When the Amazing Race Canada finish line is revealed on Sept. 16, it won’t be BodyBreak stars Hal Johnson and Joanne McLeod who triumphantly burst across it. But no matter who does take the crown, the aging BodyBreak brand is emerging as the show’s real winner. “We’re busier now, or as much now, as we’ve ever been,” Johnson says from the couple’s Oakville, Ont., home, where he’s sitting up straight with the aid of BackJoy—the latest product the couple are signing a contract to endorse. In time for Christmas, they’ll also roll out a new $1,500-BodyBreak treadmill at Costco.
Despite their mid-race elimination, keeping fit and having fun is a winning combo again. This fall, you’ll see Team BodyBreak pop up as grand marshals of the Oktoberfest parade in Kitchener-Waterloo; as guests at the Grey Cup festivities in Regina; and at speaking engagements across Canada talking about health and teamwork. But McLeod doesn’t think the race deserves all the credit. “It’s really 25 years of being a trusted source for healthy living that’s doing it more than anything else.”
That’s right—25 years. The couple founded BodyBreak in 1988, after meeting at a gym and starting to date. Trying to explain the cultural significance that “Hal and Joanne” have taken on since then is like trying to explain the cultural significance of Tim Hortons. Here’s a shot at it: Two decades since Johnson and McLeod catapulted to Canadian celebrity status with their peppy fitness tips, people still dress up as them for Halloween. (Yes, they know this—and will be giving away a prize on their website for best costume.)
McLeod chalks BodyBreak’s iconic status up to reminding people of their childhood. “Even people who are the same age as us say they’ve grown up with us. I think it’s the memories—as well as the music.” Oh, yes. That synth-heavy theme song. It’s Johnson’s ringtone, too, and he’ll tell you how to download it from the website before you even ask.
BodyBreak’s silver anniversary coinciding with the inaugural Amazing Race Canada was a perfect match for the couple, and for CTV. If you heard anything about the race, it’s probably the fact that Johnson and McLeod were on it. The debut episode attracted a record 3.5 million viewers. But while the show seemed a natural fit for the fitness icons, it was also a risk. What if they were the first team eliminated? Would the entire 1990s have been a lie?
No need to worry. Johnson and McLeod spent months preparing for the competition. They studied prime ministers and researched the provinces. They mastered the products of the show’s sponsors. Johnson drove every stick shift Chevrolet at the dealership. He memorized Air Canada routes.
The couple is satisfied with the show, except for one edit. That edit, of course, is the bleeped-out swear word McLeod mutters in Regina, after a competing team passed them and they knew they’d fallen into last place.
They’re still stung the producers used the footage, discussing why it was unfair and unfit for a family show, before remembering they didn’t mean to talk about it so much. “If you know Joanne—I never hear her say it!” Johnson says. “We hope to move on from it, but we know it’s going to come up.”
Now in their mid-50s, the pair are still intimidatingly active. McLeod is training for a marathon. Up at the cottage over Labour Day weekend, Johnson returned their motorboat to the marina and then simply kayaked the 90 minutes back.
The two will tune in for the Amazing Race finale, but Johnson admits watching the show can be an emotional experience since their elimination. Like any athlete watching game tape, he analyzes where they would have succeeded and where they would have stumbled. He’s convinced they could have finished first in Iqaluit, a leg of the race that was particularly physical. “I look at that and I go, we could have won that leg, and that’s . . .” Johnson trails off, then bounces back. “We already won,” he says. “We have a memory that we’ll always have, of doing this. Our daughter thinks we’re pretty cool now. And it has introduced BodyBreak to a new generation.”