2007 IDEA Health and Fitness Awards Finalists

Jul 01, 2007

Creating a healthy world

IDEA is grateful to all of our members who do their best every day to help clients embrace fitness- and health-enhancing behaviors as a regular, enjoyable part of their lives. The IDEA Health & Fitness Awards honor colleagues who always give 110% for their clients, communities and the fitness industry. Join us on Friday, July 6, from 8:15 am to 10:00 am, as we recognize the achievements of the 2007 finalists at the IDEA World Fitness Convention® in San Diego. Augie Nieto will receive the IDEA Lifetime Achievement Award. The presentation will also celebrate the 2007 IDEA Program Director of the Year, IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year and IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year.

Congratulations to the many fitness pros who applied for the awards and to the following award finalists, who are making a real difference with people in their communities. Here we share some of the finalists’ accomplishments, taken from the award applications.


This award recognizes an IDEA member who is a healthy role model, who demonstrates keen professional commitment through community and industry involvement and whose outstanding leadership inspires staff and influences both active and underactive people to commit to a healthy lifestyle through successful, creative and diverse programming.

Finalist: Debbie Bellenger, MA
West Columbia, South Carolina

As health promotion manager for Health Directions at the Lexington Medical Center since 1999, Debbie Bellenger manages the overall operation of the wellness department—including group fitness, personal training and various special-population programs—in a private hospital.

Something for Everyone. A few of the successful programs Bellenger has implemented include yoga, Rep Reebok®, Reebok Deck, Reebok Core Board, “Sensitive Cycling” and (for older adults) “Fit Forever.” Yoga breaks and chair massage help onsite employees to alleviate stress.

Helping New Instructors. Health Directions offers a group fitness certification program that is well-known across South Carolina and nearby states. Under Bellenger’s direction, the company has implemented several Apprenticeship Training Programs (ATPs)—practical trainings that follow the weekend certification program. ATPs produce great instructors and contribute to the bottom line.

An Eye for Business. In 2004 Bellenger opened a new wellness center for Lexington Medical Center and exceeded sales projections ($500,000) in the first 8 months with 1,100 members. In her 8-year tenure at Health Directions, the total revenues for health promotion programs and fitness have increased from $153,000 to $500,000, with projected revenues of $725,000 for 2007.

Educating Fitness Pros. Over the past 9 years as a Reebok Master Trainer and continuing education provider, Bellenger has trained 5,000 instructors and trainers in Reebok University workshops all over North America. She developed and co-wrote the Cycle Reebok® for Real People program and manual and wrote the first ever personal trainer certification course for the Canadian YMCA.

Caring for Members’ Bodies—and Health. Bellenger implemented the practice of her staff taking a member’s blood pressure upon request. This service is beneficial for the many members who are newly out of cardiac rehab programs, on medication or just recovering from surgery.

Finalist: Lisa Druxman, MA
San Marcos, California

As the founder, owner and director of Stroller Strides® LLC, the largest postnatal fitness program in the country, Lisa Druxman helps new mothers get fit. She manages and trains employees and instructors, markets the program and teaches classes.

Where Moms Connect. More than just a program in which women walk their babies and do exercises, Stroller Strides is about community. Druxman wanted to create a place where new moms could receive support and guidance, while making new friends. She calls it “support group exercise.”

A Global Success. To date, Druxman’s brainchild has touched more than 20,000 participants in 400 locations throughout 38 states. The program grows at a rate of six new franchises per month, and the company makes over $1 million per year in revenue. She just released a book, Lean Mommy (Center Street 2007), to further educate new mothers.

A Career for Moms. Druxman founded Stroller Strides because she wanted a career that would be supportive of motherhood. She ended up creating career opportunities both for her corporate team and for the franchisees and instructors who joined the Stroller Strides family. All employees work more or less from their homes, in sync with their families’ needs.

Mommies as Role Models. One benefit of her program is the impact it is having on the next generation. She has found that when kids participate in their moms’ exercise regimes (babies and kids ride in the strollers), the moms serve as good role models, helping their kids learn to love fitness.

Giving Back to the Community. Druxman does an array of volunteer work, from lecturing on prenatal exercise at teen pregnancy centers to serving as an active board member for the Postpartum Health Alliance. Her participants help worthy charities through the “Moms With a Mission” program, which is part of the LUNA moms playgroup offered in conjunction with Stroller Strides.

Finalist: PJ O’Clair
Manchester, Massachusetts

PJ O’Clair owns a business that combines Northeast Pilates Certification Centers (NEPCC) and the ClubXcel fitness facility. NEPCC is the professional side of her business, while ClubXcel is the consumer side.

Pilates Educator Extraordinaire. Since its inception in the late 1990s, NEPCC has trained more than 1,600 students. NEPCC is the largest, most profitable STOTT PILATES® Licensed Trainer Center in North America. O’Clair has generated over $1.6 million in revenue since 2002 and won an award for training the highest number of instructors worldwide for STOTT PILATES.

Serving Older Adults. In June 2005, O’Clair opened ClubXcel, which specializes in programming for the active-aging and deconditioned clientele. She offers weekly active-aging classes; pre/post- natal programming; teen programs; postrehabilitation for spinal injuries, sports injuries and chronic diseases; and outdoor walking programs, in which members can participate with their families.

Training Fellow Instructors. O’Clair’s professional commitment to the industry and to the task of educating other fitness leaders has developed significantly in the past decade. Working with Resist-A-Ball®, Reebok and STOTT PILATES, she has helped launch many new products and programs.

Encouraging Members to Take Risks. One successful member program initiated by O’Clair was the “Xcel Challenge,” an 8-week program designed to educate members on the benefits of teamwork, cross-training and trying new activities. The challenge was offered in January 2006, and 50% of her members took part. Every single participant lost pounds and inches and gained strength, mobility and confidence.

Volunteering for Good Causes. In the 1990s O’Clair chaired the Boston “Workout for Hope,” managing over 100 aerobics teams to benefit the City of Hope in California. She has spent the past 9 years on a cycling team to support the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. In 2006 her team raised $185,000.


This award recognizes an IDEA member who is a practicing industry professional spending at least 15 hours per week actually training clients one-on-one; has demonstrated exceptional leadership, business management, motivational and instructional skills; and has inspired his or her clients to greater personal growth and a higher level of fitness.

Finalist: Nicki Anderson
Naperville, Illinois

Since starting Reality Fitness Inc. in 1993, Nicki Anderson has gone from having a solo in-home training business to running a studio staffed with eight trainers and an office manager, with an average annual growth of 10%.

Strong Professional Ethics. Acting out of her passion for the industry, Anderson created her own Personal Trainer’s Creed, which clearly states her philosophy and standards. She gives the creed to each trainer she hires and to all clients, so they know what to expect from their trainer and what they are responsible for themselves.

Helping Clients Shed Pounds. With the help of an excellent advisory board, Anderson developed a safe, sensible approach to weight management. Why has the program been effective? In part because of a “success journal” that Anderson created with guidance and input from over 100 women. This journal helps participants track nutrition, fitness activities and weekly challenges and successes.

The “Cheers” of Fitness. How important does Anderson believe personal connections are? She makes it mandatory for her staff to know the name of every client who comes through the door, whether they train the client or not. She believes this strategy helps clients feel they are a valued part of her business, which ultimately translates to greater client retention and referrals.

The Write Stuff. Anderson gives back to the industry, in part, through her writing talents. She is an IDEA contributing editor, author and speaker; a contributing author to ACSM’s Resources for the Personal Trainer (2nd edition); and contributing author to Club Industry, Fitness Management and Personal Fitness Professional.

Healthy Kids: A Priority. For years Anderson has been a business partner with her school district. She volunteers for Brownie and Girl Scout troops, presenting topics that focus on enhancing self-esteem and body awareness. She believes it’s her responsibility to share what she knows about preventing obesity.

Finalist: Ingrid Knight-Cohee, MSc
Vancouver, British Columbia

As health education manager at the Vancouver YWCA Health & Wellness Centre, Ingrid Knight-Cohee trains clients; manages the personalized services department, which covers budgeting, hiring, communications and contractual negotiations for up to 15 contractors; orchestrates successful client-trainer matches; and coordinates the YWCA biannual personal trainer symposium.

A Method for Training Clients. Knight-Cohee finds it effective to use a system that leads clients toward increased self-acceptance, self-reliance and self-confidence. The system includes assessment, goal setting, consistency and reassessment, plus applause for achievement. She trains healthy populations, athletes and special populations, including clients with osteoporosis, Graves disease and arthritis.

Making Money. Her continued success in overseeing personalized services at the Y resulted in no staff turnover and one new hire in 2006. A group training she introduced generated more than $15,000 in revenue the same year, surpassing the 2005 budget by 25%.

A Plethora of Programs. Knight-Cohee has created and implemented a number of outstanding programs, including wellness assessments, executive fitness packages, team training and the 10,000 Steps Team Challenge. All programs support her facility’s tagline: Fun, Friends, Results.

Helping Future Olympians. She also created pro-bono sports conditioning camps for 24 athletes of the First Nations Snowboarding Team. She monitored fitness testing and designed training programs for nine elite athletes from this group and is committed to assisting them toward their goal of standing on the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games awards podium!

Behavior Change for Kids. Knight-Cohee co-created and launched NuFit Kids programming and its accompanying website. She developed a unique family-oriented approach to effective lifestyle and behavior change for youth and has managed personal training, activity camps, life skills coaching and gym nights for this age group.

Finalist: Bill Sonnemaker
Atlanta, Georgia

Bill Sonnemaker established Catalyst Fitness, Georgia’s only fully accredited and medically recognized personal training facility. He earned the title “Atlanta’s Best Personal Trainer” in 2005 and 2006 from Atlanta Sports & Fitness Magazine. In 2007 he was awarded the Pursuit of Excellence Award from the National Academy of Sports Medicine.

Science Is His Foundation. Sonnemaker earned a bachelor of science degree in molecular biology with a minor in chemistry, worked as an analytical research chemist for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and is currently pursuing master of science degrees in exercise science and in molecular genetics and biochemistry; he employs his scientific knowledge to advance fitness training.

Training the Whole Body. Sonnemaker uses a systematic, progressive and integrated approach, training clients to promptly take control of their health and fitness and emphasizing flexibility, core, balance, reactive, resistance and cardiorespiratory training, plus balanced nutrition.

Clients From All Walks of Life. His clients range in age from 11 to 75. He works with about 15 different clients individually, six clients in partner settings and 15 clients in group settings; he also oversees all other Catalyst Fitness clients. Focused on maintaining intimacy and small-scale greatness, his company has three full-time trainers, two part-time trainers and two interns.

Training New Fitness Pros. Sonnemaker provides expert training to help prepare a new crop of fitness professionals to enter the field with knowledge and authority. He has written three courses to ensure that new trainers are qualified and ready to serve clients.

A Domino Effect. He feels fulfilled when his work with clients impacts an entire family. When parents impart their newfound love of exercise and healthy food to their kids, he can see the chain reaction taking effect—families supporting health and encouraging friends and relatives to do the same.


This award recognizes an IDEA member who demonstrates strong leadership skills through community and industry involvement and whose superior instructional abilities and influence as an instructor motivate active and underactive people to commit to healthy lifestyles.

Finalist: Bonnie Berk, RN, MS
Carlisle, Pennsylvania

Creator of Motherwell® Maternity Health & Fitness, Bonnie Berk is a master personal fitness trainer; a yoga instructor and therapist; and a wellness/lifestyle-training author, consultant and presenter. She is also the total health coordinator for the Carlisle Family YMCA.

Growing Healthy Families. In 1985, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists published its first safety guidelines for exercise during and after pregnancy, and Motherwell was the first program of its kind to adhere to those guidelines. Twenty-six years after founding Motherwell, Berk has more than 150 instructors in 28 states and nine countries.

Creating a Well Community. In her role at the Carlisle Family YMCA, Berk cultivates community partnerships that enable her to offer a wide variety of health and fitness programs, including “Wellness at Work,” “Stay Healthy Forever” (55+ group) and an annual Women’s Wellness Retreat. She has expanded the Y’s body-mind fitness programs, boosted its massage therapy services and introduced energy healing.

For People With Medical Challenges. Being a nurse, Berk meets people with health issues ranging from musculoskeletal problems to heart disease and cancer. Since many participants in her classes were cancer survivors, she jumped at the chance to co-create, with colleagues, a pilot complementary cancer care program called “Partners in Wellness” at the YWCA Carlisle. The program offers massage, Reiki and yoga.

Supporting Local Organizations. Berk addresses medical support groups for diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes and fibromyalgia, speaking on stress management and the benefits of exercise. She provides free wellness programs to local nonprofit clubs and organizations.

Reaching Consumers. Through the Motherwell website, Berk oversees information forums and provides quarterly newsletters for pre/postnatal women. She has written numerous articles for professional and consumer publications and published the Motherwell Maternity Fitness Plan (Human Kinetics 2005).

Finalist: Fred Hoffman, MEd
Paris, France

Fred Hoffman is director of international services for The Club & Spa Synergy Group; the fitness consultant for women’s marketing at Reebok France; a Reebok Global Master Trainer; and a fitness instructor, personal trainer and international fitness consultant.

Teaching Many Programs. During a career that’s spanned over 25 years, Hoffman has motivated more than 200,000 participants on six continents to get fit and lead a healthy lifestyle. His repertoire of over 35 different programs allows him to offer a variety of workshops and classes that include choreography-based movement, martial arts–inspired fitness, yoga, strength and core training.

Vive la France! A member of the original Step Reebok team in France, Hoffman has had a very positive impact on the entire French fitness community since he moved to Paris from his home in the U.S. He has worked for Reebok France since 1990 and is regarded as a pioneer in step training.

Reaching Across the Globe. Hoffman has presented at more than 160 conventions and educated more than 65,000 fitness professionals in 48 countries. Many presentations have occurred in places in which fitness was not traditionally a part of the culture, the conditions of daily life were less than ideal and English was not the first language spoken.

Working With the Medical Community. Hoffman works with KineForme, conducting continuing education for physical therapists who offer small-group exercise classes and personal training in their clinics (a practice allowed by the French healthcare system). He will soon launch KineForme’s fitness program for older adults.

Helping Populations in Need. Having been given so many career-enhancing and life-changing opportunities, Hoffman likes to give back as well. For example, he co-led an aerobic marathon fundraiser for Fight AIDS Monaco, a nonprofit organization under the direction of Princess Stephanie in Monte Carlo. More than 50 participants raised € 1,800 ($2,100) during the event.

Finalist: Chalene Johnson
Mission Viejo, California

As creator and chief executive officer of Powder Blue Productions, Chalene Johnson develops and continually choreographs new routines and creates teacher-training videotapes for her prechoreographed formats, such as Turbo Kick and PiYo. She instructs these workouts—and others—for several fitness facilities in Southern California.

Creativity Workouts Galore. In addition to Turbo Kick and PiYo, Johnson has developed a range of branded fitness classes and consumer workouts, including Turbo Jam, Turbo Flex, Strength Fusion, Booty Sculpt, Ab-Jam and various exercise ball programs, to name a few.

Inspiring Instructors. Johnson’s instructor-training programs have certified nearly 30,000 fitness professionals and are offered in more than 3,500 fitness facilities around the globe, including some of the largest health clubs worldwide. The mission of her 19-year career has been to teach instructors that by making exercise fun and creating personal connections, they can foster lasting change in the lives of others.

A Fun Workout for Consumers. In 2005 and 2006, with the successful launch of her first fitness infomercial, Turbo Jam, Johnson introduced her unique brand of fun fitness to consumers. Turbo Jam became the top-selling infomercial of 2006, helping her reach over 4 million inactive individuals.

Community Weight Loss. To inspire local families, Johnson organized small groups of neighbors and friends to meet for “Slim Down Parties.” Her mission was to dispel diet myths and teach healthy eating for busy individuals and families. After 2 years of successfully converting these “party goers” into regular exercisers, she took the concept nationwide with more than 1,000 parties across the U.S.

Volunteering for Youth. The Turbo Fit Kids program is designed to give fitness instructors the tools, resources and information they need to serve as school system volunteers in their communities. Personally, Johnson volunteers as a physical education teacher for first and second graders.

IDEA Lifetime Achievement Award

This award is presented to an individual who has, over the course of his or her professional career (at least 15–20 years), made significant, lasting and ongoing contributions to the health and fitness industry. It goes to a person who, through leadership and example, has inspired others to participate regularly in healthy-lifestyle activities; who has consistently provided fitness professionals and/or consumers with practical and beneficial information about health and fitness; who has embodied a spirit of enthusiasm and integrity while maintaining a constant dedication to health and fitness; and who has continually expanded his or her knowledge of, and expertise in, health and fitness issues.

Award Winner: Augie Nieto
Co-Founder, Life Fitness
Corona del Mar, CaliforniaAn Industry Innovator

Augie Nieto has always been a visionary in the fitness industry. At age 19 he bought the marketing rights to the Lifecycle exercise bike. A few years later, in 1980, he co-founded Lifecycle Inc., and over the next 20 years the company—now called Life Fitness Inc.—repeatedly multiplied in size under his leadership, growing into the largest commercial manufacturer of fitness equipment in the world. Nieto was instrumental in bringing cardiovascular equipment to the fitness industry when most facilities were focused only on weight lifting.

What is he most proud of during his long career? “I enjoy the realization of a dream,” he says. “I believed that fitness was not just for athletes. It is validation beyond my highest expectations that what began as a personal mission to provide the world with motivational products that ordinary people could experience [grew into] a $600 million company. I am most proud of giving people the same opportunity to build a career in helping people around the world achieve their goals.”

An Unexpected Diagnosis

Accustomed to being in charge of both a business and his vibrant good health, Nieto was thrown a shocking curve. In March 2005, at age 47, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. ALS destroys the nerve cells that control muscles, ultimately causing complete paralysis while leaving mental function intact. Survival is typically 2–5 years after diagnosis, and no cure exists.

With news like this, it would be understandable if Nieto spent his time cursing his bad luck. However, Nieto decided to use the opportunity to make a difference—this time not in the fitness arena but by helping researchers fight ALS.

Embarking on a New Quest

With his customary can-do attitude, Nieto set about turning his entrepreneurial mindset to raising funds for ALS. He and his wife, Lynne, are working with the ALS research program of the Muscular Dystrophy Association. In his campaign, called “Augie’s Quest” (www.augiesquest.com), Nieto has raised millions for MDA’s ALS division. Much of the fundraising is dedicated to a hunt for ALS-related genes, using new technology that sifts through DNA at lightning speed to identify genetic markers.

“We’re thrilled and honored to be working with the MDA,” says Nieto. “We’re going to help put a face on this disease and raise money for research in a fast-track format.”

His Hopes for the Fitness Industry

Drawing strength from his family, friends and a flood of supportive e-mails to handle the impact ALS has had on his life, Augie maintains a positive attitude and continues to lead as active a life as he can. When asked about his hopes for the future of fitness and wellness, he replies simply, “I hope that the world embraces a healthy lifestyle, moving your body and doing preventative work toward prolonging one’s health.”

If you would like to make a donation to Augie’s Quest, please go to www.augiesquest.com for details.

IDEA Fitness Journal, Volume 4, Issue 7

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