It is a chaotic world right now with change and uncertainty still lingering as most industries and professionals, including fitness, navigate the new world of work. This time of reinvention will require more from leaders at a time when leaders may be feeling less themselves (less confident, less knowledgeable, less motivated, etc.). Never has there been a time where leaders have had to call upon their own courage to lead and show others a path not yet travelled.
Sharing your story is an act of courage as it takes vulnerability and honesty, highlighting your strength to overcome challenges and inspiring others to do the same. canfitpro celebrates 30 years by highlighting stories of courage to inspire fitness professionals to overcome obstacles, cultivate resilience, and empower their clients to do the same, in pursuit of living healthier and happier lives..
Amy C. Rad
Amy C. Rad
My story of courage began 30 years ago when I first stepped foot into an aerobics class. I was totally out of shape and did not know a soul. Fast forward a few months, I took a leap of faith and got certified to become a group fitness instructor. It is way harder than it looks, but I loved it so much I wanted to get better at it. I attended conferences like canfitpro, SCW, and IDEA as often as possible and learned as much as I could. Thirteen years ago, I realized one of my dreams of becoming a master trainer and continuing education provider and got the opportunity to present at some of the best fitness events, including canfitpro!
Twenty years ago, I decided to make fitness my full-time career. I resigned from my six-figure salary job in the tech industry, went back to school to get my masters in kinesiology, and worked part-time as a personal trainer and instructor. After the first year into my career change, I was in for a rude awakening when I made about the same amount as I paid in taxes the previous year! But I never regretted it one bit.
I had to close the doors to my fitness studio a few months into the pandemic, but with the support of my clients and community, I was able to successfully transition to a hybrid of virtual and in-person classes and training. I am truly grateful that I get to live my purpose every day.
ARIC SUDICKY, BSc., BEd., MD, CCFP
(Photo Credit: Harry Leonard)
This year marks my fifth year as a full-time Ontario Family Physician and 26th year natural bodybuilding. My love for fitness was a significant source of inspiration during my multiple applications to Canadian medical schools from 2004-2013. The valuable skills I gained counselling clients of all ages during my career as a fitness professional are still used daily in healthcare.
While working through a long road to medical school
Exercise was my BEST Medicine!
While working through a very stressful last few years
Exercise STILL IS MY BEST Medicine!
While working in healthcare for decades to come
Exercise WILL STILL BE MY BEST Medicine!
Serving as a physician helping patients across the lifecycle has only intensified my love for fitness and nutrition. I am proud to be a former canfitpro member and wish nothing but the best to the current membership in 2023.
I thought fitness would develop my muscles; little did I know how it would strengthen important relationships in my life.
In 2011, I started as a team leader at the canfitpro Toronto conference and trade show. I found immense pleasure in the physically challenging equipment management part of the event. The conference is now a highlight of my year, as I return and reconnect with peers and friends.
In 2014, two days before that year's conference, my oldest child attempted suicide. I struggle now to write that word. It was the most challenging time in my life. My child was 24 and living in Colorado. I was 2,000 kilometers away in Cambridge when I saw a Facebook post and learned something was terribly wrong. After four hours of telephone calls to police and emergency services in Denver, I learned what happened. My child was recovering in hospital and under a 72-hour suicide watch.
My choices: go to Denver and wait, cancel my days off and go back to work, or go to canfitpro.
I chose canfitpro because I needed to feel useful and distracted.
Instead of distraction, I found connection. My roommate had a similar experience with an unthinkable end. We spoke for long hours. I found comfort. I also shared my emotional pain with other close friends – people I would never have known if not for canfitpro.
While I joined canfitpro 12 years ago to lift weights for my physical health, I now realize I was also building my emotional resilience, a support system…. a family that stepped up to help me carry my emotional weights that August.
In 1993, I left a secure salaried position to enter the fitness industry. It all started teaching water aerobics at a local public pool here in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. As a mother to a young family, I quickly recognized the need for proper fitness and nutrition.
Soon I found myself working for a local prestigious health and fitness club, The Club at White Oaks. This also began my relationship with canfitpro, and I began the work toward multiple certifications.
Throughout my fitness career, I have had to maintain focus while being mom and wife, enduring major and difficult staffing changes at The Club, and a personal health challenge. In 2017 I contracted Lyme disease. I found it so debilitating that my fitness career was suddenly jeopardized. But I believe my own personal fitness, established throughout the years, and the support of colleagues at The Club and in the industry, contributed to the healing process. It has made me a better manager and fitness professional.
Here at White Oaks, we offer the Rock Steady Boxing program to those who suffer with Parkinson's Disease. My involvement in this program as strength and conditioning coach has been most rewarding, especially when we maintained it throughout COVID as a virtual program. I recently heard Michael J. Fox interviewed regarding his battle with Parkinson’s, saying something I could identify with, “With gratitude, optimism is sustainable.”
Regarding my battle with Lyme disease over the past six years, and the challenge of COVID we all endured through, I would like to borrow from that quote and make my own, “With fitness and gratitude together, they only serve to keep one going forward.”
I was nine years old and sitting cross legged on the gymnasium floor. Little running shoe squeaks and kid conversations caused teachers to amplify their instructions. The lights dimmed and the stage curtains inched open. My school’s rendition of The Wizard of Oz captivated me. I wanted to be up there having fun, being brave. The problem was, I had as much courage as the cowardly lion. I was stuck in a shy shell and highly aware of it, but that niggling feeling to step on stage would not go away. I joined community theatre and eventually toured with a production to schools, including my old gymnasium.
I learned fear is stubborn, but it is not unmanageable. Courage in increments whittles down self-doubt. That shy kid still lives within and when I wanted to become a fitness professional she said, “maybe you shouldn’t do that in your 40s, no one wants to fall flat in a puddle of embarrassment.” I told her that although that is true and I agree new things are scary, a life unlived is more terrifying.
I am grateful my inner guidance led me to canfitpro. Today I travel, teach, sweat, and inspire. My religion is intuition, listening to the part of me that wants me to be happy has been an ongoing practice of bravery. I am safe in the knowledge I will someday wear white hair and walk with pride in the privilege of all my experiences, a life of opportunities explored, and courageous moments strung together into a legacy of a life well lived.
CHRISTINE M. CONTI
“Perhaps the biggest misconception we have of courageous people is that we never think they’re afraid.” -Bryan Price
It took me 35 years to find what I had inside of me all along; I call it “SPLIT-SECOND COURAGE.” In fact, it was not until I was faced with a life-altering diagnosis that I had no choice but to look fear in the eye and never look back.
I uneasily shifted my weight on that white crinkly parchment paper covering the doctors exam table, my eyes filled with tears, my lungs constricted, and my breathing labored. “You have an advanced, yet rare, autoimmune disease and there is no telling how long you have before it cripples your body,” said the doctor. Images of my late quadriplegic grandmother filled my mind. She, too, suffered from this disease and spent the last three decades confined to a wheelchair. However, she was uplifting, positive and courageous in the face of her diagnosis.
What was her secret? She recognized life as a gift and served to remind others that adversity can be a catalyst to spark courage. I took notes!
In life you have two choices. Do something or do nothing. Like Grandma Jeanne, I chose to use my adversity as a gift and do something! I found the courage to speak out and be an advocate for using exercise as medicine to improve mental and physical health. Sometimes you do not realize how courageous you are until being courageous is the ONLY option.
Yes. You Can.
I have been in the fitness industry for over 30 years. It began as a journey to take care of myself as a stay-at-home mom of three boys, but it became so much more. I soon found out how passionate I was about teaching and connecting with others. Fitness became my outlet to release stress, move my body, and to have fun! However, in 2012, I was faced with mental health issues and was diagnosed with PTSD and generalized anxiety disorder. In the 10 years prior, I had lost my mother suddenly and my father died by suicide. To cope, I turned to alcohol and drugs which led me to rehab. Soon, physical symptoms of PTSD began showing up as pain in my body. Around that time, I stepped into my first yoga class and fell in love and became a yoga teacher. That is when the real healing began.
Determined to find a way to heal, I found a yoga training that was geared towards PTSD that forever changed my life. It opened many doors to helping others and it became my mission. I began specializing in trauma-informed yoga and became a co-author of published clinical research gathered on yoga intervention for women with substance abuse disorder in a residential treatment program.
I was chosen as the Community Champion spokesperson for the 2021 Run for Women event to help raise money for mental health which took place in 18 cities across Canada. In 2021, I published my memoir, Blinded By An Angel ~ One woman's inspiring true story of resilience through grief, addiction, and trauma, to share my struggles and give others hope.
I slipped, both feet flew in front me, and I landed flat on my back. I hit my head so hard on the pool deck both lenses popped out of my new Gucci sunglasses. Ouch! I sprung to my feet claiming it did not hurt. We were celebrating my friend's wedding at the Fountain Blue in South Beach and warming up at the pool bar for a concert with Ricky Martin. I was living my dream life. I had a great marriage, friends from all over the world, warm and loving family, travelling around the world, financial stability, everything…but something just wasn’t right.
That slip incident led me once again to my doctors but for a different reason. I had spent every free moment searching for professional advice about the bizarre ailments that were becoming unmanageable. I was suffering, physically and mentally. Balance, strength, many cognitive skills were challenged, pins and needles in my feet, lost feeling in my arms…the most bizarre was upon any coughing, sneezing, laughter, I would pass out. I ended up getting a pacemaker for “better safe than sorry” reasons. But this time was different, it was all about my brain.
My doctor came in with my MRI test results. My diagnose…Multiple Sclerosis (MS). I was not happy about the results, but I felt relief. I could now understand my past health issues. I could now take educated steps moving forward. My doctors all agree, without a strong fitness foundation, my situation would be much worse. Fitness and wellness, mixed with a positive attitude, is what keeps me strong, healthy, and happy.
Dr. Mitch Abrams
DR. MITCH ABRAMS
Life has a way of presenting us with unexpected challenges that ultimately lead to incredible transformations. In my first year as a radiologist, I faced a life-changing experience when I urgently needed open-heart surgery to address Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy. In that moment, the doctor became the patient.
The surgery was a technical success, and my enlarged heart was repaired. However, during this journey, I uncovered a profound truth: our medical system was missing a vital ingredient – compassion. This realization led me to believe that we needed a more holistic approach to care for patients and support the well-being of practitioners.
While I was grateful for my physical recovery, the emotional toll demanded its own healing. With painkillers in hand, I was sent off to navigate this path alone.
Upon returning to work, I was appointed as the department chief. Driven by my newfound passion for change, I eagerly took on the challenge. However, I encountered a rigid system, prioritizing efficiency over the human experience. Undeterred by resistance, my post traumatic growth propelled me towards the road less traveled, dedicating a decade to study the art and science of healing. My aim was to enhance the scientific community's understanding of the complex interplay between the body and mind.
Life called upon me to courageously step into a trailblazing role, challenging the existing standards of care. Fueled by passion and purpose, I founded NexGenHealth Ltd. and present worldwide to revolutionize healthcare through the integration of science, art, and technology.
Join me in igniting a heart-centered revolution!
I remember the words my soul whispered in the stillness of the night: "It's time to take 100% responsibility for the life you desire to live."
That was 25 years ago. I was 30, married, a young family, and working in architecture. I felt lost, lifeless, and unsure of my purpose. I had a foggy vision of 'building' a different world and living a life of inspiration. I took heed of the whisper . . . took 100% responsibility for the life I desired to create and with every action the fog lifted. My vision became clearer as I pushed through the pain, transitioning from architecture into brand building, eventually touring the world as one of Canada's top inspirational speakers. With every action the whisper bellowed with the force of a Tsunami. I became the #whyguy - inspiring one million WHYS, publishing 25 books, writing transformational novels and movie screenplays in Tuscany.
Today, I focus ONLY on the actions that align with my deeper WHY. I exist as a novelist and screenplay writer, together with my love, nestled in our cozy chalet in the heart of the Laurentian Mountains. This life allows me to create books and movies that inspire us to look up and notice the life that is passing us by - the life we are meant to live. We only need to summon the courage to open the door to our soul and answer the only question that matters: Why am I here?
Heart disease might take my body, but it is not going to take my spirit. When I was 39, I had two heart attacks in one day. I coded twice and was brought back to life both times. I was scared, but I had to stay alive for my son Skyler.
My sister had already had a heart attack at age 36. Soon after, I found out my entire family had a genetic condition that put us at higher risk of coronary artery disease. Since then, heart disease has ravaged my family. I have lost four sisters and one brother.
I watched my siblings die one after the other. There were days I did not know who to grieve first, but I knew the only way to honour them was to continue the fight. I had to make their deaths, and more importantly their lives, matter.
I came across GoodLife Fitness at a pivotal time. The team gave me the courage to hop on a treadmill. That first walk gave me the physical and mental courage I needed to keep going. I realized I wanted to work for GoodLife and get as many people to come to the gym as I could, to help them ward off heart disease. I want to make sure others do not have to go through the trauma and heartbreak my family has suffered.
When you are driven by passion, the sky’s the limit. Whenever I have a setback, I remember what we prescribe for our members -- believe in yourself and just keep going. That mindset has been my miracle.
Anyone can travel on a journey. A discoverer and a creator is someone who goes from that point, along a jagged path, and is not afraid of every break in the trajectory, rather seeks and thrives from the challenge getting more complex with every step.
My name is Jess Silver; I am no stranger to the uncharted. I have always paved pathways of possibility and not been afraid of challenging conventional constructs and knowns, and trailblazing paths.
At birth I was diagnosed with a neurological condition that affects my motor functions called Cerebral Palsy. The brain injury occurred because of a lack of oxygen reaching my cerebral cortex. Though Cerebral Palsy affects my ability to walk independently and thus requires me to use a wheelchair for mobility, and it affects the processing of impulses that are responsible for directing movement, I have never, ever allowed my challenge to define me. Because my movement is limited, it empowers me to be creative, strong (physically and emotionally), and to consistently challenge adversity.
I am a medical writer, author and someone who rewrites truths. Additionally, I am an entrepreneur and Founder of a non-profit organization, Flex for Access, which creates avenues for adaptive fitness within the mainstream and one who always educates on finding novel practices for educating society. I founded the organization because of a passion for fitness and its role in disability management and realizing that individuals with disabilities are underserved and under-represented in fitness and sport.
My soul was dying but I did not know it.
I knew several versions of myself. But I did not know my true Self.
I wish I could tell you that the day I finally chose myself was an act of courage, but I would be lying. In fact, asking for a leave of absence from my 25 years in the fitness industry, for my mental health, left me hiding under a blanket from the world with feelings of shame, fear, and failure.
I had learned how to read minds too. Classic overachiever. I had told myself so many “stories” about what people were saying about me and it was nothing positive.
A chronic people-pleaser my entire life, trying to find my worth through others’ opinions of me.
My story is one of courage, I know this now. For 30 years, I was silently struggling with disordered eating and over-exercising, along with never feeling “enough”. Always saying “yes” due to fear of not being liked.
My soul sat me down and we began our healing journey. Not only to help me and my family but so I could create a space to help other women heal their food and body stories and find their worth.
With zero regrets, I choose to live with courage every day.
If you are starting over, or know change is needed, know this; the bravest thing you can ever do is follow your heart. Your future self is cheering the loudest – I promise!
My COURAGE includes:
• Fighting against the history of being a male thriving with an eating disordered past in an industry treating that topic with taboo and prejudice for males
• The resilience to continue working in wellness now diagnosed with an incurable, untreatable disease that is now monitored weekly
• My dedication to “home,” despite rebuilding after surviving seven hurricanes
• Overcoming years as a bullied grade school “fitness failure” by classmates and gym teachers alike for being the fat, sissy, queer kid, and courageously ending up filling an award cabinet with trophies for excellence -precisely in fitness itself-- from ACE, AFAA, IDEA, AFC, and canfitpro.
• Dedication to work as a 58+ male in a female-dominated industry, both in front and behind the camera, in a profession that continues to promote and celebrate the young, chiseled influencers and posers
• Celebrating my Catholic, Christian faith as a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community with equal dedication and identity to both, daily and simultaneously, after years of being told by various aspects of the fitness community to shadow that message
• The huge risk of self-publishing my latest book Mir, the first to tell a tale of behind-the-scenes anecdotes from a fitness presenter’s fictional perspective of the industry’s unethical sides
• Accepting an uncertain economic future instead of accepting an unethical, albeit sponsored and lucrative one, by companies offering huge salaries in exchange for unethical practices, and my courage continues as I apply to present at conferences despite the many rejections for not being financially sponsored by the big bucks
I started my career as a Medical Fitness Specialist 25 years ago. There was no path to follow, no resources to be found, or business ideas to follow.
There was no roadmap to what I thought was the "Blue Ocean" for the fitness industry to serve those who need us the most.
I founded both the MedFit Network and MedFit Education Foundation (nonprofit) to create education and a registry for those working in this space so we could continue to support people with medical conditions, chronic disease, health issues, and disabilities.
We have been producing 48 weekly webinars for six years. We had eight live conferences before the pandemic throughout the United States. We pivoted in 2020 to focus on creating 20 online medical fitness courses that have all been peer-reviewed and medically reviewed by a Medical Advisory Board. MedFit Classroom is the world’s most comprehensive library of medical fitness specialist certificate courses.
In November of 2022, I was given a large private donation of three million dollars to open my dream medical fitness center and to build my Foundation. We will be offering fitness and therapy services as well as community and professional education. I would never have guessed at 59 years old I would be starting a new project (my grandfather retired at 55 in the 1970s)! Times have changed and certainly for women. I look back at what I accomplished and to the future on what I can yet do. There was no road map for me, so I created my own path.
In early 2017, I was at Danforth Pizza around the corner from my office. The owner and I were connecting on starting a business and being pulled in a million different directions, the pride of the work we were doing but the endless hours it takes to get anywhere. I was reflecting on the intensity of those long hours and continuous travel, all the family and social time I had given up during the early years as I built YogaFit Canada. The idea of doing that all over again was beyond overwhelming. Just thinking about it filled my eyes with tears as I plainly said, I could never go through that again.
The irony was that whether I was ready to accept it or not, that is exactly what I had to do. Work had become increasingly difficult. The stress I was carrying was impacting my health and my relationships. I knew that I could not do this anymore, but at the same time I had no idea how to do anything else. Beyond the fear of starting again, was losing my identity, losing my “title” and, I feared, losing my accolades within the industry.
The truth is that I could never lose the passion I had for teaching and sharing knowledge, nor the years I had spent developing those skills. In 2019, I rallied back to launch a retreat business only to be knocked down six months later with the global shutdowns. But it was during those dark hours that I remembered who I was and what my purpose was. That I am an educator who thrives on bringing that light forward in others. One more time, I had to dig in deep for the courage and resiliency to start a new Yoga Education school. Really, what I was meant to be doing all this time.
We often think of courage as a loud roar where we step into our power, tightly grip our strength, and stand tall in the face of fear. Yet courage can also be the soft voice the beckons us to pause and pull back in a season of grief, loss, or adversity.
In 2022, I found myself in the thick of a challenging season of life… the sudden loss of my dad along with all of the changes that happen in the face of such a loss brought my growing career as an online coach and personal trainer to a slow pace, where I chose to maintain my fitness business instead of growing it.
As fit pros, our professional and personal lives often blend into one. A fit pro cannot flourish and thrive if his/her personal life feels like it is unravelling.
And so, for me, it was a year of “Pull Back” … a scary decision that took a hefty dose of courage. The courage to pause, to protect my energy and focus on self-care and caring for the needs of my family.
The ebb and flow of life will demand different versions of ourselves. Some seasons require us to push forward with strength and stamina. Other seasons we need to pull back first, reflect, and take the time needed to reboot, recharge, and recalibrate so we can then forge ahead with a deeper and more significant WHY.
Courage is beautifully wrapped in both… learning how to plough ahead and knowing when to pull back, and then celebrating who we become in the process.
Courage is defined as the quality of mind that enables a person to face difficulty without fear. For me, courage is a little different based on experience. I would replace “without fear” with “in spite of fear”. We cannot rid ourselves of fear. We need to acknowledge its existence and live alongside fear. Just as our understanding that death is a part of life, so too is fear.
I fear every day that my beautiful, amazing, loving husband Bruce will at some point lose his battle to cancer. He was diagnosed 11 years ago and in the last 11 years we have had more great days than hard days, but we live with this shadow every day.
What we have done in the last 11 years, despite the fear, is that we have truly lived. We have had the courage to change direction in almost all parts of our lives. We transitioned our career paths from fitness to focus on evidence-based wellness, which brought a cascade of new opportunities. We created the nonprofit One Day to Wellness, sold our home and everything we own, moved into a fruit and veggie covered RV, and wrote two books on our experience with cancer in the hopes we can help others in similar situations.
Fear can weigh you down and debilitate you or it can be a catalyst for change. Courage is letting go of what is comfortable and moving in the direction of what is important in life.
I joined the big canfitpro family in 2004. I was financially poor. I had no dreams, no ambitions, and no direction in my life. My heart, my mind, and my body were immersed in a great emptiness, a great despair and a great sadness following my suicide attempts. I was immersed in the death instinct. The bad life experiences and the negative view of my family made me realize that I was not worth much.
I was welcomed as a canfitpro volunteer, and this new family made me realize that my life was worth living. It is through the eyes and the benevolent words of employees, volunteers, presenters, and trade show representatives that I gave myself the right to exist. Volunteering has given me the faith, strength, courage, and energy to go through many great difficulties over the years. This allowed me to meet my aspirations, follow my inspirations, and my vocation.
canfitpro helped me find meaning in my life by going back to school. By adopting myself into their large family, I discovered that I had the intellectual capacities to study in the field of movement science. My volunteer experiences opened doors for me to study in the field of physical rehabilitation in college, from kinesiology to bachelor's and master's degrees and dance, to the Specialized Graduate Diploma in Somatic Education. Today, I teach physical education in college, and work with athletes from 12 to 20 years old.
Fifteen years ago, teaching fitness classes and personal training clients, I had this dream: I wanted to become a speaker, AND get paid for it, and I wanted to author books and travel around the world, etc. You get the picture.
The problem was I constantly had this voice in my head, this negative self-talk that kept telling me, "What? You want to be a professional speaker? In English? You don't even speak English. You want to write books in English? It's never going to work. You're not good enough."
To be honest, it was true, my English was bad! I remember during a yoga class I wanted my participants to relax their face and I wanted to ask them to put their tongue on the roof of their mouth. But with my French accent, instead of saying “Put your tongue behind your teeth,” it sounded more like, “Put your thong behind your tits.” I know, how embarrassing!
I realized that the negative self-talk in my head needed to change. I was not going to reach my dream and make money as a speaker, especially in the fitness industry where so many limiting beliefs were holding me back (including the limiting belief that “we don’t make money in the fitness industry”).
I have spent the last 15 years studying neurosciences and created a system to transform that voice so that it would support me as I built the THINK Yourself® ACADEMY. A new mindset gave me CONFIDENCE and COURAGE.
Get good at making hard easy, for we ALL experience challenge and change, imposed by unwanted serious setbacks and difficulty accomplishing our most exciting dreams. Through canfitpro, we learn how to help our clients rebuild from difficulty and achieve challenging aspirational goals.
In my world, I’ve had both. Nothing great is achieved without courage, which increased my motivation to pursue a Masters of Coaching Science, then deepened when stepping up for an NHL position. Eleven years later, courage permitted the bold move to resign and build my own vision.
From one summer sport camp grew 12 training centers. From an idea grew new training methods and the world’s first functional training certifications. From a garage, grew a global product business with 330 distributors.
Courage begins with experiences…like almost throwing up at school doing my first presentation to 25 classmates. Years later, courage aggregated so I feel a peaceful Zen keynoting to 5,000 people.
Courage toughens up when the weight of difficulty requires us to gain more strength. It grows like a mental muscle. So, you must step up and lean in.
Commuting around the world to navigate Mandarin and a Chinese government not only resulted in leading the modernization of their Olympic training program, but it also accumulated more courage.
Building courage sets you up for when you most need more. For me this was battling late Stage 4 head and neck cancer, and recently, a stroke no one knows about unless reading this, from cancer radiation decimating my carotid artery. Courage is a quiet power built when no one is watching.
Come COVID, I lost 12 businesses. The cost personally and financially devastating. Courage was expressed in handling it with grace, belief in myself to find a way, and the adaptability to create a new business. Sometimes courage is going with the flow, handling change with dignity and still showing up into each day with grateful spirit.
Courageousness is writing each new life chapter with passion and enthusiasm.
I have been a Volunteer Team Leader with canfitpro for about 15 years now. canfitpro has been a big part of my life and giving back to the fitness community has really inspired me to stay on track and be the best mom that I can be.
Five years ago, I gave birth to my son Isaac. He was diagnosed with Autism when he was two years old. Fitness has been my saviour since we heard that news. Every time I have gone through a hurdle in life the first thing that I turn to is fitness. I was let go from my job on April 27 and the first thing I did was go to GoodLife Fitness and workout. Autism and fitness combined has helped me give back to the community. Mandani Academy, who I have partnered with, gives back to autistic children in our community. Being their Chairperson for Parent Council, I bring the Autism community together every Wednesday night at 6:00 p.m. to get our autistic children and their families to enjoy basketball and stay active.
When our kids on the spectrum move and exercise it helps with their behaviours. Fitness has helped my child to be more interactive and it has helped with his behaviour. In a remarkable and under-reported shift away from conventional wisdom, people with autism are participants, fans, and in some cases, even becoming elite athletes themselves.
I am the founder of SCW Fitness Education, and I have continued to forge remarkable courage and leadership throughout the COVID-19 pandemic by continuing to hold fitness events when every fitness facility was closed.
I remain steadfast in my commitment to helping fitness professionals succeed by taking risks, innovating, and adapting to new circumstances, all while maintaining a focus on the needs of the fitness industry. My incredible SCW team developed and produced a sophisticated virtual program to run 19 online events during the 24 months of the pandemic. Many of the online, live-stream, and recorded conferences offered up to 200 sessions in one weekend. Our specialty summits on Active Aging, Nutrition, Aquatics and Personal Training supplied a much-needed lifeline for fitness professionals who were struggling to stay connected and informed during the pandemic. I was also honoured by the Fitness Industry Technology Council in 2022 with the Most Innovating Fitness Pro Award.
I remain steadfast in my resilience and commitment to go above and beyond to provide support and resources to fitness professionals, even when faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges. We have offered over 250 FREE panel webinars (up to three per week), complimentary, kept and continue to keep (at one per week) our industry informed.
I currently sit on the ACSM Communication & Public Information Committee and have recently been nominated for the IDEA Fitness Leader of the Year Award.
(Photo Credit: Beth Hayhurst Photography)
In Canada I am known as the Olympic world champion rower who overcame a near career ending accident 10 weeks before the Olympic Games in Barcelona. Overcoming a broken ankle, massive muscle and skin damage, I won an Olympic bronze metal 10 weeks later. “Silken’s Courageous Comeback,” read a headline in the national newspaper.
I have come to understand that courage comes in many forms. Sometimes the greatest courage comes in forms that are rarely acknowledged. The courage to show up each day and do what needs to be done for the people we love, to meet our responsibilities every day, even when we feel the squeeze in their volume and intensity. As a woman, a mother to two and a stepmother to two more, I have had the courage to embrace these responsibilities and those of my professional and public life. A loss of a friend, a betrayal in a marriage, the loss of face through professional missteps, I stand whole through all of them. I face it all, and what I observe is that most of us do. We wake up with energy and optimism knowing through considerable experience that difficult things may happen today. We open our hearts to the people we love knowing that sometimes those hearts will be broken. So, yes, it took a lot of guts to believe I could win an Olympic medal 10 weeks after being rammed by a boat, but the courage to embrace life every day is the very same courage we all need. And it is inspiring. Life is not a safe and measured venture. Life is a messy, unpredictable, and beautiful thing. My courage is revealed by embracing all of it.
I was supposed to be a lawyer. “Supposed to be” in the sense that that was my goal since high school. “Supposed to be” in the sense that my parents who immigrated from Jamaica to Canada heavily influenced that goal. “Supposed to be” in the sense that I had graduated from law school, took the bar, and articled. But then the sweet siren of Zumba called me – literally.
I describe my fitness career as a little bit of a snowball effect. I was interested in becoming a Zumba instructor because I did not see very many people who looked like me – Black and plus-sized. But that was only part of it. More practically speaking, law school and the bar exams had drained me financially, and so I thought that being a Zumba instructor would be a fun side hustle so that I could pay down some debt. Little did I know that I would build a fitness career concurrently. Becoming licensed in Zumba was followed by licenses and certifications in Aqua Zumba, aquafit, personal training and now, currently, being a canfitpro PRO TRAINER.
At the same time as my burgeoning passion for motivating people toward their fitness goals, my interest in practicing law was quickly waning, and I had hardly even started. That is where the courageous part of the story comes in. I hated law, but I loved teaching group fitness. Law was a well-beaten path to a comfortable and lucrative lifestyle; teaching group fitness earned me $30/hour. Being a lawyer is social capital; being a group fitness instructor is far less prestigious. Today, I work as a consultant and at a university in the equity, diversity, inclusion space as well as teach group fitness and train others as a canfitpro PRO TRAINER, bringing a size diversity and anti-weight stigma lens to my classes and courses.
No one talks about the courage that authenticity entails. Being who you are in a society not made for you, or daring to be true to yourself in a way that makes you starkly deviant and different is brave. Courage is not only facing your fears or fighting battles. Courage is getting up after a failure and showing up in ways in which you are vulnerable to criticism and failure but doing it anyway because your soul demands nothing less.
I started in the fitness industry at the early age of 16 years old, and I have been in it now for more than 20 years. But as with any journey, there were many obstacles, challenges, and setbacks along the way.
Becoming a fitness professional as a Muslim woman was a challenging journey, as it involves overcoming various obstacles and navigating through cultural and religious norms. This mindset did not discourage me from pursuing my career in the fitness industry, I knew I had to inspire and motivate other women to lead a healthy and active lifestyle, while still adhering to their cultural and religious values.
On my path, I also experienced financial difficulties, injuries, and even a bout of self-doubt. There were times when I felt like giving up, but my deep love for my work and the impact it had on my clients and community kept me going.
One day, as I was training a client, I heard a click in my hip and felt a very sharp pain. When I got to the hospital they told me that I had torn my groin - I pushed my body beyond its limits. They told me I needed months of rehabilitation and that I would not be able to do the things I used to do. But I refused to accept this fate and took it on as a challenge and created a fitness rehabilitation/training/prevention program called “Hot Booty Ballet” to help myself and others regain their strength and mobility. Who knew that through a life altering injury I would create a certification program, travel and present all around the world.
My story is a reminder that we must have the courage to pursue our passions, even when the journey gets tough, and our bodies and spirit are drained. When we summon the courage to pursue our dreams, stand up for what we believe in, we inspire others to do the same.
Courage is a term hard to define but even harder to demonstrate. Through my remarkable journey I was not deterred by danger nor pain, instead it only made me stronger and more determined to fight.
My journey began in 2010 when I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. After the initial removal of the tumor, everything medically that could go wrong did. This was the beginning of my courageous fight to stay alive!
I was hospitalized for four years; I contracted a superbug. I had 29 brain and spinal surgeries and suffered a stroke. I was on a daily cocktail of 72 drug combinations, weighing my lowest at 48 kilos. Suffering with paraplegia and wheelchair bound, I was told that I would never walk again.
In total, it has been 12 years of adversity and hell - a body that had stopped functioning. My personal businesses were forced to fold, and with it financial ruin. Other than death, I could not have sunk any further.
In all the gloom and despair, my fight and battle to live underscored everything and was all that remained - fighting for my dignity, my self-belief, and for the people who believed in me. One of those is my strength and conditioning coach, Ben Siong from LearnASP.
Today, with his help, I walked unaided, and have in fact walked across two entire states in Australia totaling 768 kilometers in 42 days.
Collectively, with my courageous team around me, we exemplified that nothing is impossible, and everything is possible. You can hear more about more story on YouTube (Achieve the Unbelievable. Terry Mitropoulos) or on my website, Walk & Shine.
When I set out on that magical run on June 25, 2010, I had no idea what ONERUN would become. My motivation for this cancer fundraising event was to share a message of hope. What it morphed into was unexpected, life-changing, and beautiful. This intended one-time fundraiser grew into over a decade of annual events raising two million dollars for cancer services.
As a fitness professional, wife, mother, and cancer survivor, taking on the challenge of running 100 kms in one day was terrifying in many ways. There were numerous moments of self-doubt. I reminded myself that being a part of something bigger than myself was more important than my fear of failure. I needed others who were struggling to see they too could overcome this terrible disease! However tough it was that day; I knew that someone else was fighting a more difficult battle. That inspiration spurred me along the 100km route.
As I forged along the route, I was overwhelmed by those who showed up to support me and our ONERUN team. Many came to honor their loved ones who were battling cancer. Knowing we were out there together fostered courage from the understanding that we are never alone. ONERUN gave everyone the opportunity to share in this journey of hope. Thousands of students participated from hundreds of schools in ONERUN events that had them running to honor their loved ones. Adding a virtual ONERUN 100km challenge allowed folks from across Canada to participate and join in the fight. As enthusiasm for ONERUN grew, communities nation-wide became part of who we were.
It is astounding what our bodies can endure and what our open hearts can create. We are so much bolder, braver, and stronger together. With strength, courage, and community, we can profoundly change the world.
What has held me together through life is a thread that becomes stronger the more my life story unfolds. That thread is fitness.
My personal journey has been stitched with triumphs, the likes of which I could not have imagined - winning the Gemini Award for my TV documentary Tosca Flexing at 49, becoming a New York Times Best Selling author, penning multiple books in the Eat Clean series, appearing on multiple magazine covers, winning physique shows and finding the love of my life.
From the pinnacle of happiness and success, I plummeted to bankruptcy, gut wrenching grief over the death of my true love, Robert, losing all that I earned, including how I earned a living. The depression was real. There were days so dark, I didn’t have money or the wits to consider how to survive.
These were the toughest sets and reps of my life. I wanted to end it all, yet I clung to the one sure thing…fitness. I may not have been able to pay my bills, but I could work out. I may not have had my books and magazines anymore, but I could sweat in the company of my weights. I may not have had my husband anymore, but I could feel his presence in the gym, his words ringing in my ears as I fought with my fears.
Exercise was deliverance. Through the pain of this past decade, I learned even more how essential it is to care for the living physical house that is my human body. I am a survivor. I am a Phoenix. Stronger now than ever, in the places where I was broken. I am a Wellness Warrior.
VYSHNAVI (VYSH) SIVAKUMARAN
My life exists entirely outside of the comfort zone I was taught and raised in. My story may not resonate with children of non-immigrant parents. The prospect of parental disapproval -- parents who have done EVERYTHING for you -- and the subsequent shame of what they see as poor choices, is beyond words. If you know this experience, I don't need words to express it to you.
Since 2015, I have left my comfortable corporate job, tried my hand at non-profit work in search of something more meaningful, got fired, was left by the love of my life, got him back, moved countries with him, worked in fast food to survive, got fired again, took a chance at my passion and became a personal trainer, secretly married the love of my life, got laid off because of COVID, started my own business, and married the love of my life again (this time we invited everyone).
I could never explain it all to you. All I can tell you is that it is worth it. My life exists entirely outside of the comfort zone I was taught and raised in, and sometimes I wonder when things will get more comfortable. But then the love of my life reminds me that I am too far down the road less traveled to turn back.
He reminds me that people are watching me, people like who I used to be, that I need to stay the course, because having courage is contagious.