Yesterday I had the great honour of speaking at my alma mater, Branksome Hall, to 800 high school students.
:: Branksome Hall – I went here from grade four to graduation ::
I was asked to speak about how I took my passion for athletics and turned it into not only just a job but into a career, brand and a business. I wasn't given a single restriction, just told to speak from the heart.
Honestly I was really nervous!! I've done talks for larger audiences before but they've been on topics other than myself. I called my sister Lindsay right before I went up to speak and she said, "don't worry, half the kids will be on their cell phones anyway." Thanks Linds!! To my delight they were an incredible group of people to speak to – not a cell phone in sight! Here is a mini-recap of my 10-minute talk with a few slides from my power point.
Beauty and the Bod at Branksome Presentation:
I was just nine years old when I started my journey at Branksome. I was a PAINFULLY shy kid with a major learning disorder. I couldn't read at all, speaking in front of one other person would have been the worst thing ever back then! Branksome, along with my parent's support completely brought me out of my shell and into the person I am today.
One of my dad's favourite lines is: life is not a dress rehearsal. I remember him sitting my sister and I down when we first started getting involved in sports at school. He would tell us to just go for it, if we didn't make the team so what, at least we tried and there would never be an opportunity to give it a go again so just go!
I took his advice to heart and at one point or another I was on pretty much every single team that would take me. Eventually I narrowed it down to running and rowing at Branksome. I worked really hard on both teams and that paid off with great results. I think my 7:41 2k erg score still stands today for a school record! Woo hoo! The number one thing that I learned being on the rowing team at Branksome was how to have integrity. Rowing taught me how to wake up to an alarm all by myself, how to work hard for a team, how to not be a flake, how not to take a 'sick' day, and how to be dependable and depend on other people. Rowing was and probably is still to date one of the hardest things I've ever done but the rewards and lessons I learned rowing were life shaping and absolutely helped me have the success I'm enjoying today.
After Branksome I went to Western for Kinesiology. I really didn't have any idea what I wanted to do with a Kin degree but I loved sports and liked the idea that I could still have gym class in university. My parents were happy I was happy. In my first year I aced my electives in business and psych – thinking that was a sign and in retrospect falling into the trap that I should go into a psych business route because then I'll actually get a job (not true!) I switched into psych with a minor in business for my second year. After about 3 hours I realized this was the wrong call – where were all the spandex wearing, gym going, sports loving, high fiving Kin people?! I switched back into Kin and never looked back.
In my third year I had been doing the standard issue aerobics classes at Western for awhile and I was getting so bored with them. They were always the same routines and I never felt like I had a great workout from them. A few of my girlfriends and I decided to start our own workout group – we called each other the "Bod Squad" and so it was born. The group started with 3 and quickly grew into not only the highlight of my week but also quite popular, one of my last classes there were 30 people! It was awesome and I knew I was on to something… sort of!
In my summers at Western I had the best summer job, I worked at SickKids Foundation. The people there were incredible and my job responsibilities were very tough yet fun and it was a great learning experience. I drove across Ontario and gave presentations about the Hospital to Walmarts, Costcos and TD banks. Some days I'd talk to 2-3 people and others 2-3 thousand! I loved my job at SickKids but at the same time I found myself getting more excited about the morning free Bod Squad workouts I was hosting in our backyard then my presentations. When the summer was up in my forth year I was offered a full time job – that would have been the cushy, easy, 90% love, respectable way to start my career. Instead I declined with thanks and moved halfway around the world to start an adventure with Matt. Bold, and totally out of character for me!
We moved into a tiny flat, for the first time ever I was totally responsible for all of my expenses. My parents did a lot of smart things with us but probably one of the things I am most thankful for is they made us pay our own way as soon as we were done school. That meant that after university if I wanted to move back home I could have but I'd be paying them rent and buying groceries to live there – NO thank you! It's crazy to look around at a lot of my friends and they are still living at home in their mid to late 20s … if you ask me life doesn't start until you're off the parental payroll. Move out! I digress… So we were in England and I was a housewife (with no house or husband!) for about 3 days and then I started to go crazy. Matt suggested we start filming Bod Squad workouts for the Bod Squaders back at home. It was a great idea and the start of my blog career. Three months later I was convinced it would be a fun idea to go to Thailand with one of my best friends Jules. There I filmed a workout a week and uploaded them back on my website. I knew 110% after that trip that fitness wasn't just a hobby for me but something that I genuinely loved doing and that I would come home and work hard to make it work!
After Asia I flew back and gave myself two weeks to get Bod Squad – for money – started. It was hectic and nerve racking, talk about putting yourself out there. Most people do not believe me now when I say I'm a naturally shy person but the truth is I've learned how to talk in my lifetime, it did not come easily at all! I made about 2000 flyers and walked all over my neighbourhood distributing them. The first class had 12 new people in it!! And Bod Squad was born. The first summer went really well, I had lots of new clients in the classes and a few personal training clients around town. There was only one problem: winter. At the time I didn't feel like I had enough momentum to move Bod Squad indoors so I decided to put it on hold for the fall-winter and stick to personal training. I couldn't afford a car + my condo rent so I had to bike around to client's homes. One morning I biked from Bloor and Yonge to north Lawrence park with a 25 lbs kettlebell in my backpack. I got to the client's house and he could not believe I had done that. Get. It. Done. A road block isn't a road block unless you make it a road block. Biking became my cardio that year – some days I'd bike upwards of 50 km just getting to and from houses. Crazy! But that experience certainly put some hair on my chest and made me appreciate my business that much more.
In my "off" times that fall and winter on the advice of my clients and family I started blogging every single day here. As most of you know I want this blog to be a friendly take on fitness. I felt and feel like there is a lot of pressure out there to be skinny, eat just kale and workout 8x a day. I want this blog to be real and the community here to be supportive. I'm so proud of what we have built here and last year accepted the honour to start writing for the Huffington Post! For someone who struggled to get a 70% in English class I still pinch myself that I'm now writing for my job. If I can do it you can do it!
The second summer of Bod Squad was awesome. We were growing and it was time to seek out some indoor options. Without knowing any gym owners I made a list of the places I'd heard were cool and I walked in and talked to all the managers there. Tim from Totum and I clicked and got each other quickly, within a week I'd signed a contract with him locking me and the Bod Squad into a monthly lease agreement. Ekkk! The first six classes sold out in two hours, in the end I had to add six more onto the schedule. This was a massive relief and it was so exciting to have a home for the squad.
At the same time I was working with lululemon on a few summer class events and was VERY interested in their ambassador program. Hi free clothing! And the chance to be part of an incredible Canadian success story. After months of worthwhile and fun effort I was so grateful when they asked me to represent their yorkville location. This experience is even better than what I had dreamed it would be. I've made life-long friendships and of course my closet is a workout Barbie's dreamland!!
Bod Squad celebrated it's third summer this past year and we are well into fall programming now. I can honestly say I love every minute of my job. Changing the way people see themselves, not just physically but mentally the confidence they gain is just an incredible privilege. This is absolutely what I was born to do and I'm so grateful that I've followed a bumpy-ish path to get here.
My message to the high school ladies yesterday was the same message my dad gave me a decade ago. Life is not a dress rehearsal, sometimes you've just got to go for it. You won't discover your passion sitting down or by always taking the comfortable route. When you do what you love you will be surrounded by people who support you and who will be cheering for you at the same time you're cheering for them. It's ok to want to be something other than a banker or a lawyer or a doctor or a teacher. It's ok to want to make your own job now because we have this really cool tool called the internet and it will connect you to so many amazing opportunities if you go for it.
I was proud to be back at Branksome yesterday. The school is certainly embracing health and their new fitness centre on Mt Pleasant looks like it will be an incredible facility. I'd be lying if I said that I never hoped and set a goal to be able to speak back at Branksome. I certainly did visualize years ago me speaking in front of a group of young people – ideally back at Branksome. Yesterday was a goal accomplished moment for me and far faster than I ever thought it would happen! I had some amazing feedback from the girls and I hope that my ten minute chat sparked a little courage in one or two of them to not be afraid to follow their heart.
Red, green, black and white, see our colours in the fight, toss em high toss em low come on Branksome GO GO GO!