LesMills LIVE Toronto 2018, Top 500, and Top Six Group Fitness Instructor of Excellence

From August 9 to 13, I attended canfitpro/LesMills LIVE Toronto and the Top 500 GoodLife Fitness celebrations. This was my seventh canfitpro/LesMlls LIVE Toronto event in a row, and my second Top 500 GoodLife Fitness celebration (the first being in 2014).

A lot has happened since April. I severely hurt myself training for a marathon, combined with doing too many BODYPUMP™ classes/practices, resulting in an injured L4/L5 disc vertebra, leading to sciatic nerve pain for months. So I’ve had to take a lot of time off since May 12 (the day after I ran 42 kilometres) until now; no real running and no classes. I also got married and went on a honeymoon.

In April, I entered a BODYATTACK™ 100 contest, which was a paid admission to LesMills LIVE and a chance to meet-and-greet with Lisa Osborne, the BODYATTACK™ Program Director (Lisa recently underwent hip surgery and was unable to make it to Toronto). I was one of one of five folks from across Canada who won the contest. I got the great news back in early-May (days before my injury). Two days before my May 12 run, with the encouragement and support of my General Manager Nicole Lewis, I submitted my self-nomination for the Group Fitness Instructor of Excellence award. A little less than two months later on July 3 in the afternoon, I was at my day job when I got the call from Marian McTeer (Vice President of Operation of the Group Fitness Department), informing and congratulating me with the incredible news that I was one of the Top Six Group Fitness Instructors of Excellence award winners. Needless to say, being informed about the award, along with winning the contest, was some good news that I needed to lift my spirits re not being able to instruct for weeks/months.

This year, I arrived on a Thursday prior to the event (sometimes I arrive on a Wednesday). I was in touch with a fellow BODYATTACK™ 100 contest winner Sonia Baldassarre, and while I usually team teach with her when I am in Toronto, I didn’t feel right doing it as I was just easing back into things. So I asked if I could just shadow on stage for BODYATTACK™ 101 (which she was perfectly fine with). Afterwards, I thanked her for letting me share the stage with her, as it felt great being up there, that it meant a lot, and I was proud of her love for the program, her dedication to it, and for motivating me to the finish (as I was still getting back into my regular endurance). She congratulated me on getting through it (knowing about my injury and recovery), and really lifted my spirits when she said that it was an honour to share the stage with me. I celebrated with my annual solo dinner at Hooters. When I got back to my Airbnb, instead of waiting for the elevator, I felt that climbing 28 floors would be an extra fun workout.

Just finished shadowing Sonia on stage BODYATTACK™ 101.
Just climbed 28 floors. BOOYAH!

The next morning, I went to pick up my delegate package at the Toronto Metro Convention Centre, seeing lots of LesMills instructors (distinguishable by our clothes) and some whom I know personally or via social media. I went to my first lecture (True You: How To Teach and Motivate with Authenticity), which was put on by Josef McMatthews, who remembered me from AIM II at MEGAMADNESS. We briefly chatted before the start, then he proceeded with the presentation. He spoke about gratitude, going through some difficult times, and being thankful for those who’ve helped him. It reminded me of how I appreciated my own blessings. Some instructors shared their stories, and a woman told us hers that moved some of us to tears. About ten years ago, she left an abusive relationship. She started going to a women’s-only gym and tried a fitness class; she fell in love. She lost weight, experienced better mental health, made great friends, and now she is an instructor herself. Josef gave her a quick hug and I would’ve done the same. Afterwards, I dropped in the opening canfitpro ceremonies and managed to sit with friends Susie and Mandy (both of whom I attended the LesMills OneLive in Stockholm with in 2015). While we had guest speakers, Jana Webb’s story re her accident and comeback touched me the most. Then I headed to one of the registration spots to register my wife for LesMills LIVE.

Always great to see Josef.
Meeting up with Mandy and Susie at the opening ceremonies.

As Lisa was unable to make it to Toronto, us five BODYATTACK™ 100 winners (along with our National Trainer Fred Kung) did a live video chat with her. After finding a quiet and private space, we called in, each of us taking some time to talk to her, asking questions, sharing our stories (some of us were even crying), and our love for the program. One of the contest winners recently beat cancer and shared her story. As Lisa also had a breast cancer scare (thankfully it turned out to be a negative result), I shared the story of a family member who had breast cancer herself. I also told her about my injury and how it was hard to take some off, but was excited about the comeback. Before the chat ended, she asked Fred to bring us up on stage and we thanked her for her time (especially with the time zone difference). Afterwards, I met up with Kerri and brought her back to our Airbnb to drop off her bags. We went out for a dinner at SOCO Kitchen and Bar. While I’m not much of a foodie per se, I was quite impressed with my burger, guacamole, and even the thin crust pizza. While I have never liked a thin crust pizza at a restaurant (I find frozen thin crusts way better), the SOCO one was actually quite good. Then like the night before, I suggested to Kerri that we take the stairs up (and she agreed).

Getting emotional chatting with Lisa.
With Kerri at SOCO.

The next morning, we headed to the venue for LesMills LIVE. I was a bit worried in that I haven’t actually participated in BODYPUMP™ in months. Given my injury and recovery, I decided that I shouldn’t do everything that I registered for. So to play it safe, I decided that I would only do BODYPUMP™, BODYSTEP™, BODYATTACK™, and some of BODYFLOW™ (with modified options as my physiotherapist has not cleared me to do yoga just yet). The first program went by well. I didn’t lift really heavy and absolutely ensured that I had my core braced for the entire thing. Right after that was BODYSTEP™. Normally it takes me a bit to catch a handle on the choreography when it comes to BODYSTEP™, but I managed. I was a bit iffy when it came to straight-out burpees, so I just did the option. Once done, I had a few hours before BODYATTACK™, and as much as I wanted to do GRIT™, CXWORX™, and everything else, I knew that shouldn’t push myself due to being in-recovery. So I took our luggage early the Sheraton® just up the street. It was my first time there and it was a pretty nice place. I then got Kerri and we picked up breakfast at Chipotle (one of my favourite quick meals in Toronto and conveniently located). We returned for the lunchtime lecture with Steve Tansey re Increasing Athletic Performance, which was quite informative and useful (and pretty fun and interactive).

While there was GRIT™ Pylo, and as much as I love it, I knew that I still had to take it easy, so I had to sadly sit it out. Plus I wanted to ensure that I would be able to fully participate (to the best of my ability) for BODYATTACK™ 102. Before it started, a video of Lisa was played, congratulating us BODYATTACK™ 100 winners, and wishing that she was there with us this year. While she couldn’t make it, Giles Bryant (who presented on BODYATTACK™ 99 and other releases) came and was a great presenter (he also did an amazing job presenting BODYSTEP™ earlier that morning, which I normally don’t do). While I always treat LesMills events as my opportunity to go all out (e.g., no options, all push-ups on my toes), I had to play it safe. I sort of went half and half (just like on Thursday). For the Interval Track in the last block, at Lisa’s request, us BODYATTACK™ 100 winners were pulled up on stage to shadow, and then invited back to up shadow the Cool Down. Albeit not going to my normal maximum abilities and efforts (for safety), I still had fun. As for BODYFLOW™, while I normally do it to finish off Toronto LesMills LIVE, as I haven’t been cleared for actual yoga just yet by my physiotherapist, I kept my participation very minimal and safe. Afterwards, we got some pictures (including with Kristin Anderson, who was also at Amsterdam).

BODYATTACK™ Presenters and the 100 Winners.
With Kerri and Kristen.

We went back to the hotel so we could shower and get ready for the GoodLife Gala Awards. Days before, I bought myself a tuxedo as I wanted to look spiffy and sharp. Kerri wore a gorgeous and ravishing rose gold pink sequence, which she found in Ireland on our honeymoon. We arrived and saw familiar faces, including Atlantic folks, friends from elsewhere, and some fellow instructor Top 500 winners from the region. After some beverages, we headed over to the actual awards (the original venue got flooded and had to relocate to the Toronto Metro Convention Centre, which was a good spot). Some other East Coast friends were also up for awards, and I was quite proud of them. Several categories were awarded, and the recipients went on up to be recognized and honoured on stage.

Looking good at the Gala.

Then came the Group Fitness Instructor of Excellence awards. As they read off the category description, I smiled, and Kerri grabbed my hand, smiling as well. Then our names were read off to thunderous applause; Kelly Black, Many Dolley, Kathleen Fursey, Jarvis Googoo, Monica Lopez, and Like Wooliscroft (I also knew Luke from 2014 when we were both in the Top 20 Group Fitness Instructor of Excellence). Once my own name was called, my surrounding Atlantic folks erupted into cheers. I walked towards the stage beaming. Given how much I’m in love with my Group Fitness Instructing job with GoodLife for our members, it was truly one of my biggest honours to be recognized as a Top Six in the company (out of an average approximate 3,700). On stage, I gave Patch a gigantic hug (who quickly complimented my tux), along with Marian and Maureen “Mo” Hagan and my fellow recipients. After embracing, we stood side-by-side and close on the stage as Marian congratulated and praised us with a lovely speech:

So, on behalf of GoodLife, I want to express to you how extremely proud we are of each and everyone, not only for your abilities as amazing instructor, but for your kindness, the people who you are, and what you bring to your classes, every single day. You keep them motivated, you install in them a desire to be as fit and as healthy as they can be; you are role models and they look up to you and we thank you for everything you do.

Group Fitness Instructor of Excellence award winners (with Mo) listening to Marian’s speech.
Backstage shot. Photo credit to Brian at Tarsipix Studios.

Her words really touched me (as I’m sure if did for others). Afterwards, we went back stage for a group photo and a margarita shot. I briefly chatted with Luke, then went back to join my East Coast squad. We sat through the rest of the awards, applauding everyone on their recognition, as I knew they also worked hard for it. Then we all headed downstairs for the Gala celebrations (and some grub). Given I did some classes that day (and not being as conditioned as I was pre-injury), I decided to hold off my dancing until Sunday night on the Last Sail. So Kerri and I returned to our room. Upon arriving, I saw that my plaque (and gift) were waiting for me. I took a quick picture with it (still in my tux) prior to bedtime.

Back at the hotel with my award.

The next morning, I needed some contact cases (as I forgot to pack mine at my Airbnb). So I went up the street to grab some. Before going inside, I saw a homeless person with a sign, asking for food or money. Given how hot it was, I also grabbed a cold fruit drink, a sandwich fresh from the cooler, and something else that I can’t remember. He quietly thanked me as I told to please take care. Then I headed to the Toronto Metro Convention Centre to get my Top 500 badge. I quickly met up with Kerri’s relatives (who were in town) for brunch. I had to duck out early to get back to the rest of the celebrations. I arrived ahead of scheduled and didn’t miss anything. We got a glimpse of a new upcoming GoodLife campaign, which really appealed to me as it also featured a First Nations story. We had some keynote speakers, and I truly enjoyed the ones from the Atlantic region (one being an immigrant and the other with a disability), both which were inspiring as they spoke about GoodLife and how exercise has helped them.

Afterwards, I went back to my hotel to rest up a tad bit. Alone in my room, I killed some time with various YouTube videos. I watched some moving scenes, such as the trainings (and deaths) from Rocky III and Rocky IV, and The Lords of the Rings: The Return of the King (“I can carry you,” and “You bow to no one”). Then my eyes started to water, and I had both a sad and happy cry, which was good for my soul. I thought of my hero Donald Marshall Junior and Clint. One comment I read on YouTube reminded me of Clint and Kerri: “I think every man wants a woman like Adrian, and a best friend like Apollo. A woman who is always going to have your back and lift you up, and a best friend who can rival you and push you to your furthest limits as a person…” Although Clint has been gone for over a decade, I still think of him pushing and motivating me, and it reminded me of Kerri, who always lifts me up when I experience darker moments in life. As always, I was thankful for my blessings, appreciating how fortunate I am to do what I do for my class participants, for First Nations communities and health, and everything else.

Nearing 5:50 p.m., I met up with Genevieve and Graeme (fellow Atlantic Top 500 winners) and we made our way towards the Last Sail. We got on the boat and headed to the lower level for food (they feed you well on the boat). We saw other East Coast friends, so we went over to chat. Eventually it was just me, Genevieve and Graeme, and John Marsh (Divisional Manager for the Atlantic). We spoke quite a bit about Group Fitness, ideas to continue to promote and push it, engagements with instructors and our members, and other things related. As we ended the conversation, I told John that I’m 100% on-board to help Group Fitness and was very open to a follow-up meeting.

East Coast folks.

The Last Sail was both great but also a little sad. Given the company is growing, recognizing and fitting the top Associates on the boat was something that can’t be done anymore. So it was a little sad that this was the last time that we’d be on the boat for Top 500; the Last Sail. But of course, we wanted to end it with a bang. As I was tired the previous night, I wanted to make up for it, so I sure to really bust some dance moves on the second floor, working up a great sweat. An impromptu dance contest started, and I did make the final six (but just couldn’t win the top one). I had numerous side conversations in more quiet spots on the boat, went back to some dancing on different levels, and before we knew it, we docked. As people left the boat, Patch was bidding us all good-night. I shook his hand, told him that I’ve been teaching at GoodLife for seven years, and that it was the greatest job ever. He thanked me for my loyal service. Then Genevieve, Graeme, and I made our way back to the hotel.

On Monday morning, I had a good breakfast at the hotel, but didn’t want to eat too much as I was to be on stage with the fellow Group Fitness Instructor of Excellence winners, shadowing Mo for a short Nubody workout. Earlier in the month, Julie Young had asked us Group Fitness Instructor of Excellence winners to submit inspirational member experiences. While I did have many to share, unfortunately I was on the road a lot that weekend and wasn’t able to get something put together in time (Luke wasn’t able to either). Nevertheless, it was beautiful to listen to my fellow winners talk about how Group Fitness touched the lives of their members. It reminded me how privileged I was to be able to do something that I loved so much that brought happiness and health to others. In addition to Mo’s workout (which was fun to shadow), we also did another one with Kim Lavender (and it was my first time using a Hurdle). Once all was done, we departed. I got a few selfies and went to go get my Top 500 jacket, but they ran out of Men’s Large. I went over to someone who was to help me, and Patch overheard me say that they’re out of my size. He asked what I size I wore and I told him. Then he literally gave me his jacket off his back. It fit virtually perfectly (Patch is just slightly taller than I am), and I thanked him for it.

Random Monday morning shot.
Patch just gave me his jacket. Wela’lin.

Kayla Short told Kerri about how great the pool was at the Sheraton, who then told me. Thinking that I wanted to try it (and having no time since my Saturday check-in), I requested a late check-out and went for a dip. It was a lovely pool that was both indoors and outdoors. I did a few laps to compliment my earlier morning workouts but didn’t want to push things as I still need to pack.

Once packed, I checked-out, grabbed a lunch at Jack Astor’s, and ended up sitting next to some fellow Top 500 winners, whom I congratulated. Afterwards, I walked towards Billy Bishop with my luggage (I try to walk as much as possible for the exercise and FitBit Steps). Not only was I a bit early, our flight was a little delayed. I found fellow Haligonians, and I sat with Kelly Davis, an instructor based at the Sackville GoodLife. We spoke for a while about fitness and mental health, and I even opened up about my story of Clint’s suicide and how it affected and depressed me. She also shared stories with me, and some inspiring ones from her members too. It was another great reminder of the magic that exercise can do for us and our members.

It’s been a few weeks since the wonderful long weekend in Toronto. I still think about it. Just like every canfitpro LesMills event that I’ve attended every year, I still reflect upon it, taking in what I’ve learned, and excited to continue to give back to our members. Looking forward to next year.

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