I take three separate fitness classes a week to supplement my running workouts, including one at Barry’s Bootcamp in Hillcrest, a franchise with locations across the country. San Diego has lots of similar options for the fitness-inclined: CorePower Yoga, OrangeTheory Fitness, CrossFit.

One fitness franchise helped pave the way for all of them, and it started with one woman teaching classes out of rec centers in Oceanside.

Judi Sheppard Missett, who is still Jazzercise’s CEO and continues to teach classes, didn’t set out to build a fitness empire. When she moved to Oceanside after college, she was trying to make it as a theater actress and singer, and just wanted to teach classes — a modified jazz dance workout she invented — on the side.

“But as luck would have it, or karma, or whatever — the universe had something else in store for me,” Sheppard Missett tells me in our latest episode of “I Made it in San Diego,” VOSD’s podcast about the region’s businesses -and the people who made them what they are.

At one point, Sheppard Missett was teaching so many classes, she developed nodules on her vocal cords, and lost her voice. That seeming setback ended up being a game-changer for Jazzercise: Sheppard Missett decided to enlist other instructors whom she could teach her routines to, and they ended up fanning out around the county, expanding the reach of the classes.

When instructors moved away, they brought the classes with them, which opened the door to franchising the business.

After that boom, though, came challenges, including a lawsuit over how instructors were required to look, and eventually, stigma about Jazzercise as being old-fashioned.

“Sometimes when you’re a pioneer, you develop a little stigma because people say to themselves, ‘Gosh they were a big hit. We remember when back in the ’80s, and they still around, what’s going on?’ And of course we we are still around,” Sheppard Missett said.

Subscribe to I Made it in San Diego on iTunes or StitcherStream or download it here.

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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