My name is Melissa Agaeva and I am 27 years old. I am originally from Dagestan, Russia. When I was 10 years old my family had to leave Russia and apply for asylum in Sweden.

After about four years of waiting for a decision the Migration Agency in Sweden decided we couldn’t stay in Sweden and gave us a deportation decision. My world came crashing down – four years is a very long time when you’re 10. We couldn’t go back to Russia and Sweden became my home. We appealed the decision but the courts rejected us as well.

With the deportation decision backed by legal force we were forced to hide and live illegally in Sweden for about a year. During that time I couldn’t go to school – or go anywhere for that matter. There is one thing I remember in particular from that time that still to this day affects me – being so scared when I heard a knock on the door, I was frightened it was the police coming to get us. Until this day my heart skips a bit every time someone knocks on my door.

Because of the situation my older sister and I became apathetic and we starved ourselves. After about six days I was rushed to the hospital. After that we were granted residence in Sweden on humanitarian grounds.

On the day of my graduation from high school my father had a heart attack and passed away. Everything happened very suddenly. He was just 48 years old, he didn’t drink alcohol, he didn’t smoke, he was not sick. That day changed my whole world. I have a life before my father and another life after my father. Suddenly I was forced to grow up and take care of my family. My father was our provider, my mother didn’t work. She couldn’t face going back to our home, so in one day I lost my father, my home, and I had no job, so no means to provide for my family.

After about two months I got accepted to the top university in Sweden and started study law. The university I got accepted to was in a different city and, since I couldn’t abandon my family, I lived at home and travelled back and forth between two cities every day.

It was about that time I first came across Les Mills. I had always been daddy’s girl, so when I lost him I lost my sense of self. But I had no time or space to mourn him, as I had to be strong for my family and take care of them. We didn’t have any relatives in Sweden. Les Mills became my source of strength and the only thing in my life I could control.

I remember my first class – it was LES MILLS GRIT™. Oh my, I thought I was about to die. It was the longest 30 minutes of my life. Today I am an elite GRIT Coach. I am also an elite
BODYJAM™ Instructor and an advanced SH’BAM™ Instructor. In a few days I will become a BODYCOMBAT™ Instructor, which I think will fit me perfectly since I have already done martial arts for a couple of years. I have been an Instructor three years. I took all three of my licenses during a period of six months.

After graduating from university, I got a job at the Migration Agency as a case officer. I was promoted after a couple of months to a decision maker. The irony was that the Migration Agency was the very same office where we had applied for asylum and been turned down; it was unreal, 15 years later, to be in the same building and now be the one making the decisions about who would get asylum and who wouldn’t.

After working at the Migration Agency I got a job a law firm where I currently work as an associate, with one of my expert legal areas being migration law. Today, about 13 years after I was threatened with having to leave Sweden, I help refugees to stay and get protection. So I have been at the Migration Agency in four different capacities these past 15 years: as a refugee, as a case officer, as a decision maker and now as an associate soon-to-be lawyer.

My goal in life have always been to help people. And to do that I chose law and group fitness as my tools.

It’s really hard for me to put in writing how I feel about Les Mills and what it has done for me. I remember when I met Phillip Mills for the first time I told him that “I am Les Mills”. That is truly how I feel, I love every single concept and everything about our big and amazing family.

Les Mills gave me the strength when I didn’t have any. Les mills gave me love when I had a huge whole in my heart that I thought nothing could ever heal. Les Mills gave me hope for humanity. A lot of horrible things are happening in the world, a lot of people are suffering, but during a class I am capable of giving you something, I am capable of giving you the strength you need to keep going. I am able to give you the love you may not have in your life. I may give you the confidence in yourself you so desperately need. We are actually changing the world one workout at a time, in so many ways we can’t even imagine. That’s power.

For me group fitness is love. It is the only place where nothing matters, who you are, where you are from, what you work with, what you have been through in your life. It is the only thing that kept me going and still keeps me going. I always say to the people around me that group fitness is the cure for every depression. You don’t need medicine, no type of medicine could make you feel the way you feel after a class.

Each program gives me something. For example, LES MILLS GRIT – it pushes me, it breaks me, it repairs me, it builds me up, it makes me feel pain, it gives me focus, it makes me feel that I can do everything I put my mind to. I have a sentence that I feel describes LES MILLS GRIT well. I say to my participants, “If you feel you are dying, it’s okay – keep in mind it’s the only way to heaven!”

And BODYJAM – it gives me a feeling of freedom. In my daily work I meet people in terrible circumstances, I hear about a lot of misery. It’s tough, mentally and emotionally. Dance lets me to take a pause, to just be in the moment, to not think about anything, just let go.

There is something for everyone. Everyone can find something in Les Mills that they love and that gives them something. My aim is to try to help you find it and keep it. The challenge is to make everyone feel the joy and happiness group fitness can give so that they keep coming, so that it becomes a part of their lives. Because it’s only then, when it becomes a part of your life, that you truly see and feel what it does for you.

Melissa Agaeva is based in Sweden, where she teaches LES MILLS GRIT, SH’BAM, BODYCOMBAT and BODYJAM. She has been an Instructor for three years.