It All Started with Jane
On May 1, 1981 I pulled on my spandex and leg warmers and taught my first aerobics class. With only a Jane Fonda video under my elastic belt, and a cassette tape in the boom box, I led three women through a bunch of jumping around to the beat. I was hooked. 40 years later I’m so grateful to still be teaching. To be healthy enough to still be helping people smile through their sweat. I have pretty much seen it all…every fad and fitness fallacy as they rise and disappear. I have enough stories from the gyms and studios to fill volumes. Today I am taking a little walk down memory lane, mostly for my own entertainment. But I invite you to come along, especially if you’re curious about how we got to where we are in fitness and wellness.
As a kid, was not very athletic. I was skinny, with feet that were always too big for my body. Still are, but that’s another story. I found a love for dance, and learned that I had a natural sense of rhythm. I was in dance company in high school, but my tumbling and splits game was never strong enough for cheerleading. Another painful chapter for another day. But because I didn’t make cheer squad, I ran for student government. Best move I ever made in hindsight, because that sense of rhythm, and some leadership skills made me the perfect candidate for an emerging career and my destiny…up and coming aerobics instructor.
In 1981, Jane Fonda and her leg warmers were all the rage. I was working as a receptionist at a small women’s health club called “Sophisticated Lady” in Utah. They were struggling financially and were unable to pay their instructors. One Monday morning, the instructor called in and quit, and there were three women who demanded a class. My boss threw me and my side ponytail out there, with a boom box, a cassette tape, and a couple of moves from Jane’s VHS tape. I stepped onto the lime-green shag carpeting between the thigh master machines. Barefoot, shiny tights, leg warmers and a stretchy belt. I pushed play and we started jumping and twisting and ‘feeling the burn’.
Slowly, those three stressed out women started to smile, and then…that magic moment. One of them “wooooed”! Best compliment you can give your fitness instructor by the way is to contribute to the energy in the room with a loud WOOO! At the end of the hour, we were laughing and sweaty, and I made three new friends. I still remember their names. Diane, Ruth and Janene, thank you for helping me find my calling. It started there.
Aerobics Pays for College
That fall I left for college, and already knew I wanted to be in the wellness field. I chose Health Education with a dance minor. I taught aerobics and made enough money to put myself through college. My favorite and pretty much best paying teaching gig to date happened at Utah State University. They let me use a wrestling gym and I charged $1 for a class. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday I stood at the door as 80-100 students came in and handed me their dollar. I eventually had to invest in a bigger boom box, which was as big as the back seat of my VW Bug!
Hey Everybody…It’s Time for Rebound Aerobics!
In 1986, I auditioned for, and got the lead in “Rebound Aerobics”, an aerobics video using those cute little mini trampolines. It was hilarious. The company that produced it was WESLO, based in Logan, Utah. I worked for them for 15 years, as they became ICON Health and Fitness. During those years, I traveled all over the world, working trade shows, selling products on HSN, and spreading the gospel of fitness. I was on the development team for iFit.com which was the leader in what is now on demand workouts. At one point, I led a workout for a Vogue Magazine writer who was in her home in France!
Hey Let’s Open a Gym!
In 1989, I was teaching classes at a great little gym in SLC, and got wind that they were struggling financially. Yes, there is a theme here. Fitness is a tough biz. There was a space right down the street that a gym had just moved out of, so in my niavetè, I said ‘that sounds like fun’, and opened Anatomy Academy. Eight fantastic instructors came with me, and on opening day, we had 200 members show up! I couldn’t afford office furniture, so for 6 months, my desk was two giant camping coolers stacked on each other.
Step is Born
That year, we went to a fitness convention where this amazing woman, Gin Miller was presenting. She was a fitness instructor who had knee surgery, and her doctor had told her to step up and down on her stairs to re-hab her knee. That was boring, so she had a box built, and step aerobics was born. To be in that ballroom, as they unloaded hundreds of wooden boxes, and then to dance with her on those boxes was unbelievable. The ‘woos’ in that class were deafening. We all knew this was going to be BIG. We came home, hired a cabinet maker to build us some boxes, splashed sparkly blue and silver paint on them, and away we went. Over the top! Around the end! Repeater! Fun times indeed.
I started a corporate wellness company before that was even a thing! I called it ‘The Fitness Factor’. I had 20 corporate clients who paid me to roll up in my Suzuki Samurai loaded with fitness testing equipment, and yes, that huge boom box. I was able to hire a team of instructors and we helped stressed out employees shake it up over their lunch hours.
Anatomy Academy in it’s Heyday
In 1991, we moved to the Triad Center and became THE hot spot. Reebok had come along with actual step benches by then, and we hosted an annual STEPtacular outdoors in the amphitheater. ‘Buns of Steel’ Tamilee Webb taught classes for us. Madonna came to our gym when she was in town with Dennis Rodman. And yes, it’s true. I did have to ask them to stop making out on the weight room floor. You know, member complaints. Many celebrities and pro athletes hung out at Anatomy Academy. It was a fun time in the fitness world, I will never forget the friends I made there.
1993 came along with Indoor Cycling and we jumped on that trend. Which by the way is still going strong. I am so happy to see that with all that has come and gone, cycle still serves! We were lifting bars and dumbells to the beat long before Les Mills branded that style.
We were across the street from where the Utah Jazz played, so Karl Malone taught classes for us off season. He would show up and kick our butts, no fans and no water until ‘Karl Malone said so’. That guy was, and still is an icon in sports, and in fitness.
My Knight in Shining Sweatpants
In 1995, I married Michael Druce. Seriously, the best decision I ever made. He is my best cheerleader, idea man, and he literally saved my business by selling off his Karmann Ghia to pay my past taxes. He had been a good friend for 10 years, and a member of the gym. He had a great business mind, and got to work helping me with my lack of business savvy. The Triad Center had become more and more difficult for a small mom and pop business like ours. We had survived a tornado (literally) a bomb threat, a shooter, a huge arts festival that shut us down every summer, Jazz playoffs that made it impossible for our members to get into the gym, and of course competition. In the late 90s, 24-Hour fitness and other chains had come on strong, selling for a fraction of what we needed to charge.
SHE & Company
We now had a 2-year-old and we were becoming responsible adults. In 2000 we sold our baby. Not the 2-year-old, the business. We handed our wonderful members over to the Sports Mall and we took over a women’s gym. We renamed it SHE & Company, and a new era began. We focused on helping women of all ages, and in all seasons of their lives work out in a place that was safe and inviting. Again, so many wonderful memories were made there. I was surrounded by wonderful instructors, trainers, and members. It was all about Girl Power and the experience of women lifting up women.
Yoga Enters My World
It was in 2000 that I took my first yoga training. We hosted a weekend event and I got a comp spot. I had just had a miscarriage, and I was struggling. I thought yoga was just going to be another tool in my fitness toolkit, but I was wrong. It ended up being the one thing that had been missing. I cried through that whole weekend, and knew I was right where I was supposed to be.
Little by little, yoga drew me in. My students started calling my cycle classes ‘cycle church’. I taught less impact and more insight. Less no-pain-no-gain, more listen-to-your-body. I still teach fitness and cycle classes but as my body ages, it loves yoga more and more. And I definitely embrace the mind-body component of all physical exercise.
Oh Yes, and I Did This Little Thing
Between 2000-2003 I snuck in a Masters Degree in Public Health, and during that time had another baby boy.
In 2005, we were now the club that was struggling. It’s a tough biz. We had tried everything. It was a great community with a great mission. But not enough to be profitable. We gave birth to Druce Boy #3 and I remember vividly the dinner conversation when Michael said, “we’re not putting three boys through college with health club revenues”. So we decided to sell. Again, I felt like I was giving away a child. I had grown to love the sisterhood that had formed in that space. My identity (and control freak-ness) was tied to being a gym owner, and calling the shots. Now I was going back full circle to ‘just being an instructor’.
24 Hour Fitness
I called my good friend and all-around amazing human being, Pam Mechling who was director of Group X at 24 Hour Fitness. She hired me over the phone. I went in to workout on my own, and stepped onto a treadmill. The song ‘Lessons Learned’ by Carrie Underwood came through my headphones and as I sweat and looked around my new home gym, I cried it out.
I’m thankful, for every break in my heart
I’m grateful, for every scar
Some pages turned
Some bridges burned
But there were lessons learned
Change again. Goodbyes again. Reinventing myself again. Loss and grief. I felt lost. I had no idea of the joy that was just ahead of me.
The only class available was a Mommy and Me fitness class at the Murray location. I had a little dude so I said YES…put me in coach! The women I met there are still some of my favorite people. We now have teenagers, and I am so grateful for those mornings laughing and sweating together while our little ones sat watching from their little carriers.
I slowly added classes and began to thrive in this new environment. Cycle, Total Body Conditioning, Dirty Friday Boot Camp, and of course, yoga. There was so much energy at our 24 Hour clubs. Huge classes, dedicated members, true friendships. I met my. BFF Juliie Bush there, and for that alone, I will be forever grateful. For 14 years, I grew to love the members and staff at these clubs. I loved the ‘surprise and delight’ of teaching REAL yoga in a gym setting. I got to be the first yoga teacher to so many people who are now dedicated yogis.
Another milestone for me was in a cycle training at 24 Hour Fitness with Master Trainer Doris Thews. She saw something in me, and we connected. She is an incredible “lifter of people” and she lifted me. She made some calls and I was invited to be on the Master Trainer Team for 24 Hour Fitness, and eventually, for Schwinn. Since then, I have had the honor of meeting and training thousands of indoor cycling instructor/rockstars. Schwinn is a top tier company and I am so grateful that I am able to represent them and help instructors #RideRight, the Schwinn way.
A Yoga Trainer…Finally
In 2009 I finally finished my 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training. I went through a modular program which allowed me to add pieces to my training as life and kids and money permitted. Nine years and $11 thousand later I was a certified yoga teacher. I became a trainer for YogaFit and again, had the privilege of meeting hundreds of amazing people, helping them along the path I had been on.
I got my 500 Hour certificate, and worked with Yogafit to create a Yoga Teacher Training program at the University of Utah. Those two organizations couldn’t work things out, so eventually, I created my own program, Yoga Assets. I led my first 200 Hour training in January of 2015 and to date, we have graduated over 800 amazing yoga teachers!
In April 2015 we had another little surprise. My husband and I sat in a doctors’ office and heard those words…you have cancer. Breast Cancer to be exact. Because I had a history of breast cancer in my family, we made the decision to get radical. I had a double mastectomy in May, and by the grace of God, today I am 6 years cancer free. I had a friend say to me at the beginning of my diagnosis, “you know you chose this don’t you?” My response of course was “the hell I did”. But she was right. My soul knew that the things I learned going through that gave me insights, empathy and an inner wisdom that I could only get from that exact experience. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in hindsight. Cancer taught me to “stand at the soft edge of the hard place”.
I am a “what’s next” person and a lifelong learner, so when the invitation to continue my education and training in yoga came up I jumped in. I did 1000 hours of learning with Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy, under the guidance and wisdom of Michael Lee, a man who has deep insights and rich life experience. The 4 year journey to become a Yoga Therapist was as much for me and my personal inner work as it was for the clients I now serve. I learned to teach yoga in a Trauma Informed and Trauma Sensitive way, and to hold the conditions necessary for creating safe spaces where people can do their own work. I now understand that the best teacher for you is YOU.
Yoga in Prison
The more I worked with these populations, the more I was drawn to taking a mentors’ advice and “go to my wounds”. Seane Corn advises yoga teachers to find their path of service by going back into the places that caused their pain. My Dad spent 15 years in prison. That was one of my darkest times, and once I made this connection, I knew where I needed to be. I sent one email and was invited to teach yoga to inmates at the Utah State Prison. This led to creating a Yoga Teacher Training inside the prison for both women and men, and we are about to graduate the first ever 500 Hour Yoga Teacher who is serving a life sentence. She will go on to becoming a Yoga Trainer for us, and run ongoing trainings ‘on the inside’. I was honored to deliver this TED Talk, sharing her story.
In 2017, my BFF Julie Bush and I started a non-profit called Yoga Forward to support these programs. 4 years later, we are running Teacher Training programs for incarcerated people, the BIIPOC community, the LGBTQ+ community, and our stressed out school teachers. We exist to “Take Yoga Where it Isn’t”.
I have had the incredible opportunity to represent Lululemon as a Legacy Ambassador. This company has such a beautiful community outreach philosophy. Together, we have created fabulous outdoor and indoor yoga gatherings that have brought thousands of yogis together in community. Lululemon has been a very generous donor that has given us the opportunity to take yoga into populations that desperately need it.
Early in 2020, as we all went into lockdown, I opened my laptop and started teaching virtual classes, not only for my local students, but quickly to friends from around the country. The technology was a learning curve, but I enjoyed the challenge of again, reinventing myself and learning and creating something new. When 24 Hour closed their Utah doors for good, it was another heartbreak for sure. But also an opportunity.
To date, I have taught hundreds of virtual classes, to thousands of students. I have posted all of them on a YouTube channel, and am being compensated through generous student donations. I do miss the in-person connections, but I absolutely love teaching in this way. I can reach more people, and my students love having the freedom to practice from home, or wherever they are. When one door closes…
If you’re still with me, chances are you are my age and you can relate to this walk down memory lane. Or, you’re curious about where it all came from. Here’s the thing I want to end with, what I have really learned in these four decades.
- Fitness is a multi-billion dollar business, and it has been strewn with quick fix BS. Products and potions that don’t work, but that promise easy and fast results. Think Thighmaster, ab belts that shock the fat off, rollers that roll away the cellulite, pills that dissolve the fat, diets that come and go. I have always stood on the fundamentals. Find something you love to do. Move your body every day. Sweat. Drink water. Eat healthy food. You know what that is. It’s not steak and butter.
- We killed a lot of really great modalities by making them too complicated and exclusive. Step was a great exercise modality and so many people loved it. Until instructors got bored, and started doing double, triple and quad step, making it impossible for new students to give it a try. Little by little, step faded.
I see that happening in cycle now. A modality that has helped millions of people achieve their goals, is now veering away from the things that make it effective. Super fast pedal speeds, dumbells on the handle bars, bands from the ceiling, we’re trading effectiveness for entertainment. Just like step.
Yoga too. The more we put goats on our backs, and weights in our hands, the less we get from the actual yoga. Fundamentals. Basics. Less is more.
I am not sure what the future holds, none of us do. But I do know that we’re not going back. My mission, since that first aerobics class back in 1981 has been to make fitness fun, to help people smile through their sweat. To help my students feel the joy of moving their bodies, and to be comfortable in their own skin.
I am committed to waking up every morning until it’s my last, making the world a better place by helping people FEEL better. I thrive on training new yoga teachers who share the same vision; let’s take yoga into all the places where it is not right now. We teach a style of yoga that is inclusive, accessible, we make yoga a YES for EVERY body.
Thank you for taking the time to read these ramblings. Sincere and deep gratitude to every single person that has shared any of these times with me. I cannot sufficiently express my gratitude for those that paved the way, for the students that showed up, and continue to show up. You allow me to do what I love…teach.
If you made it to the end, PLEASE drop a comment and tell me which parts of this timeline brought a smile to your face. I have loved every step, pedal stroke, and yoga pose on the road so far. I have made a living wearing stretchy pants and making people healthier and happier. And I am just getting started. I can’t wait to continue growing and sharing this community with you on the road ahead.