Always on the Line

by Joy Keller on Sep 01, 2007

IDEA member Sonya Bruton takes personal development to new heights with telephone wellness coaching.

As a child, IDEA member Sonya Bruton, who lives in Apex, North Carolina, distinctly remembers buying clothes from the “chubby” section at Sears department store, and how painful it was. Today, people have a tough time imagining Bruton as an overweight little girl, but she is the same person who listens so well and offers sound fitness advice. It is because Bruton spent so many years developing her own passion for health that she is now able to help others.

In addition to being a journalist, certified personal fitness trainer, group fitness instructor and lifestyle coach, Bruton is also chief executive officer of the North Carolina Community Health Center Association, an organization that represents the interests of the state’s nonprofit health centers to federal, state and local agencies. Her love for fitness was born in a church basement, at the tender age of 15. “I fell in love with the combination of music and movement,” she says. “What I remember most is the feeling of pure joy. The hourlong classes seemed to fly by; for the first time, I started to lose weight and become more defined. After 3 months, the Saturday offerings ended and I wanted more. There weren’t any options for teen membership and though my minister was enthusiastic, he was untrained. So,while we had a good time getting in shape, we also racked up shin splints and pulled muscles. Those early lessons of love for the activity, limited access and the need for training fueled my fitness career and choices.”

Caring Crossroads
Bruton took group fitness classes during every semester in college and started teaching her sophomore year. As time went on, she added certifications and specialty trainings. In 2002 she found herself at a crossroads. “I had done a great deal of personal development and started to ask myself if it could be possible to make a living from my passion and love (fitness) versus my competencies (growing and developing organizations),” Bruton says. “Though my career had included the newspaper industry and higher education and culminated in the top spot of a statewide association, I didn’t get the satisfaction that came from fitness. I figured out that what I loved most was helping people get from here to there. I love the transformational nature of fitness. I love the empowerment, the ability to overcome and the camaraderie. There is no greater pleasure for me than being with someone throughout their journey.”

In order to live her passion, Bruton wanted to “live big and make a contribution to the masses.” She wanted her idea to trickle down to all neighborhoods. She added wellness coaching in 2005 and began to “seriously pursue spreading fitness beyond the walls of the gym.” She joined eClubSoda, an online and teleconference group meeting for people who want to enforce positive habits, as a way to continue her own personal development. About 6 months into her membership, destiny started to take shape. “Several members began discussing their struggles with weight loss, diet and exercise,” Bruton says. “An online conversation began about the possibility of talking regularly about health and weight loss and offering support around health and fitness. I understood their challenges and recognized the dangers of participating in a forum where all participants are well-intentioned but untrained, so I asked them to hold off while I developed a more formal structure.

“I had recently read a feature story in an IDEA magazine comparing the curricula and prices of several coaching certification programs. I immediately enrolled in the Wellcoaches Corporation program and started to design WakeUp Well and Rest Well. I proposed the final product to [co-founder of eClubSoda] Nan Shaw, became a partner in the company and launched the new calls.”

Wake Up and Smell Success
WakeUp Well and Rest Well has two parts. WakeUp Well is a weekday teleconference from 6:45 AM–8:00 AM. Rest Well is a companion call held on the weekends from 9:00 PM–10:15 PM. Bruton explains how it works: “A typical call begins with hellos and check-ins. It’s common for 25% of the participants to be exercising (usually walking, running or on cardio equipment); another 20% have just returned from the gym; 30% are getting ready for the day; 15% are having coffee; and the rest dial in from their beds. If there is background noise, the caller stays on mute unless he or she is speaking. There is usually time for two callers to receive coaching, feedback and/or support for something going on in their lives.”

Bruton says members benefit most from the connection they feel, as well as from the community. “We have a core group of 25 people who call every day and have truly bonded like family,” she says. “We have seen members through the loss of a child (and other close relatives), divorce, retirement, birth and many other life milestones.We know the real person, the one who in some cases people have been afraid to show. We deal with real lives and real issues—that in itself is a gift that we all treasure and hold reverently.”

Bruton’s goal is to grow beyond the 175 members she has now. She wants to reach as many people as possible and share “compassionate accountability” with a global network. Along the way, she relies on collaboration and partnership as cornerstones in her business plan. “I find that many people in the health and fitness industries have mastered the art of collaboration. I partner with clients, members and students. For me the distinction lies in the interdependence. I can’t be successful without equal creation from participants. It takes both pieces of specified wisdom to find solutions, establish strategies or make lasting change. It’s important that people listen to their bodies and their lives. The path to health and wellness is well worn, but each person adds steps that are fresh and unique.”

Joy Keller is a senior editor of IDEA Fitness Journal.

Want more from Joy Keller?

Fitness Journal, Volume 4, Issue 8

Find the Perfect Job

More jobs, more applicants and more visits than any other fitness industry job board.

© 2007 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

About the Author

Joy Keller

Joy Keller IDEA Author/Presenter

Joy Keller is executive editor of IDEA Fitness Journal and IDEA Fit Business Success, and is also a certified personal trainer, indoor cycling instructor, yoga teacher (RYT 200) and Reiki Master.