Members of her Fitness Junkies club are almost giddy when they talk about training with Johnston-Isenor, and how the Falmouth woman inspires them to push themselves — and others — towards a healthy body and mind.
“I can't even imagine my life before it, to be honest with you,” says Janet Singleton, who first met Johnston-Isenor in 2010.
Singleton said as she was struggling with the death of a family member, one of her friends reached out and encouraged her to attend a night of boxing.
“After humming and hawing, I finally gave it a whirl and I loved it right from the beginning,” said Singleton.
“It became more to me than just exercise itself. It was an outlet where a bunch of people just got together with all different stories to tell, aside from the exercise,” she said.
How it all began
Johnston-Isenor didn't set out to become a fitness guru — it's something that happened naturally, over time.
Born in rural Prince Edward Island, Johnston-Isenor said she had an active childhood, playing outdoors and enjoying what each season had to offer.
She says she largely shied away from organized sport during her teenage years — she did play on the volleyball team — but found other ways to incorporate activity into her day.
“I was very concerned about what other people thought and so it prevented me from doing a lot of things that I love,” Johnston-Isenor confided.
By university, she began focusing more on her studies and less on her well-being. Then the epiphany came.
“I became very overweight. At one point, I saw a picture of myself and I didn't realize that I wasn't my former self. So something clicked in my brain,” said Johnston-Isenor. “I didn't want to be this person that is completely inactive and not happy. So I changed it. I went back to what I loved. I played. I went outside; I biked and I ran.”
She says seeing her sister, Lori Johnston, run a half-marathon really inspired her.
Johnston-Isenor, who had studied everything from arts and history to anthropology and ecosystem management, finally found her calling.
“When I was working in the environmental field, I started following a passion for fitness,” said Johnston-Isenor.
She moved to Hants County in 2007.
“When I moved here, I really started carving out my community. I found running friends. I found a boxing club,” said Johnston-Isenor.
That boxing club dissolved after about a year, and the women in the club asked her if she'd be interested in keeping it going.
“There wasn't many women involved but we had a blast. We called ourselves the Falmouth Boxing Beauties,” said Johnston-Isenor, who was on the path of becoming a certified trainer.
“It really sparked an interest and passion in me that I didn't even know existed.”
She's now a Can Fit Pro personal training specialist, nutrition and wellness specialist, and pre- and post-natal fitness specialist. She also acquired coach status from both the Canadian Amateur Boxing Association and Fitness Kickboxing Canada.
Launching a business
“It was basically run as a not-for-profit community group and I saw the potential in it and one step at a time, I took the steps to develop it as a business and become certified and be more legit,” said Johnston-Isenor.
Fitness Junkies is now four years old, and, within the last couple of years, has become her full-time job.
“I decided to take the leap and follow what made me happy. There's so many things that I can be grateful for in that time of my life but the biggest thing that helped me in making that decision was meeting Lisa Wood, who was a Hants County mom,” said Johnston-Isenor.
Wood fought a courageous battle with cancer and kept a blog that detailed her ups and downs.
“We started reaching out to each other and she said we were cut from the same cloth. We had kids the same age, we were around the same age, and through her story, she made me realize that life is too short and you have to be happy,” said Johnston-Isenor.
“I felt like I was at an intersection. I got to choose: do I go back the same path and do what's comfortable, which was my full-time lovely job with great pension and benefits and easy to do, or do I travel down this path that's bumpy and windy and turny but my God it's a fun ride?” recalled Johnston-Isenor.
“I made the decision. I said screw it. After Lisa passed away, I said life is too short. I've got to do this. I'm going to give it my all.”
Johnston-Isenor says she's never been happier. And that happiness appears to be infectious.
Singleton said Johnston-Isenor exudes energy.
“She's one of the most bubbly personalities that you'll ever meet. She's just so motivating,” said Singleton.
“I would encourage anybody to try it. In fact, I've gotten many people there — people who never thought they could do a burpee or a pull up and then when they achieve that, it's like 'wow, perhaps I didn't believe in myself in the beginning but there was somebody who actually did.'”
Singleton said she never would have believed she'd run a marathon distance — but she has.
“I think that anything is possible,” said Singleton.
A positive role model
About two years ago, Melissa Whitehead attended a Fitness Junkies class with a friend. She felt welcome right from the get-go.
“I was totally amazed. She just welcomed me right in. She was bubbly and energetic and... she's just got that personality that makes you want to keep coming back,” said Whitehead.
Although Whitehead was active before joining the group, she enjoyed cardio, Johnston-Isenor inspired her to try strengthening her core through weight training.
Whitehead said she has not only improved her fitness level but her self-esteem.
“I wanted to be able to feel strong and confident in my abilities, so for me, she gives me the opportunity to push myself further to become stronger and just be more confident in myself,” said Whitehead.
Johnston-Isenor says everyone can benefit from exercise — and all classes are suitable to all body types.
“I'm a big believer in intervals so instead of making everybody go at the same pace, I set up times,” said Johnston-Isenor, noting that someone may be able to do 20 squats in 30 seconds, while someone else might do five to 10.
“It's about moving at your own pace and in your own comfort zone and finding out that you are incredible the way that you are and not worrying about what other people are thinking or what you think that you should be doing,” said Johnston-Isenor.
“It's about achieving the best with what you have now,” she said.
Although Johnston-Isenor does hold a limited number of one-on-one sessions, she prefers the classes.
“The energy you get from Fitness Junkies — the group atmosphere — is incredible. It's contagious,” said Johnston-Isenor. “That's why I went with the name Fitness Junkies. You crave that group dynamic. You crave that energy that you get from other people.”
Whitehead said she'd recommend Johnston-Isenor's classes to anyone.
“She can accommodate everybody. She just makes everyone feel welcome, at every fitness level,” said Whitehead.
About a dozen of the original members of the Falmouth Boxing Beauties have continued on with Johnston-Isenor over the years. Seeing them continue to progress and thrive has been rewarding — and so too is meeting new people and watching them blossom.
“God love the people who have been here for the 10 years — I love them and I'm so grateful for them — but it's the new people that keep me going. When they come in and I see those smiles after one workout and see that sense of pride it's incredible. It feeds my soul,” said Johnston-Isenor.