Queen’s student develops fitness school out of self-isolation

Queen’s University Commerce student Jess Takimoto taught fitness classes through Instagram Live in self-isolation, and now she’s a business owner.

Anna Stafford

KINGSTON, Ont. — Jess Takimoto, 21, taught fitness classes through Instagram Live while she self-isolated in her hometown of Brampton, Ont., and in doing so, launched her own business.

COVID-19 forced Takimoto to cut her semester abroad in Singapore short, prompting her to move home and isolate back in March.

Takimoto wasn’t new to teaching fitness. She’s a certified personal trainer and fitness instructor, and she taught fitness classes at the Queen’s Athletics and Recreation Centre.

She also shared her fitness plans through Instagram in the past to keep momentum among her regular students, but her audience was small.

“I had no intention of starting a business; I just wanted to teach fitness classes,” Takimoto said.

At first, around 15 people normally attended her classes online, which were set to tracks of eight or nine songs and focused on either cardio, lower body, or abs and arms. She called it the School of Fitness.

By the middle of the summer, 40 to 50 people were signing on for each class, according to Takimoto’s longtime friend Brittany Giles.

Giles, a Brock University student, participates in Takimoto’s classes every day from St. Catharines, Ont., through livestreams.

“They’re the best parts of my days,” Giles said.

The classes helped Giles get back on track mentally, amid coronavirus fears and the obvious changes that COVID-19 brought to daily life.

A group of young women workout in a public park in Kingston, Ontario. Alexis Pascoal is their instructor.
Alexis Pascoal, in yellow,  leads a School of Fitness class on Oct. 12. Pascoal is training to be an instructor at School of Fitness. Anna Stafford/Kicker

Takimoto’s other students, mostly young women and Queen’s University students, had similar experiences.

Alexis Pascoal, 20, started attending Takimoto’s classes in May.

“As someone who sits at my desk all day and does work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., it’s a break that you need in your day,” Pascoal said.

Kate Rochon, 20, said that the classes helped her get out of bed during quarantine when there was nothing else to do.

“It was something I looked forward to every day,” Rochon said.

In May Takimoto started charging $5 a week for five classes per week, instead of returning to her job at the Queen’s Athletics and Recreation Centre. After one month of charging this small fee, Takimoto realized she had a small business on her hands.

It was her commerce education that allowed her to brand herself, market her business and see the opportunity that was in front of her.

“I was in the right place, at the right time, but I also had the right experience. . .,” Takimoto said.

As the first wave of COVID-19 subsided, Takimoto eventually made her way back to Kingston, Ont. (home of Queen’s University). Here she started filming her livestreams in Victoria Park in downtown Kingston.

As Takimoto continued to teach via livestream, she casually invited others to join her in person behind the camera. During the first week, in-person attendance in the park grew steadily.

“Monday we had 25 people, and Tuesday we had 35 people, and then Wednesday we had 45 people, and Thursday we had 55 people,” Takimoto said.

This steady increase was the result of organic growth. People brought their roommates, who brought other friends, and so on.

Takimoto says this response proves that Queen’s students crave community right now. After all, they face long and often isolated days of online classes. There are also fewer and fewer opportunities to socialize as COVID-19 cases increase.

The class instructor looks into camera to encourage those working out from home and watching through a livestream
Alexis Pascoal looks into the camera to encourage those working out from home. Twelve people participated via livestream. Anna Stafford/Kicker

“Even if we are social distancing, we’re still making those connections and helping each other get through it and relating to each other too,” said Lexie Ingoldsby, who joined the School of Fitness in September.

“It introduced me to this huge community of people otherwise I probably would never would have met,” Kirsten Miller, 19, said.

Some participants even said that the School of Fitness classes are the only time they get to leave their house, besides getting groceries.

“I literally joined every single day just so I could communicate with people”, Pascoal said, laughing.

Several of the participants also emphasized how they have grown in self-confidence since joining the School of Fitness. This increased confidence benefits their overall mental health as they navigate the pandemic.

“Body confidence, all types of confidence, have gone way up”, Rochon said.

A group of women workout in public park in Kingston, Ontario.
School of Fitness students participate in class on Oct. 12. Twenty-one attended in person. The business had to cap registration at 25 due to new COVID-19 regulations. Anna Stafford/Kicker

Takimoto’s mission has always been to boost the confidence of each person in her class. “We rise by lifting others” is one of Takimoto’s favourite quotes, and she has adopted it as a philosophy for her business.

As for the future of the School of Fitness, Takimoto filed for incorporation two weeks ago. Classes now cost $8 a week for students, with two classes each day, five days a week. For non-students the cost is $10 per week. All classes are livestreamed.

Additionally, six of her regular students, including Pascoal, are now training to become instructors for the School of Fitness. Takimoto isn’t interested in running a one-woman show. She brings others along with her – and this is just the beginning for her and her business.

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