In time for Mother's Day, we celebrate the life of one Zumba fitness instructor who turned her personal tragedy into triumph. Ladies and gentlemen, meet mother-extraordinaire Kathy Johnsun. A profile by Violi Calvert.

Kathy Johnsun, married with two children, is like most mums. She juggles running the household, caring for the family and holding a hectic job. As if that weren't enough to keep her busy, it is what she does at work and charity that elevates her to a league of her own.

Kathy is a fitness instructor, personal trainer [PT] and Zumba queen.  The 43-year-old mother was last month awarded the 2014 Australian Fitness Network Exercise Instructor of the Year. This recognition was a surprise to Kathy but not to her peers who consider her to have by the truckloads the three E’s (energy, enthusiasm and effervescence) of being an effective PT. 

However, rewind to a few years back, in contrast to Kathy’s energetic and fun-filled days, was a period of darkness.

In 1989, she hit rock bottom and was diagnosed with depression. She lost direction in her life and even contemplated ending it. Then also came the series of tragedies – losing her 18-year-old sister in 1991 who was run over by a car as she crossed the road right outside their house; her mother diagnosed in 2001 with ovarian cancer the size of a small soccer ball and had to undergo chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

Kathy is happy to share her story and give hope to those who may be in a similar situation. She says: “I came out the other side and realised life is too precious. Today is worth living to the full. We have so much to be thankful for.”

A graduate of from Macquarie University with a BSc in Human Geography & Environmental Science, Kathy was looking for a job that would fit in with her looking after her two kids who were then aged one (now seven-year-old Hannah) and two years (now nine-year-old Ryan).  A chance meeting with a friend who raved about her work as fitness instructor led Kathy to venture into the fitness industry and she never looked back.  

After qualifying as PT in November 2007, Kathy received the AIF “Engergiser” award and a scholarship to work at Fitness First. In 2008 she qualified as a Level 1 Australian Strength & Conditioning Coach and has continued to take courses related to Fitness to upskill herself and learn more about the Fitness Industry.

The highlights of her career in the fitness industry so far include having the rare honour of being one of two instructors selected to dance with the Zumba creator and Master, Beto Perez, in an eventheld at Martin Place in Sydney in 2011.  In August 2013, Kathy was also selected to attend the Annual Zumba Convention in Orlando, Florida, which involved 10,000 Zumba Instructors from around the world. 

Kathy drew media interest as the teacher of her 89-year old student, Dulcie Leedow, who proves that there is no age limit to engage in the health dance craze.  In August last year, the story on the North Shore Times was picked up by Channel 7’s Morning Show, Sunrise which went to film Kathy’s Zumba class with Dulcie on stage. Then the following day Kathy and Dulcie were invited into the Channel 7 Studio to Zumba with Sunrise hosts Mel and Kochie! 

Asked what she loves in Zumba, Kathy who has earned the nickname “Bananas" for her zany trait, commented: “Unlike some Fitness Programs, Zumba is unique in the way that it embraces all people, from many different cultures, different ages, different backgrounds and that's what is so joyous! Through it, I am able to share with so many people and able to transfer this positive energy to reach out to communities in need of help!”

What makes Kathy also special is that over the last four years she has used her passion for Zumba as a vehicle for fundraising. She has volunteered to perform Zumba warm ups for a long list of charity events. These include the MS Colour Run/Dash; Breast Cancer/Mothers Day Classics; Cancer Council/North Shore Relay For Life and Mud Run to name a few. She also relishes having a Zumba dance with Dame Edna at Martin Place in one of these events.

Kathy’s Filipino heritage comes from her father Ping Manlangit from Bicol and mother Lydia from Quezon City. She is the eldest of three girls, and Ate to younger sisters Marylaine and Marilou. Like many Filipinos around the world, Kathy has helped to raise funds for the typhoon Haiyan survivors in the Philippines. She organised a Zumbathon which involved over 100 participants and the fitness centre’s members raising over $3,500. On the back of this success she initiated a relief aid drive collecting canned food, clothes and other essentials. As luck would have it, one of her Zumba participants is the head of a shipping line that facilitated sending several giant containers of typhoon relief aid, at no cost.

With great energy and deep passion packed in this pocket dynamo (she stands at 5 feet and tips the scales at 50kg), Kathy would most likely be dancing and teaching till she is of Dulcie’s vintage.

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