Kanoa Greene was an opera singer, vocal teacher and grad student. She was a recruiter for one of the world’s most famous ad agencies in New York (“I worked literally as many hours as I could”), and then Hawaiian Airlines (“I worked more there than I did in New York”).
According to her, fitness coaching was not an obvious next step. Kanoa says she grew up overweight, and didn’t exercise or spend time outdoors until she attended college in Nebraska.
Yet, when she was burnt out on corporate recruiting, she took the leap and started her virtual gym anyway.
Close to the time her coaching journey began, she discovered she was losing vision in her right eye. Twelve surgeries haven’t stopped her from living life on her own terms, embracing her inner adventurer, and helping women meet their personal health and wellness goals. Kanoa's focus on health and positivity is infectious.
She wanted to be her own boss. Now, she IS a boss.
Tell me about getting your start as a fitness coach!
To me, it was the most absurd thing … in my life. I was at my heaviest at 315 lbs. I would be the girl in the zumba class, super excited and totally into it. I always thought “some day I’d love to be the curvy girl teaching a zumba class.” But I never in a million years thought it was possible… because I’d never seen anyone above a certain size teach a fitness class.
I literally took a leap of faith. In that first couple of months, I helped my mom, her best friend, myself and one of my best friends. Now it’s my full time job, and it’s me, helping hundreds of women throughout the U.S., Canada, and the UK.
Have you experienced negative feedback as a plus-sized fitness coach?
I had heard horror stories from fellow coaches before, but there’s never been a negative thing posted or commented!
If anything, I was that negative doubt naysayer in my mind. Coming into fitness, everything WAS about image. For me, someone who had to modify—honestly I couldn’t do a lot of movements getting started—it was a lot of… “can you really do this? Who the heck is going to come to you for help if you’re still on your journey?”
I don’t look like any of the personal trainers and coaches I’ve ever worked with! I really was focused on the number on the scale when I started. I was like “the only way is if I’m the product.”
How did you quiet that negative voice?
It was helping the people that were closest to me, and really surrounding myself with people that I trusted. That was kind of the journey. That first year it was slowly trying to take steps forward.
Can you tell me the story of losing vision in your right eye?
On Thanksgiving in New York, I broke my glasses. I went to a Lenscrafters and got an exam.
They were like, “Can you see?! You have a detached retina. It’s so severe you have to leave right now and go to a specialist!” I got right into a cab. They did laser surgery on both my eyes. I was a sobbing mess.
I underwent major surgery on December 4th. I came out of that surgery with no vision in my right eye. Recovery was about two weeks, then I went in for a check up. The ophthalmologist asked me: “did you eat today? We have to go into another surgery right now!”
Recovery from that was six months. Six months turned into two years and over a dozen surgeries on my right eye. The vision has not come back. It probably won’t.
“The vision has not come back. It probably won’t.”
Through those first few months I was an absolute wreck. My life was turned upside down. In the midst of that, I stayed on my journey and stayed true to coaching. I went back to Hawaii to recuperate. That’s when I started hiking. I became a certified sailor. All of that I did with no vision in my right eye.
Tell me about a time you did something you thought was impossible...
Everything. Really, really. I would say this whole journey. Coaching allowed me to be me— because it was a me that was in there!
There was always that adventurer inside of me that I never allowed to have a voice. This journey made it more possible. You do that first hike and you’re like, “okay I’m not insane. I think I can possibly do this.” Today, I scuba, I want to snowboard, I zipline… To physically be there is an amazing thing.
“There was always that adventurer inside of me that I never allowed to have a voice.”
And I had a hiking accident!
I climbed down on a valley trail to get to a waterfall. As we just started back up, I slipped and my body literally went airborne and crashed into a boulder. My knee took all of the impact on my right leg and everyone heard it. My knee was completely wrecked. I knew being heli-vaced out of there was not an option. My aunt works in the military. She never would have let me live that down!
So I was like… “this is crazy, but I’m going to climb out of this mountain, two miles straight up vertical on one leg.” And I did it!
Tell me about some future fitness goals?
Snowboarding is a big thing for me. Mountain climbing—Everest and Kilimanjaro. I just want to travel and climb and snorkel.
Now that that adventurer has been let out to play a little bit, she will not go back into the corner. I want to do all the things!
What’s your advice for someone who wants to start a fitness journey?
Just start. I know it’s easier said than done.
For me it was shame—because I had lost 100 pounds before. I had struggled through bulimia in college. There are things that you do to yourself because you’re so desperate. You get to a place where you’re like “I failed again. Why do I even start?”
That’s what you have to do. Do something. If it’s walking a step, and then two steps the next day. Start somewhere and just don’t give up. Commit to yourself because you’re worth it. It’s hard for people, they don’t think they are… But they’re worth every bit of fight.
Did I know I was going to have the two years of eye surgeries coming? I had no idea. But I stuck to the idea that I was worth it. And I’m still here, and I’m not broken, and I’m not back at square one. Was it perfect? No!
But I am so proud of the person that I am, and it wouldn’t have happened had I not kept going.