Lion + Hearted
Some people are heroes for the masses, while others are champions for one. JJ Hendershot shatters that prototype as she impacts the lives of thousands while remaining forever committed to improving the life of one she loves.
WRITTEN BY SUZANNA CULLEN HAMILTON | PHOTOGRAPHED BY KREMER JOHNSON
Born in London, raised in Palos Verdes and educated at UC Santa Barbara with a master’s degree in education, JJ Hendershot appears to be the perfectly fit Southern California woman with a great lifestyle. However, beneath her statuesque beauty and friendly nature lie a steely determination and a constant drive to improve.
For most who know JJ, she’s a force of nature on a spin bike and in her Pilates classes, where she wills her students to push themselves to the limits with her expert prompts and constant encouragement. JJ began her certification process during her undergraduate years and now holds numerous certifications and degrees. Her understanding of physiology—academically and practically—is what makes JJ such a powerful instructor and mentor.
As a director of Equinox Fitness with a focus on national philanthropic events, JJ travels to 16 cities to increase awareness, visibility, participation and financial support for Equinox philanthropic endeavors such as Cycle for Survival. “We raised over $34 million this season, and we’ve raised over $120 million since we began in 2007,” she says.
As great as her efforts are with Equinox, JJ’s commitment to others through philanthropy extends far beyond her work. She’s also the executive director for The Heroes Project, the senior director of VIMMIA and an active volunteer with the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy. Furthermore, JJ is also a motivational speaker for corporate athletes, where she addresses large groups of employees at corporations and retreats.
In 2009 JJ created Team PerseVerance–a three-hour spin bike event that raised money for the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center at UCLA. That philanthropic effort ultimately evolved into The Heroes Project, while Team PerseVerance evolved into JJ’s own team for each of her endeavors. The capital “P” and “V” stand for Palos Verdes; the word “perseverance” is for the person who propels her through life.
Our family has a different definition of success. We believe it’s important to be comfortable in your own skin and embrace life and spread positivity and light.
So who is it that drives JJ to have extraordinary energy spanning so many commitments? It’s her 14-year-old son, Rhys.
Rhys was born with primary immune deficiency, which took doctors in numerous states many years to correctly diagnose due to the rarity and complexity of the deficiency. “I became committed to philanthropy by both having been an advocate for Rhys and out of necessity. Because there was no cure and no major funding allocated to research for my own child’s disease, I wanted to harness what could have been debilitating sadness and use that energy to make the world a better place for others,” says JJ.
Today JJ, her husband, Mike, and Rhys share a commitment to a healthy lifestyle and philanthropy. Early morning runs before school, conscientious eating, and weekends filled with fundraisers and volunteering are the norms for the Hendershot family.
Rhys is as busy as his mom—participating on the PVIS cross-country team, the Junior Lifeguards, playing soccer and surfing. When he’s not busy with one of his own commitments, he’s with JJ and Mike raising awareness and money for their numerous philanthropic commitments. Rhys is planning on a career in aerospace, but it’s guaranteed that both a physically active lifestyle and a generous philanthropic spirit will be equally large parts of his life.
Downtime for the Hendershot family includes hanging out in the pool and a constant round of board games and ping-pong. “We’re a pretty competitive bunch,” says JJ. From watching Rhys play soccer to being lifelong Kings and college football fans, the Hendershot family is focused on having fun. “We love sports and can’t wait for Rhys’ soccer season and the college football season,” she adds.
That same competitive spirit extends to JJ’s marriage. “Mike’s been my biggest supporter and my most honest critic,” says JJ. When they were told that Rhys had medical issues, hospital staff forewarned them that most marriages could not survive the stress.
“On that day we decided we would never let anyone or any circumstance come between us; it was game-on.”
Since then, the Hendershot family has always been in the game. With a happy marriage of 19 years, a tightly bonded family and a successful career, JJ has achieved the kind of success to which most aspire but few achieve. “Our family has a different definition of success. We believe it’s important to be comfortable in your own skin and embrace life and spread positivity and light,” says JJ.
If you see a family participating in one of the South Bay’s numerous philanthropic events with one person leading the pack and one person at the end making sure no participant is left behind, it will likely be the Hendershot family. Always strong and focused and ever encouraging and positive, JJ, Mike and Rhys remain champions in the South Bay and beyond.