It was a chilly night at the end of February when I first met Jenn Varzari, MA’01, LLB’04. My friend had invited me to a “barre on the heavy bag” class at UNDRCARD Fitness Club. Over the next few months, under the party lights and thumping bass of a workout that left me dripping in sweat and feeling so energized, I learned how amazing Varzari is.
When the barre studio she was teaching at shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic, she took to Instagram to teach classes online. She languished in the seemingly never-ending cycle of working and teaching from home. She joined forces with other instructors from the studio and took their classes to a local park, raising money for charity in place of class fees, raising close to $11,000 in that first COVID summer.
Eventually, Varzari and two fellow instructors from the studio joined forces to create kin+fit to further build an inclusive fitness community they had grown to love and crave. They began by teaching classes on Zoom and outdoors. In July 2021, the trio reached out to UNDRCARD to see if they could use their space.
“Our values align with the values of UNDRCARD, and we all have similar personalities,” explains Varzari. “We weren’t there as sexy fitness providers; we’re down-to-earth, real and passionate about teaching. We’re doing this because we want to connect and move with people. The team at UNDRCARD saw that we weren’t there to build our own separate community, but to help build theirs.
“It really was the perfect match.”
Magda Hudy, BA’05, BSc’05, PhD’13
From litigator to business owner
So how does a litigator in a big oil and gas law firm become a small business owner, fitness leader and community builder?
“Honestly, I disliked my job from the moment I was a summer student with the firm, but I spent almost 11 years there,” recalls Varzari. “I was at the point where I had to decide if it was my forever job. I looked at the female partners in my group and wondered if that was what I wanted. I don’t know if they were happy, but ultimately I knew I wouldn’t be happy where they were.”
Varzari left the firm and joined Aviva Trial Lawyers in 2016 as a full-time litigator and started attending spin classes at a local studio. It was the first time she could use fitness to help with her mental wellness and to help with the transition to the new job and the stresses of raising a young family. She was so inspired by the supportive instructors she encountered that she gave teaching a shot. After completing her Alberta Fitness Leadership Certification Association (AFLCA) training and taking a barre instructor course with her sister, she got a gig teaching at the studio in Calgary.
“I wasn’t an extrovert before I started teaching, but, after that first class, I realized, ‘This is what I’m supposed to be doing.’ And it was something I would never have been able to pursue while working at the big firm.”
Varzari also credits her teaching for making her a better lawyer.
It makes me feel confident, talking about something I feel passionate about, comfortably, in front of a large group of people, and connecting with people after the class. I couldn’t do that in the legal setting before; I couldn’t sell myself as a lawyer before because I couldn’t believe in what I was selling.
Giving back major focus of kin+fit
Varzari’s desire to give back to the community continued even after in-person classes resumed, building on the connection and excitement people get by doing things together. She recently organized an event with one of her private classes to purchase and package together more than 100 bags of menstrual products to distribute to unhoused Indigenous women, and brought a group together to run the Calgary Marathon 10K in support of the Love For Lewiston Foundation.
“People want to give back, and they’re waiting for ways to make it easy,” she says. “People also want to do things together because it makes them happy, so it just makes sense to combine the two.”
Her business partner, Alissa Kazakoff, BSc’17, has seen first-hand the power Varzari has to build community and bring people together.
“There are few people I have met that have a heart as big as Jenn,” says Kazakoff. “She has a gift for connecting with individuals from all walks of life and making them feel heard and supported. Jenn’s generosity and kindness have been some of the most rewarding parts of working on the kin+fit project together; building this community and all our initiatives wouldn’t be possible without her.
“And, of course, her work ethic, passion and commitment to the cause are second to none. I am lucky to have her in my life as a friend, business partner and life mentor.”
Clearly, a sense of community drives everything Varzari does, whether inside the fitness studio or out.
“Ultimately, kin+fit was created out of a common desire to share our love of group movement and music and to create an inclusive fitness community,” she says. “I love seeing people meet each other, and, week after week, they become friends. I would never have thought that, at 45, I would have more social connections and friends than I did in high school. That’s all thanks to trying something new with those first spin classes more than eight years ago.”
Ali Abel is the communications manager for the Faculty of Law. Outside work she enjoys running (slowly, she says), stand-up paddleboarding, and throwing punches at UNDRCARD.