continue their trek to safety. Their efforts eventually proved successful, and sixty-seven passengers sailed slowly into the darkness on a boat built for a capacity of forty. Each day at sea brought a new challenge. Passengers feared for their lives as a strange ship trailed ominously in the distance, they faced risky geographical challenges, and on day three the water supply sprung a leak, the gas supply was low and a food shortage was inevitable. Soon passengers awoke from delirious slumber and began to shout for joy at visions of a beach in the distance, thinking that they had reached their destination of the Malaysian Islands. Reality painstakingly surfaced as passengers realized their vision was a merely a mirage due to severe dehydration and heat exhaustion from days of relentless brutal sun exposure.  Their future, once threatened by captivity and death, changed rapidly on the afternoon of the fourth day at sea.  The U.S.S. Thomaston, a ship sailing nearby, rescued all sixty-seven passengers and gave them each a twelve-hundred dollar stipend and plane ticket to anywhere in the United States.  The Nguyen family chose Ft. Walton Beach, Florida since a friend offered his home as temporary shelter.  A trial three-month apprenticeship in Mobile and no money for a daily commute, forced Sao to seek shelter in his car while he hoped for permanent employment. His boss discovered him early one morning and hired him immediately as a permanent employee, allowing the family to plant new roots in Alabama.Luan describes his father as one of the most humble men he knows, as someone who does not seek recognition for the noble acts of heroism that brought his family where it is today. He is a man who did it for the love of his family and nothing else, a trait that has played a fundamental role in his son’s success. Thrilled with his achievements thus far, Luan Nguyen is truly happy to be right where he is, with a hope for many new opportunities in the future.

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