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