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‘Everyone should be able to feel healthy and feel good’

How 3 grads are making moves in fitness and wellness
March 12, 2021
By Molly Hamilton

A researcher, a celebrity trainer and a fitness company CEO. Meet three Concordia alumnae impacting society through inspiring initiatives in the areas of health and well-being.

Valerie Desjardins, BA 04 Photo: Kelly Jacob

Valerie Desjardins: business owner, celebrity trainer and health coach

Personal trainer and fitness studio owner Valerie Desjardins, BA 04, took her passion for physical activity and nurtured it into a career. At Concordia, she served as captain of Stingers women’s varsity soccer and was named an all-star in 2002. She went on to play for Canada’s national soccer team and also captained a Roller Derby World Cup championship team. Desjardins has since used her experiences as a top athlete to develop a highly successful training method for high-profile clients such as Jennifer Aniston, Ariane Moffatt and Coeur de Pirate.

What do you most enjoy about your job?

Watching my clients evolve. Through our work they end up letting go of patterns that have been holding them back — lifestyle decisions, relationships, any energy that isn’t aligned with their goals. They begin to feel empowered and stronger on all levels, spreading that amazing energy into their communities. We use the body as a vehicle to strengthen the individual in all aspects of their lives.

What’s been the most exciting experience of your career?

Truthfully, I find every single day exciting in this industry. With COVID-19 I’ve had to pivot and develop a new approach with clients for personal training through devices online. It’s also pushed me to finally create my own digital platform, which has been a huge success. And yes, training Jennifer Aniston and taking care of Michelle Pfeiffer was pretty rad. I’m fortunate to be the go-to trainer for female celebrities when they film in Montreal.

How did Concordia contribute to your career?

I was the captain of the soccer team while I studied at Concordia. That sense of teamwork helped me with my business leadership skills. I was also inspired by a few professors in sociology and women’s studies who encouraged me to use my personal story to fuel my writing. It’s been a tool that I’ve used to express myself on social-media platforms and grow a solid online community.

Erin O’Loughlin, BA 05, GrDip 08, PhD 20 Photo: Sophy Cee Photography

Erin O’Loughlin: researcher par excellence

Even as a child, Erin O’Loughlin, BA 05, GrDip 08, PhD 20, knew she wanted a career related to physical activity. Her PhD research at Concordia focused on “exergaming” — physically active video games — and its potential to decrease sedentary behaviour in young people. O’Loughlin currently serves as a project coordinator at the Centre de recherche du Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal (CRCHUM) and is slated to begin postdoctoral work at the University of Toronto this spring. O’Loughlin is also involved in a research project called AdoQuest that assesses the effects of nicotine dependence in adolescents. 

What’s been the most exciting experience of your career?

Being one of Concordia’s Public Scholars in 2017! I just remember being so excited that I had this opportunity. It was a big highlight of my career because not a lot of people get to actually go out and talk about their research and have everyday people read about it.

What’s a common misconception people have about fitness and health?

That they have to lose weight to become healthy. There’s this notion that if you lose weight, you’ll be healthier. That’s not necessarily true. You can really do a lot of good for your body without weight loss being the main focus.

How did Concordia contribute to your career?

How did it not? I did my bachelor’s there, a graduate diploma in administration and a doctorate. I couldn’t be in the position that I’m in without Concordia. Also, Concordia has been really good to me in terms of support from my supervisors Tracie Barnett and Lisa Kakinami. The university allowed me to do research in a newer area, which I think is awesome.

Erin O’Loughlin, BA 05, GrDip 08, PhD 20 Photo: Adam Thompson

Sahra Esmonde-White: fitness television producer

Sahra Esmonde-White, BA 97, began her career as a health economist. Around the same time she decided to make a change, her mother — Miranda Esmonde-White, a former dancer with the National Ballet of Canada — created Essentrics, a dynamic workout designed to engage the muscles and joints. After it took off with everyone from seniors to Olympic athletes, the mother and daughter formed another company, also called Essentrics, to produce fitness and wellness-related content.

Sahra has since produced award-winning documentaries and hundreds of fitness shows, and has assembled a list of clients that includes British model and actress Lily Cole, Canadian actress Sarah Gadon and the Montreal Canadiens

What do you most enjoy about your job? 

Receiving testimonials from people telling us how much we’ve helped. It’s motivating to know we’re changing people’s lives and in such an accessible and affordable way. Everyone should be able to feel healthy and feel good. 

What advice do you have for anyone who wants to adopt a more active lifestyle? 

Find workouts you enjoy and be patient. If you can turn a small change into a new habit, then you’ll be ready to take on the next small change. Within a year or two, you’ll look back and be proud of how far you’ve come.

How did Concordia contribute to your career?

I truly enjoyed my time at Concordia and loved most of my classes and the style of teaching. The Department of Economics was very supportive. I really enjoyed the strong sense of community at the university.

The Concordia Alumni Women and Leadership program empowers women graduates to connect, share professional experiences and expertise, and learn from each other. In this series, meet leaders from among Concordia’s nearly 100,000 alumnae who fill the ranks of business, media, engineering, science, the arts, humanities and more.

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