Coming on as an owner of Vagus Fitness, a unique gym in Royal Oak that focuses on individual personal training, was a huge leap of faith for 40-something Leslie McKernon, her two partners, and her family. Just as Leslie upholds the notion of living authentic in everyway, the trio of owners maintain that they do not just own a gym; they live it through their lifestyles.
“There is nothing bad about being really good at one thing and owning it – killing it,” declares McKernon.
When asked why her clients keep coming back, Leslie’s answer is that it is her sparkle. That answer generates a giggle from her, and everyone around her, not because it is untrue, but because there is much more to Leslie McKernon. The beautiful sparkle is just like the icing on top of a multilayered cake, with each layer bursting with as much depth, flavour and richness as the last.
In 2010, her twin girls had started school and their older sister was in grade 4. After being stay-at-home mom since the twins were born, she was contemplating either offering personal training on her own, or taking a teaching job for the Calgary Catholic School Board.
“Looking back on it, it truly was that all the stars aligned.”
Passionate about fitness and a teacher by nature, Leslie came on board as an older, mature female to help two young guys with a growing business. She said that although it seemed risky from the outside to partner up with men in there 20s, they had already done a lot to prove themselves.
“The groundwork had been done,” she said.
Partner Adam Browne, a business major, appreciates that McKernon is committed to the lifestyle, and he values her ability to keep clients motivated by continuing to challenge them.
“Clients need to get something out of their workouts on a continuous basis. She does a good job with new challenges, creating new results,” Browne says about McKernon.
But, before Leslie could say yes, she had to go home and convince her husband, Harvey (who said out loud the first time he saw his wife that he was going to marry her), and her three girls, (one of which has congenital muscular dystrophy).
Harvey and Leslie began a friendship after meeting as students the U of C. Harvey describes his wife as determined and loyal, with incredibly strong willpower. He says she is “everything beautiful on the exterior,” but that he has had to poke beneath the surface to really find the inner drives.
“She is now comfortable and confident in who she is, and how she feels,” discloses Harvey McKernon.
Dylan Kate, 15, was their first-born. Four years later, twins, Abbey and Blaire arrived.
As Leslie kept records of feedings and diaper changes of the twins, she began to notice differences in their development. Leslie knew deep down something was wrong.
It was not until the twins were three-years-old that the McKernons received the muscular-dystrophy diagnosis for Blaire McKernon, after the doctors did a muscular biopsy. Although Leslie said that her husband took the news harder than she did, Harvey maintains that it was not the diagnosis, but the process to the diagnosis that was the most difficult for him. He said in many ways he felt relieved that they could stop the testing and wondering, and just let his daughter be a kid.
“Special needs are special for a reason; they make us better human beings,” revealed Harvey.
Congenital Muscular dystrophy is a disease that involves increasing weakening of skeletal muscles; as of now, there is no cure.
“You never know what it means, it depends on your perception of difficult. It just means more challenges,” explains Leslie.
Leslie said that she doesn’t think she grieved her daughter’s diagnosis because she did not want to show or see it as a sign of weakness. She is unsure if that was for herself or her daughter.
“I don’t know if I have a right to grieve.”
As a working mother, Leslie said there are times she goes through phases of guilt. Yet she knows that she has to let the guilt go because of how fulfilling her career is to her and how important it is to her to remain authentic. Her family agrees.
“This is what you love to do,” said Abbey to her mom.
Abbey McKernon said that her and her mother are similar because they are both “super active” and they have the same smart comebacks.
Being the oldest of the three, having a sibling who has challenges, and a busy working mother, Dylan-Kate McKernon has learned try to see the whole picture before reacting to situations.
“It teaches me how I act around other people, I always take a step back and try to understand why they are thinking that way,” offered Dylan-Kate.
About her mother, Dylan-Kate said, “She taught me how to be myself.”
Blaire McKernon appreciates that her mother builds up her physical strength.
“She makes sure I am healthy!” declared Blaire.
All three children state that they have learned from their mom the importance of being kind to people.
Leslie said that her mentor of strength and example of resilience was her granny, Anne Tiefenbach, whom McKernon spent a lot of time with growing up.
“She was a strong, stubborn German lady.”
Vagus Fitness is a passion and a dream come true for a woman whose life was already established, but for her two partners, Vagus is their main bread and butter. For Leslie this a major motivator to succeed and to stay focused on the fact that as much as she may love what she does and cares about her clients, Vagus Fitness is not hobby, it is a business.
To maintain their goal of taking away the stigma and intimidation from fitness by making proper training available to anyone, Vagus concentrates on helping people gain confidence to go and do what they need to do, with the assurance they are doing it correctly and with the right skill set.
Leslie has learned about herself that she is sensitive, physically and emotionally, and that she has limitations. She said this realization has proven to be a great strength through vulnerability and empathy.
If there were one thing she could teach the entire world it would be that it is never too late.
“That could be ‘I am sorry’, or fitness or ‘I love you’.”
Authenticity is the world Leslie chose to sum up what she most desires in each aspect of wellness.
“Because then there’s no bullshit.”
Well said, my friend, well said. Thank you for being such an inspiration to us all. You are very loved by many.