Jen Pelesky Velasquez describes her younger self as an overachiever but without a sense of direction. A natural athlete, Jen wasn’t drawn to any particular sport and spent 15 years working an office job, where she met her wife, Irma Velasquez Pelesky.
“I still remember what she was wearing the first time I was introduced to her,” Irma recalls. The two became good friends, watching “American Idol” and eating lunches together at work.
“When I learned that Jen was vegetarian, I began to attempt to cook meals to share with her,” Irma says. “I started to invite her to hang out with my group of friends—and the rest, as they say, is history.” The couple dated for seven years and got married in 2014.
Eventually, the corporate job began to wear on Jen, who was also experiencing a number of serious health issues, including gastrointestinal problems, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis—something she doesn’t believe was a coincidence. “[The job] was a steady income, but I wasn’t passionate about it,” Jen recalls. “I grew miserable because so much of my time was devoted to an industry I wasn’t interested in, caused me constant stress, and did not give me a sense of purpose.”
So two years ago, Jen resigned from her job and took her health into her own hands. “I knew I wanted to be a catalyst for people to find a healthier lifestyle, so I thought, Where do I find people who care about being healthy? I decided the gym would be the best place,” she says.
The couple moved from Folsom to Fairfield, California, where Irma works in human resources for T-Mobile. Jen decided to work part time for 24 Hour Fitness. “Since I had been a member at 24 Hour Fitness in Sacramento and had created good relationships with some of the group fitness instructors, personal trainers, staff and members there, it was the first place I looked,” she says.
She started in sales but quickly discovered her passion: group fitness. After taking a number of classes, Jen decided to pursue her teaching certifications at the encouragement of her instructors. She started with Les Mills SPRINT, then Schwinn cycle, followed by POP Pilates. With every class she took, Jen always encouraged Irma to join her.
“I was reluctant to go at first, and my first attempt with BODYCOMBAT was not a good one, mostly because I didn’t know what I was doing and it was a lot to take in all at once,” Irma recalls. “I felt a little overwhelmed, but the instructor was really great. I remember hearing her say, ‘Keep coming back and add more until you get the groove of it and get used to the different moves and techniques.’ And that’s exactly what I did.”
Last summer, Jen asked Irma to join her at a BODYCOMBAT master class hosted by Les Mills legend Rachael Newsham in San Jose, California. Irma was blown away by the experience. ““I had never seen such enthusiasm and excitement. Rachael’s energy, passion and the love she poured upon us was extremely inspiring and powerful.”
After the class, Newsham stayed to talk to the group, and she asked who was an instructor and who was planning on becoming an instructor.
“I had never thought about becoming a group fitness instructor because I already had a full-time job and I was completing online college courses to obtain my bachelor’s degree,” Irma recalls. “It was in that very moment I turned to Jen, raised my hand slowly and committed to getting certified in BODYCOMBAT.”
In September, the couple completed their BODYCOMBAT training and received their teaching certification. Currently, Irma and Jen have been subbing local classes, and Jen continues to teach her regular Les Mills SPRINT and POP Pilates classes, as well. Jen, who recently completed her fitness nutrition specialist certification, is also working on her NASM personal training certification, and she spends her days working on her nutritional coaching business.
Jen says it’s beautiful to see how much Irma has leaned into something so new and outside her comfort zone. “My wife is apprehensive and basically afraid of any change,” she says. “I had a moment when she was practicing before her BODYCOMBAT assessment video where I thought, Is that really her? She was so natural, so engaging, commanding the room with confidence but so aware of and kind to the people in front of her. I’ve never seen her in that capacity in any other environment. It was almost magical.”
She Said, She Said
Favorite Group X class to teach/take?
JPV: Hands down, nonnegotiably, I am passionately, borderline obsessed with Les Mills SPRINT. My favorite day of the week is Tuesday because I teach a POP Pilates class and SPRINT back-to-back, and that combination is straight-up magic.
IVP: My favorite class to take is SPRINT and favorite class to teach is BODYCOMBAT.
Do you take your partner’s classes?
JPV: Absolutely, we support each other as much as possible. If she is teaching, the only reason I am not there cheering her on is because I was already committed to teaching somewhere else.
IVP: Yes, absolutely! Jen is such a fun, energetic, goofy and positive motivator. I love going to her classes as much as I can because I always leave feeling challenged and accomplished.
What do you love most about your partner?
JPV: She is my complement and my balance. She is strong in the places I am not, and she keeps me grounded. She is so likeable and easygoing. I know I am better with her, and when I’m around her, she brings out the best in me.
IVP: I really love to see her teach group fitness classes because that is when she is in her element. She shines like a bright diamond, and she spreads joy while simultaneously challenging her class participants to push their limits. What I really love the most is how open she is with trying something new no matter how difficult it may be and how she inspires others to make people feel accomplished and good about themselves. Most importantly for me, I love how she has inspired me to look within myself and believe in myself that I can be a great group fitness instructor.
Go-to pump-up song?
JPV: It changes all the time, and any song I’ve anchored explosive movement to (basically any song on any Les Mills release) pumps me up. But currently, “High Hopes” by Panic at the Disco always gets me going.
IVP: Kelly Clarkson’s “Love So Soft” or anything by Imagine Dragons.
When I’m not teaching group fitness classes, I am …
JPV: Learning and growing. Discovering more about who I am, what lights me up, and what gives me meaning and purpose.
IVP: Recovering my body at the pool or Jacuzzi (depending on the temperature). I also enjoy reading books for personal development, or I watch movies to decompress. Whatever it is, as long as I’m having quality time with Jen, I am happy doing anything.
JPV: Motivation and inspiration.
IVP: The running man!
My partner’s superpower is …
JPV: Connection and compassion. She makes members feel acknowledged, encouraged and successful.
IVP: Spinning as fast as Lightning McQueen during SPRINT and Spin!
Favorite post-workout recovery or snack?
JPV: An over-the-top giant frozen protein smoothie bowl with nuts, berries, nut butter, coconut oil and more.
IVP: Vegan vanilla protein shake to refuel for muscle recovery or a vegan protein shake bowl with fresh berries.
Best fitness advice you have to give?
JPV: It’s all about your personal best and whatever that looks like to you on any given day, because honestly, it’s not going to be the same every day. Find what or who motivates you to dig deep, beyond your comfort zone. It’s not about the numbers, the metrics, or what any monitor or console says. It’s about how you feel, how you feel about yourself, what you can accomplish and what you are truly capable of.
IVP: Before you say no, try something new at least once to learn about it, see what you like/don’t like and then decide if you want to go back.
My life mantra is …
JPV: Detox your mind, body and life. If it does not serve you, if it does not empower you to move forward and progress, it is taking up space and holding you back; let it go.
IVP: Live life with PURPOSE and PASSION.
Photo credit: Courtesy of Jen Pelesky Velasquez and Irma Velasquez Pelesky