When Kristen Janikas wed Robert DeLeo, bassist for the rock band Stone Temple Pilots, she made all the traditional vows to her betrothed—and one to herself: They would never be the subjects of a drugs-and-divorce-sodden segment of Behind the Music. “I’ve seen enough of those,” she says, “to know that our marriage would not work unless we had compatible schedules.”
Kristen DeLeo, 33, has kept her three-year union from becoming the “Big Empty” (to quote a Pilots’ song title) by going on the road with her husband. She’s got a gig of her own: While Robert, 36, makes adult fans swoon, Kristen makes children sweat. Since 1998, when she created a one-woman fitness company called ElectriKIDS, she has led high-intensity workouts at elementary schools and summer camps across the country. “It’s a brilliant idea,” declares David Kazyaka, 11, a sixth grader at Charles E. Riley Elementary School in Oswego, N.Y., where in May Kristen led some 600 students in calisthenics set to a rock and roll beat. “We actually get out of our seats and do something.”
That’s the point. Kristen is so determined to improve the health of sedentary U.S. kids—about 13 percent of whom now suffer from obesity—that she’s willing to cut schools some financial slack. If they can’t afford her fee of $250 plus travel and lodging expenses for two 30-minute sessions, she’ll trim it by bunking down on someone’s couch. “I feel it’s my responsibility to share my love of fitness with as many kids as possible,” says Kristen, who is certified by the American Council on Exercise.
Her performances earn raves from the grade-school set. “She’s crazier and has more energy than a rock star,” says another Riley sixth grader, Marielena Perez, 13. “I want to be just like her when I grow up.” Adds Marielena’s phys-ed teacher Robin Scholla: “Kristen makes fitness fun for kids.”
And adults. One buttoned-down principal in Lenox, Mass., “was a little unsure of me,” recalls Kristen, laughing. “But by the end of that assembly, his jacket was off, his tie was loosened, and he was onstage with me.” That’s no surprise to Robert, who knows firsthand the spell Kristen casts. “Normally she’s pretty shy, but when she gets onstage, she lights up,” he says. “She’s got tremendous energy.”
That wasn’t always the case. Though Kristen (the oldest of three kids of Bobbi, 57, the director of a children’s theater company, and Vince, 73, a businessman) grew up in the surfer’s paradise of Encinitas, Calif., she was no athlete. “I dreaded P.E.,” she says. But when her mother put her in dance classes, Kristen recalls, “That became my passion.” While at the University of California at San Diego, she discovered a second passion-teaching. After graduating with a communications degree in 1993, she approached the owners of a gym in her hometown. “You should have a youth fitness program and hire me to run it,” she told them. They did.
Kristen met Robert in December 1997 through a friend who took her backstage after a concert in San Diego. She had her doubts about dating a musician, but Robert fell hard. “I had to prove that I wasn’t some pretentious, pompous rock guy,” he says. He did so by visiting from L.A. often and by schlepping her equipment to her classes. “I was her roadie,” he recalls. “I was glad to oblige—I love kids.”
And their teacher, who married him in 1999. When they’re not on tour, Kristen and Robert split their time between a modern spread with a recording studio and gym in Palos Verdes Peninsula, Calif., and a country home in New York’s Hudson Valley, where they fish in their own pond and walk their dog Rosco. Although ElectriKIDS has yet to turn a profit, Kristen refuses to take money from Robert to subsidize her company. She will, however, accept his artistic contributions: He’s writing tunes to get her kids moving. “He may not remember my birthday,” she says, “but I have faith in one thing: Robert will write good songs.”
Mary Green in Oswego