IMPACT Magazine was the brainchild of a young fitness club manager and leading aerobics instructor of her day in Calgary looking for ways to unite, promote and market the fitness industry while educating the community to a healthier life. Thirty years later, Elaine Kupser hasn’t wavered from her mission.
As COVID-19 took hold of the world in 2020, small businesses everywhere were suffering. Gyms and health clubs shut down and trainers were tossed out of work. Race events were cancelled and after 29 years of uninterrupted publishing, IMPACT itself was in danger of closing down as its lifeblood of advertising revenue dried up.
So what did Ms. Kupser do? She reached out to help others, offering free advertising to any affected business and published an award-winning 138-page digital only edition of IMPACT. She gave trainers across Canada a platform and audience to showcase their online workouts on Instagram. She hosted virtual conferences for people in the fitness and race industries and brought businesses together. Those connections helped both industries on the road to recovery.
“I kind of jumped into community service mode. I did a town hall for the fitness industry and brought key people together and we just talked. Then I hosted additional town halls for the race industry to see what we could do to support them,” says Elaine. “Out of the town halls a new advocacy group was formed for race directors (the Canadian Endurance Sports Alliance). That was a definitive feel good moment for me during COVID. It brought the industry together and they’re still connecting.”
If you’ve been reading IMPACT for the past three decades, three years or three months, you have been following Elaine’s life story. The magazine is her personal journal. Her personal journey. A memoir made public for thousands of readers with a new episode every two months.
Since IMPACT first appeared on newsstands in Calgary in 1991, Elaine has been the one constant force at play in the magazine, there to give it life and to sustain it through hell or high water. First, she was a fitness club manager. She wasn’t a publisher. She was a fitness instructor. She wasn’t a publisher. Then she was a single mom. She wasn’t a publisher.
Actually, at 29, she was a publisher and all those other things, too. Being an independent publisher means sometimes you are the editor, the writer, or the copy-editor. You do page layout sometimes and art direct a photoshoot. You run contests, and host celebrations. You cry tears after another all-nighter to make a deadline so your printer doesn’t threaten you with divorce. You party when the last ad is placed and the magazine is finally put to bed. Then you take a breath and wait like an expectant mother for the glossy pages that smell of fresh ink to arrive on your doorstep. Some days you haul boxes of magazines in your car to distribution points. And you sell, you definitely sell, because advertising is the only way bills are paid and the boss does most of the selling. For 30 years, those sales have ensured that no reader has ever had to pay for a copy of IMPACT Magazine.
“Everyone was so excited about the launch of IMPACT. It was new and there were no other magazines promoting health and fitness,” she says, remembering the early days of her magazine, after emptying the $5,000 from her bank account to take on a new career. “I was a fitness industry professional putting out a magazine. It took a couple of decades to get through the imposter syndrome of actually being a publisher. My people are the fitness and sports people and publishing has always been a venue for our industry to help others and tell great stories.”
“Readers buy what we’re selling because it’s good for them. It’s relevant, current and credible.”
The concept for IMPACT is simple. Provide a platform for the best experts in the fields of health, fitness and nutrition to share their knowledge. Inspire readers with the exploits of people such as Olympians who are at the top of the mountain and ordinary folks who do extraordinary things through sport and fitness.
Elaine introduced herself to people who would form the magazine’s first advisory panel, experts who contributed much of the content in the early days. They included the likes of track and field star Diane Jones-Konihowski, fitness pros Helen Vanderburg, King Dunn, Neil Speirs and Charlene Prickett, broadcaster Grant Pollock, medical, nutrition and physiology experts Dale Birdsell, Dave Crossman, Frank Young, Tish Doyle-Baker, Craig Gattinger, Liz Longmore and Shona Lowe. Add on a single Mac Classic computer, floppy disks, black and white page proofs and a fax machine — it was all before the Internet — and IMPACT was in business, quickly gaining readers and credibility.
Grant Pollock was instrumental in connecting Elaine with Alberta’s top sports stars who were the first featured cover athletes. Volume 1, Issue 1 had baby-faced hockey player Theoren Fleury on the cover in September 1991. Football quarterback Danny Barrett, figure skater Kurt Browning and Olympic champion skier Kerrin Lee Gartner were all featured in Year 1.
“Grant was so generous and laid back and eager to help,” says Elaine. “I don’t think he realizes how important he was for the formation of the magazine.”
Grant says it was easy to see that running and fitness were important to Elaine, and “that authentic approach came through in every issue. I still get excited when I see a new copy of IMPACT.”
Elaine’s other baby was born in March 1992, her daughter Lindsay. Single mom, new business, new baby.
“I spent a lot of time at the office over the years,” Lindsay recalls. “We couldn’t afford a nanny or full-time care, so I just tagged along to IMPACT most days. I’d set up shop in the boardroom with Barbies, a colouring book and snacks and books. Those days really developed my sense of imagination,” says Lindsay “Kay” Kupser, a singer-songwriter working on her Master’s degree in Paris, France. And watching her mother work developed the independent nature that guides her career today.
“I have an entrepreneurial spirit and a drive to make things happen for myself; to create my own thing where I am the boss of me, where I get to design my own career and my own life in the way that I want,” says Lindsay. “I get that from my mom, from watching her run this business on her own terms. Despite being incredibly busy, she never missed a guitar recital, singing performance or a figure skating practice. She was at every single thing I did when I was a kid.”
IMPACT’s evolution has been constant since it was formed. It grew and matured as technology evolved allowing for more sophisticated design and presentation. The internet opened up myriad new ways of conducting business and social media and its online presence is broadening the reach of the magazine to places it’s never been before. Editorial direction grew from fitness to health, to sport performance, to nutrition, providing a platform for advocacy on issues close to Elaine’s heart. In 2016, Elaine made IMPACT the country’s only health and fitness magazine to exclusively promote plant-based food and nutrition for sport performance and overall health. She believes this to be the future for the health of our bodies and our planet.
“We just present beautiful food that is very good for you,” she says. “It’s not about why you shouldn’t eat certain things, it’s about what you could eat a little more of in order to improve your health… let’s face it, everyone could use additional whole foods and plants in their diet.”
As a marketing tool, Calgary’s fitness industry pulled on their spandex and bought in completely almost from day one. The race event market was next. In 1993, IMPACT published its first RACE SOURCE GUIDE. Those were the days when runners would need to stop at their local running store to pick up an entry form for events such as the Calgary Marathon. The RACE SOURCE GUIDE was packed with advertisements and was essentially a one-stop shop to enter events. Readers would tear out the entry forms from IMPACT and mail them into the races. It has been published every spring since 1993 and instead of tear and mail, runners simply click a link to enter their favourite races all over North America. It remains the biggest and most popular issue every year.
As the magazine grew and attracted the attention of major national brands, IMPACT began publishing its British Columbia edition in 2005. In 2012, IMPACT Ontario was christened in Toronto. One of the latest and most successful brand extensions is Canada’s Top Fitness Trainers, and Canada’s Top Fitness Instructors, an annual opportunity to champion people who are key in the health and fitness food chain. “I am fortunate to have a platform that can bring recognition to those in the fitness industry who have given their all to help others.” It’s all a serving of nutrient-dense goodness, helping people live their best lives.
Over 30 years, more than 12 million copies of 180 magazines have been read by an estimated 32 million readers.
“Thirty years is a long time. When you’re that young you never think that far ahead. I was living for the moment,” says Elaine. “I’m very, very proud of what the magazine has become and what it has been throughout the years. I don’t think I fully appreciated it because I never knew if it was good enough, but I do now. I know that it’s always been good enough. From the beginning every detail, and every word on every page has been carefully crafted with the best of intentions.”
A graduate of Mount Royal University, Elaine was raised in Kelowna, B.C. on an orchard run by her parents George and Lucy Sherstobitoff. Her older brothers, Walter and John were athletes, and Elaine had to work hard to keep up. When she wasn’t helping in the orchard, she was figure skating, in high school sports or taking music lessons.
“My parents were very hard workers. I learned the value of working hard, saving money and being kind to others,” she says. “They started with nothing and provided for three children. My dad worked a full-time job as a construction foreman and ran an orchard. He worked from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day. My mom also ran the orchard and took care of our family and home.”
Elaine puts in the time, too. She has been described as the hardest working publisher in the industry. But she will be the first to tell you that the reward is in the number of people she has had the opportunity to meet and the number of lives she hopes she has been able to change for the better.
IMPACT was the first Canadian magazine to put Olympians front and centre, raising their profile long before they had the support of national sport programs. Connecting with superstars such as swimmer Mark Tewksbury, figure skater ⇑ Kurt Browning, marathon champion Lanni Marchant, inspirational triathlete Jannelle Morrison and world wrestling legend Bret Hart was a thrilling part of the job. (You will have to read the three decades of magazine cover features to see the other hundreds of names on a list too long to record here.) Having the opportunity to run destination marathons, visit California’s trendiest fitness clubs, or discover a Mexican spa have been among the job’s perks.
But the real joy has been connecting with people and making lifelong friends.
Sandra Bueckert was the first personal trainer in Calgary and one of IMPACT’s original advertising clients. Longtime fitness editor Pete Estabrooks, who still contributes to the magazine decades after he first came on board, is another of Elaine’s best friends. As editor of IMPACT for eight years, I count myself in that camp as well. Both Sandra and I were privileged to join a small group of friends and family at Elaine’s 2018 wedding to the marvellous Tom Lundteigen in Maui. The next generation is now taking its seat at the IMPACT table with people such as trainers Hannah Fletcher, Philip Ndugga and Scott Salling leading the way.
“IMPACT brought me to the forefront and helped my business grow,” says Sandra. “Through thick and thin, she’s still standing. That girl is a fighter and a survivor. I have a huge depth of respect for that keep-going attitude even when things go to shit. You aren’t born with her kind of perseverance, you develop that. She has my respect.”
Pete and Elaine knew each other as aerobics instructors since the late 1980s. “When I saw her magazine, I floated the idea of putting workouts in IMPACT. It’s been onward and upward since,” says Pete. “It’s an awesome achievement to keep your eye on the prize with something you live and you love for 30 years. And having the ability to share that with hundreds of thousands of people is amazing.”
She has the industry’s respect too as recipient of the 2013 Alberta Magazines Publisher of the Year, and she sits on the AMPA board. She’s also a 2021 inductee to the Calgary Marathon Hall of Fame. IMPACT recently won a Gold and Silver at the 2021 Canadian Online Publishing Awards.
“Magazine publishing is not for the faint of heart,” says Suzanne Trudel, AMPA executive director. “A successful publisher understands audience and commits to deliver on its promise. The IMPACT team has positioned the magazine to reach growing numbers of readers, through a variety of channels – all in an increasingly crowded marketplace. The beautifully crafted magazine with clear writing and strong photography, continuously develops content that is laser focused on the needs of its audience – those who aspire to be fitter and healthier. It’s like a trusted coach: it motivates and inspires.”
“I met Elaine in 2011 and remember how warm she was and how much she wanted to help,” says Kirsten Fleming, executive director of Run Calgary. “She’s been a mentor and a friend. And the magazine has been a significant part of my own fitness journey. I hope it goes for 30 more years.”
Elaine realized long ago that being an independent publisher was not an avenue to monetary wealth. She’s made a good living, but publishing has been a personal passion project for half of her life. And with just a handful of staff, often operating out of the basement in her home, she created a magazine to rival the best of publications anywhere. Her readers tell her they approve every day, always anxious to see that the new issue of IMPACT has arrived.
No one knows Elaine’s passion for the magazine better than her daughter.
“I was in Calgary for part of the pandemic and I watched my mom work her ass off to keep this magazine going, not only for herself but for her community, her employees, her readers. I saw how much sleep she didn’t get,” says Lindsay. “Thirty years of IMPACT is really, really, really amazing. I’m very proud that my mom has reached this incredible milestone. Of course one day I hope my mom will take a step back and enjoy the fruits of her labours, but I grew up with IMPACT and it’s hard to imagine a world in which the magazine doesn’t exist.”
In every magazine, the publisher gets the last word on what makes it into print: “I’m proud I’ve been able to persevere because it’s not an easy industry. It’s extremely difficult, in fact. You have to have a deep passion for the ‘why’ and I love the magazine so much that I’m not ready to retire quite yet. I feel that I have more work to do to help more people live their best lives. It’s part of my identity and I finally feel like I’m extremely good at publishing magazines! It’s taken 30 years to get here, and I certainly haven’t done it alone. It’s always been a team effort and I’ve been fortunate to have some of the best people in the industry by my side all along the way.
“Perhaps one day I will find a new generation of fitness professionals with an interest in or curiosity for publishing to take this on for decades to come. Wouldn’t that be incredible?”
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