Defy the odds – Get Better at Life in Leaside

Darren & Michelle of Defy Functional Fitness. Photo Justin Tamane.
Darren & Michelle of Defy Functional Fitness. Photo Justin Tamane.

The eye-catching sign on the window of Defy Functional Fitness at 94 Laird Dr. encourages passersby to “Get Better at Life.” Who doesn’t want to get better at life? This slogan summarizes perfectly the philosophy of Darren Thornton, owner and CEO of Defy.

Much of Darren’s life has centred on physical activity and fitness. He spent six years as a Royal Marines Commando, then started coaching and competing in the sport of CrossFit. Ten years ago, he moved to Kuwait to train and coach full-time before moving to Canada in 2016 for North American competitions. When he stopped competing in 2018, he was ranked in the top 250 in the world.

Not surprisingly, Darren met his wife Michelle, a family physician from Newfoundland, at a gym. She is also an avid runner and athlete. They are co-owners of Defy and pride themselves on building programs for individuals based on their individualized needs. With her medical and nutritional expertise, Michelle acts as the nutrition coach, complementing Darren’s strengths.

Darren and Michelle were happy to find the location on Laird in 2018 because it aligned with their vision of building long-term relationships within a stable community like Leaside. They also have a strong focus on kids’ programs and feel that Leaside is a great place for working with families.

Defy Functional Fitness.
Defy Functional Fitness.

Darren explains that “functional fitness” refers to the concept of preparing the body “for common movements in everyday life at home, work and in sport.” For that reason, Defy’s equipment is minimal and focuses on dumbbells, kettlebells and barbells, which are “the best way to mimic everyday experiences” to build strong, resilient bodies. And the name “Defy” refers to defying those modern sedentary lifestyle norms that stack the odds against becoming fit and healthy for life.

The facility is open from 5:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., and many of the programs are completely full, especially in the early mornings. Their capacity is around 175 to 200 members and their numbers are consistently in that range.

Defy runs seven group classes a day, but before joining classes, members need to go through an “on-boarding process” that starts with personal training to ensure they are safe in the gym and that the coaches know their abilities. The classes are small since Defy sees itself as more of coaching facility than a gym. In fact, no one can train there without being in a coached class or a personal training session to ensure that individuals get “the best workout for them and their goals,” says Darren. Members’ progress is checked every six weeks by their five full-time coaches.

Defy’s program has generated great enthusiasm among their members, as can be seen from the almost 150 five-star reviews on Google. Sylvia Kovesfalvi, who joined last year and has belonged to several different gyms, speaks for the group when she says that she has never felt “so inspired and motivated” and that she is grateful to be part of this “special community where the coaches are enthusiastic, knowledgeable and hugely supportive” and the environment is “warm, accepting and safe.”

For their part, Michelle and Darren are also grateful for the success of their facility. Darren credits Defy’s professional coaches and carefully planned programs for the business’s popularity. Adds Michelle, “It has been a privilege to build a community of like-minded people who want to work hard to get better at life through health and fitness.”

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About Janis Fertuck 108 Articles
Janis Fertuck is a retired English teacher who spent the last 30 years of her career at Leaside High School. She enjoys writing about the vibrant Leaside community where she and her husband have lived for 22 years. Her other favourite pursuits include a part-time job at a boutique on Bayview and volunteering with the Bayview Pixies.