No one would dispute that 2020 had its challenges. But it had it triumphs, as well. Each time you helped a client—even from afar—there was joy. When you offered guidance to a fellow fit pro, there was reason to hope. When a class gathered through a mosaic of Zoom pictures, we knew our industry would survive. And thrive. This year, finalists and recipients of the IDEA World Fitness Awards are beacons of that joy and hope.

Recognizing the achievement of the top three fitness superstars and special award recipients was a highlight of IDEA® World Virtual in July. Here, we can celebrate with all our honorees and take pride in their ongoing efforts to Inspire the World to Fitness®.

IDEA World Fitness Awards: Fitness Leader of the Year

Recipient Jan Schroeder, PhD

Jan Schroeder, Fitness Leader of the Year at the 2021 IDEA World Fitness Awards

2021 Fitness Leader of the Year, Jan Schroeder, from Huntington Beach, CA.

Author Tony Robbins defines a true leader as someone with the ability “to influence, inspire and help others become their best selves.”

He could easily be describing Jan Schroeder.

For more than 20 years, her dedication to education, research, mentorship and coaching has made a profound difference in the lives of her students and clients. “My personal mission is to help develop successful fitness professionals who provide quality exercise programming for a diverse clientele,” she says, adding, “I apply truth, fairness and integrity to guide my professional decisions and relationships.”

Schroeder has put those values into action tirelessly. Soon after earning a doctorate in exercise physiology, she began leading the Fitness option in the bachelor of science program at California State University Long Beach. Since 1999, more than 3,700 students have graduated and are now group exercise instructors, personal trainers, managers, business owners, educators, writers and video producers.

“The educational program that I have built has done more than just inspire a single client; our program reaches the thousands of clients who have been inspired and helped by students who have graduated from it,” she says.

One of those students is Candice Campbell, MS, now a lecturer herself at CSULB.  “To be a leader, you not only guide others, but you lead from the heart, holding yourself to the same expectations that you expect from others,” says Campbell. “I have witnessed Jan continuing to pursue excellence and challenge herself by contributing to our profession in every way possible.”

Schroeder’s pursuit of excellence has meant that she now holds more than 20 licenses and certifications in everything from group exercise to bone densitometry. She has published research articles and presented nationwide.

She also keeps it real—and personal—with her small business, Garage Girls Fitness. “This business has always provided in-person sessions (yes, in a garage) until COVID-19. Then I had to pivot the business to an online model, which was quite the learning experience,” she says.

That experience exemplifies what so many fit pros have learned. “This change has actually been quite beneficial, as I now am able to reach clients all over the country.”

Schroeder has a diverse set of skills, and yet she clearly sees the common denominator. “All my various roles in the industry have one common thread,” she says, “and that is to educate and inspire individuals to exceed their perceived abilities.” It is the true definition of leadership.

See also: Boss Up and Inspire the World to Fitness®

Finalist Michael Nichols

Michael Nichols, Fitness Leader of the Year finalist

Michael Nichols, Fitness Leader of the Year finalist from San Diego, CA.

Honor. Courage. Commitment. These are the core values that Michael Nichols learned in his 12 years in the United States Marine Corps. Add the iCare model (integrity, commitment, advocacy, respect and excellence) that he practiced during his 10 years at the Department of Veteran Affairs. Now, mix in 10 years of fitness business experience as an owner, author, certified personal trainer and program manager. Put it all together, and you have a powerful base for exceptional leadership.

Today, Nichols applies those principles as director of military operations at F45 Training. His new mission was developing a Veterans Impact Program (VIP45) to help service members convert their military experience into a fitness career.

“My goal is to place an F45 Training studio on every military base around the globe,” he says, pointing to both the importance of fitness for combat readiness and the need for service members to have “a career progression roadmap into the fitness industry. I believe it is my responsibility to bridge the gap between military service and the civilian community for those serving our country.”

Nichols’ passion and vision is paying off: F45 Training’s Military Team is the only fitness program approved by the U.S. Department of Defense to work with active-duty service members.

His principles also shine in his community service. “In 2020, racial calamity exploded across America,” he says. “I was already serving on the ‘No Place for Hate’ board at my kids’ school. [This] initiative was formed to deal with racial disparity in the school system.”

On all levels, personal and professional, Nichols continues to lead with his core values at, well, his core. “I have dedicated my life to supporting others in their health and fitness journey by focusing on the power of fitness and how it transcends race, religion, culture, gender and more,” he explains. “I believe that this shared commonality tears down the walls that divide us every day.”

Finalist Ingrid Knight-Cohee, MSc

Ingrid Knight-Cohee, Fitness Leader of the Year finalist

Ingrid Knight-Cohee, Fitness Leader of the Year finalist from Vancouver, British Columbia.

“Ingrid is a joy to work with,” says participant-turned-instructor Andrew Alcalde. “She is a firm, empowered and strong leader who is also very down-to-earth, personable, compassionate, funny, extremely knowledgeable, humble and supportive.”

That’s high praise, but Ingrid Knight-Cohee deserves it.

A lifelong athlete and fitness devotee, she has built a successful fitness career that seems to know no bounds—even, as in 2020, when boundaries were sorely tested.

“What we in the fitness industry know to be true, especially under the circumstance of a global pandemic, is that exercise is medicine and an essential service,” she says. “The cost of not supporting these endeavors is too great to ignore.”

Reaching out through live and virtual classes, local TV spots, articles and blogs, podcasts, workshops, community service, and social media, Knight-Cohee is always seeking creative ways to make a positive health impact for others. All others.

“As a biracial woman, I am acutely aware of the challenges of minorities and have an inherent ability to relate to, respect and celebrate differences,” she explains. “I believe the respect and credibility I have earned over the past two decades has been due to leading with passion, patience and positivity. Those qualities, along with honesty, integrity and transparency, build the trust needed for effective leadership.”

Her current role as director of fitness classes at Fitness World Canada allows her to reach more than 60,000 British Columbians through fitness classes, community events and innovative programming. Her goal? Developing “the potential to reach and benefit anyone, anywhere, anytime.”

Part of that effort is mentoring future generations of fitness instructors, something for which Andrew Alcalde is grateful. “Ingrid’s belief and trust in my abilities made me feel confident, supported and appreciated—which has allowed me to thrive in this industry. Her support and encouragement have given me the confidence to conquer my own personal goals.”

See also: BEING the Change as the Sea Changes

IDEA World Fitness Awards: Personal Trainer of the Year

Recipient Tracy Markley

Tracy Markley, Personal Trainer of the Year at the 2021 IDEA World Fitness Awards

Tracy Markley, Personal Trainer of the Year from Long Beach, CA.

In 2020, many of us grew weary of masks. But for Tracy Markley and her clients, the challenges were actually significant. Markley is partially deaf in one ear and almost totally deaf in the other.

“Because I have severe hearing loss and wear hearing aids, I could not train clients in person when fitness professionals were allowed to, as we had to train with face masks on. It’s harder to hear, since I read lips a lot in my communication,” she explains, adding, “I train many seniors, and they also wear hearing aids. They are at risk of safety issues [if they can’t hear] my directions. They are at more risk of falls.”

It is no surprise to those who know her, however, that Markley still found a way to help others. She continued seeing her private clients and conducting group classes through Zoom and used her extra time to write. Already a published author of six books on stroke recovery and brain function, she used the COVID-19 shutdown to republish her first book with larger print and anatomy illustrations.

“After that book was finished, a few stroke survivors asked me if I could author a book just on arm recovery. So, I did.” That book, Stroke Recovery, Regaining Arm Movement, was followed by Stroke Recovery, Leg Stability and Walking Gait. She then finished Your Brain, A Fitness Trainer’s Guide to Brain Health and added a new version just for kids.

You can now understand why Markley, who has dozens of fitness certifications, most cherishes the title given to her by her clients: “God’s Stroke Angel.”

“I am always in awe about how her personal training skills took her down the long and winding road of stroke recovery,” says client Monica Hill, who now trains virtually from Washington, D.C. “I’m sure there are rough days that she has to fight through, but she never gives up.”

Her knowledge and compassion have made her a sought-after expert. “When COVID-19 closed gyms and fitness studios, I was honored to have been asked by stroke survivors around the world to train with me via Zoom.” She also made videos for the thousands of survivors worldwide who were unable to attend their physical therapy.

“My inspiring and motivating words are ‘Knowledge Is Power’ and ‘Don’t Give Up,’” she says. “I stand by those words.”

Finalist Wendy Batts, MS

Wendy Batts, Personal Trainer of the Year

Wendy Batts, Personal Trainer of the Year finalist from Roswell, Georgia.

By the time Brian Sadler came to see Wendy Batts, he’d already been told by numerous health professionals that his chronic musculoskeletal issues would preclude him from ever again enjoying the sports he loved.

Batts was undaunted.

As an NASM master instructor and licensed massage therapist, she conducted a thorough assessment and worked with Sadler to create a plan that could increase his mobility, strength and power. “Brian fully committed to his program and trusted in my abilities and expertise to help him reach goals,” she says.

“Wendy is gifted in many ways,” Sadler explains, “but I think her most exceptional gift is her uncanny understanding of the body holistically. I am making progress that I had stopped believing possible.”

“I have been a certified trainer for over two decades (and educator for nearly as long) and make it my personal mission to help clients, students and fellow trainers to reach their highest potential and become the best versions of themselves,” says Batts. “I strive to build lasting relationships and hold myself to the highest standards by continuing my personal education and then giving back to others.”

Batts carries through on that mission through instructional videos, weekly podcasts and webinars, writing and speaking, and, as she puts it, “being in the trenches training clients ranging from some of the top CEOs to elite athletes.”

She’s been an assistant professor of exercise science and sport studies at the California University of Pennsylvania since 2007. “Education is extremely important in the fitness industry and will continue to drive our profession forward,” she says. “I believe that I am making a difference by being a resource for thousands of trainers who are looking to improve their training offerings and, in turn, their clients’ results. My goal is to continue to inspire trainers to love what they do and be passionate about the impact they can have on everyone they meet.”

Finalist Bobby Kelly

Bobby Kelly, Personal Trainer of the Year

Bobby Kelly, Personal Trainer of the Year from Phoenix, AZ.

Some people simply shine, and Bobby Kelly is one of them. Just ask Todd Durkin, MA, 2017 IDEA Jack LaLanne Award recipient. “Bobby is serving his purpose to make people better,” Durkin says. “In turn, his light is shining bright, and he’s making the world a better place to live. He is passionate, energetic, enthusiastic, caring, a great listener, serves his community unabashedly, has the highest standards, works tirelessly and loves being a ‘life transformer.’ Bobby Kelly is a lighthouse whose light is clearly shining bright.”

Wow, who wouldn’t want that commendation?

Although Kelly went to college to earn a degree in economics, with plans for law school, he was “lured” into an aerobics class in his senior year. “I found my calling,” he says. “I was hooked. Two months later I became an instructor, 6 months later lead instructor, and 12 months later, a Step Champion.”

Now, 30-plus years later, he still feels lucky. “I found something I was so passionate about that I have remained in one profession for my entire career: serving others.”

That service has taken many forms. While he initially focused on making a name for himself, his career ultimately became about helping clients of all ages become their best selves. “During this last decade, my mission has leaned toward personal growth, longevity, and giving back to trainers and clients,” he explains. He cites clients like Buddy Linder, a Parkinson’s patient who got out of a wheelchair to walk and talk again; Riley, a client who lost 485 pounds; and Kyle Maynard, recipient of the 2020 IDEA Fitness Inspiration Award. Kelly continues to work with Maynard through K2 Adventures Foundation, assisting people with their training so Maynard and others can summit Mt. Kilimanjaro.

“Working out should be challenging, but it doesn’t need to be hard,” says Kelly. “My goal is to make it fun so I can serve as an inspiration to others, both [the clients] on the floor of my gym and the trainers in our profession.”

See also: 2021 IDEA World Virtual: United We THRIVED!

IDEA World Fitness Awards: Fitness Instructor of the Year

Recipient Stacy McCarthy

Stacy McCarthy, Fitness Instructor of the Year at the 2021 IDEA World Fitness Awards

Stacy McCarthy, Fitness Instructor of the Year from San Diego, CA.

“Becoming the best instructor possible has been a journey,” says Stacy McCarthy. It’s safe to say that she’s encountered some roadblocks in her travels, but you get the feeling that McCarthy wouldn’t have it any other way. Her challenges have helped her blossom as a person, instructor and mentor for other fitness professionals.

But let’s start at the beginning: her first job as an aerobics instructor. When she was fired.

It was 1983, and she had no experience or training. “Two weeks after being hired, I was fired,” she explains. “The advice the gym manager gave me was to find a mentor and get more training. And that’s exactly what I did!”

Her quest for education has never diminished. She earned multiple certifications and taught a variety of group fitness classes—from high-low to hip-hop and more. “In 1996, after many years of studying the science of yoga, I dedicated my teaching to yoga and meditation. For the past 25 years, I’ve been at the forefront of bridging the gap between yoga and fitness.”

McCarthy has a clear sense of purpose: “I am blessed with a deep sense of my personal mission as an instructor. My mission is to reach the masses and spread influence through movement in environments that are diverse and inclusive.”

More growth? Yes! “I’ve challenged myself to grow in areas beyond instructing live classes by improving my writing, media and communication skills. And presenting in 44 countries has given me the confidence to teach anywhere.”

More challenges? Yes, those, too. In 2020, while conquering the professional trials of virtual teaching, she was in a serious bicycle accident that left her unconscious and in trauma care.

“When I was released, my face was filled with stitches, with tar and asphalt pigmented in my skin. My face was messy, but my spirit was grateful to be alive. I returned to teaching as soon as I could and used my scarred face as a reminder that my classes are a no-judgement zone.”

McCarthy continues to mentor others, drawn by the belief that instructors have an obligation to nurture the next generation of fit pros. She presents internationally and is involved with many community service initiatives.

The common thread is education. “I am just as happy teaching to a packed room as I am teaching a class of a handful of students,” she says. “I wouldn’t feel like myself if I wasn’t teaching!”

Finalist Kia Williams, MS

Kia Williams, Fitness Instructor of the Year finalist

Kia Williams, Fitness Instructor of the Year finalist from Fort Worth, TX.

Kia Williams is a global presenter, master educator and host of IDEA’s “Paths to Success” web series, and those are just a few of her many accomplishments. She is a transformational instructor—perhaps because fitness was transformational for her.

“I was 15 years old, depressed and bullied,” she remembers. “I started taking step aerobics and yoga, and that is when fitness became my outlet and refuge. Recognizing the positive and life-altering influence that instructional fitness had on my life, I knew it was imperative that I ‘pay it forward’ and support others who are on different physical and psychological journeys.”

From the very beginning, her own experiences formed her commitment to diversity and inclusion. “I experienced age discrimination but remained steadfast in my pursuit of becoming the best group fitness instructor I possibly could. I knew firsthand that lives were at stake and that inclusive fitness was bigger than myself and any one person.” She currently teaches an average of five group classes a week (in person and online), but that’s only a tiny sample of her instructional duties. She travels internationally, educating, training and certifying fitness service providers in both business and movement.

“I have been afforded the opportunity to give back and serve marginalized and disadvantaged communities,” she explains. “I truly feel that it is our divine duty to take good care of each other and leave this world better than we found it.”

Her most recent accomplishments include signing a new book deal; serving as the health and wellness chair for the NAACP-Fort Worth-Tarrant County Chapter; and representing the industry in forums and spaces dedicated to diversity, inclusion and equity in fitness.

“I am emotionally proud to have the fitness community as my family and support in my personal and career mission to support people who are affected by marginalization in jobs, education, health care and lack of representation in the fitness industry.”

Finalist Aileen Sheron

Aileen Sheron, Fitness Instructor of the Year finalist

Aileen Sheron, Fitness Instructor of the Year finalist from West Covina, CA.

“Aileen is the only teacher in the world [for whom I would] leave work early, battle 30 minutes of traffic and pay to park,” says group ex participant Ashley McKeachie Cappel. “When I finally get to see her, I am in heaven!”

She’s talking about Aileen Sheron—who feels the same way about her students. Although Sheron estimates that she’s taught more than 32,000 hours of classes over the years, she makes sure that each one is special.

“I make deep connections with my students because I stay current and positive, and I really treasure every moment I have to educate and inspire my ever-extending fitness family,” Sheron says. “I’ve always done absolutely everything in my power to motivate my world to fitness.”

Some of her most powerful tools are also the most basic—and the most important: “I greet everyone before we start, catching up with my regulars and introducing myself to first-time attendees. Facing the group for the majority of class allows me to make an essential connection and keep everyone pumped up. My intro lets the group know exactly what to expect and prepares them physically and mentally for what’s to come.

“I love to work the room,” she continues, “helping with form and technique and making sure I encourage the newbies when they need it.”

Sheron tends to her own growth, as well, attending conferences, read-ing extensively to stay current, and staying involved with community service.  Her students inform her, too. “I hand out anonymous surveys from time to time to help me further improve the experience,” she explains. “These surveys give the students a voice to shape their future workouts.”

She integrates new techniques and choreography, “working hard to deliver a fresh routine every single time. I believe this is one of the main reasons I have some students come back, week after week, for more than 20 years. Nobody is going to be bored in my class!”

See also: 2020 IDEA World Fitness Awards