Celebrating world-class fitness pros and their impact on people’s health.
People everywhere want to live healthfully but often lack the drive to get off the couch. Luckily, qualified fitness professionals can show them how to bridge the gap from thinking about good health to living it. Our nine IDEA World Fitness Award finalists have dedicated themselves to impacting their communities, their fitness colleagues and even people around the globe. Please join us in honoring these top-notch program directors, personal trainers and fitness instructors.
Many thanks to SPRI® for sponsoring the IDEA Awards. Congratulations to the recipients and all of the finalists!
IDEA Program Director of the Year
This award recognizes an individual IDEA member who is a healthy role model; who demonstrates keen professional commitment through community and industry involvement; and whose outstanding leadership or creativity inspires staff and influences both active and underactive people to commit to a healthy lifestyle through successful, creative and diverse programming.
Recipient: Carla Sottovia, PhD
Carla Sottovia, PhD, is director of fitness and personal training education at the Cooper Fitness Center, and founder and president of MWOVE Education in the USA and Brazil.
Sottovia has worked at the Cooper Aerobic Center for more than 25 years, holding several positions that have been instrumental to the growth of Cooper and the fitness industry. As director of fitness and personal training education since 2009, she has developed and implemented the Cooper Fitness Center Personal Training Philosophy and Training System, which currently generates revenue of more than $3 million annually.
She has created and delivers continuing education programs for the Cooper Personal Training Department. She educates personal trainers outside of Cooper as well. She designed and developed CooperPT Mentorship, a continuing education program specifically for personal trainers wanting to take their business to the next level. She also helps Cooper Fitness Center members through 20-plus hours per week of one-on-one and Pilates training.
Part of Sottovia’s impact on people is her can-do attitude and her ability to help people overcome their own life challenges and physical limitations. In 1995 she was diagnosed with a heart condition that for many would have meant the end of a very active lifestyle. “I have had an implanted defibrillator/pacemaker for the last 19 years,” she says. “I have been able to continue with all my activities, including completing an Ironman® triathlon with the defibrillator.”
A native of Rio de Janeiro, she is passionate about bringing quality fitness education to her birthplace. As founder and president of MWOVE Education, she introduced and has taught the Functional Movement Systems education program in Latin America. “Demand [for] our training and development workshops has grown immensely, such that this year we are introducing the MWOVE Education International Instructor Team.”
She enjoys sharing her experience with her home country. “In 2013, in Brazil, [Carla] launched SIM: the International Summit of Movement,” says Chuck Wolf, MS, a SIM presenter. “Many of her ventures, including SIM, have been accomplished without sponsors and with her own time and money. There is no doubt she has singlehandedly brought progressive program development from a cardiovascular and musculoskeletal perspective to other parts of the world.”
Sottovia also developed and implemented the children’s physical activity program for a 2-year research project. She was a coauthor of “The Effectiveness of a Physical Activity and Nutrition Education Program in the Prevention of Overweight of Schoolchildren in Criciúma, Brasil,” published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2013.
Finalist: Debbie Bellenger, MA
McAdenville, North Carolina
Debbie Bellenger, MA, is wellness director for CaroMont Health in Gastonia, North Carolina. She develops, delivers, evaluates and customizes wellness programs for employees of CaroMont and the local community. She is responsible for occupational medicine, employee health, health promotion, a 13,000-square-foot wellness center, and a 4,500-square-foot interactive wellness center called Discover You! This center features 17 interactive technology exhibits and a community room with teaching kitchen.
“In 2013 at CaroMont Health we reduced healthcare claims costs by 10%,” she says. “This success has allowed us to sell our services to local employer groups, engaging three employers in a yearlong, fee-for-service agreement with CaroMont.”
Bellenger’s mission is to build a model of care to take to the community via employer groups, faith-based communities and doctors’ offices. CaroMont’s signature program is Health Revolution, an 8-week wellness program that includes pre and post-testing, walking and weekly lessons.
She has developed a medical referral program in partnership with CaroMont’s doctors to offer tobacco cessation classes, a cancer exercise program, and a cycle program for heart patients. CaroMont placed in the 2014 Top 100 Healthiest Workplaces in America and won the 2014 North Carolina Prevention Partners Excellence in Healthcare Award.
Bellenger introduced the first mobile mammography unit for CaroMont. Called Wellness Coach, it offers mammograms and cardiovascular and wellness screenings in North and South Carolina. Together with CaroMont’s employees, family and friends, she has also helped to raise $50,000 through the American Heart Association’s Heart Walk®.
Finalist: Grace De Simone
Rochelle Park, New Jersey
Grace De Simone is national group fitness director of Plus One Health Management, an Optum Company, in New York City. She oversees the quality, safety and staffing of group exercise programs in over 230 locations throughout the United States and Puerto Rico. She manages five regional directors, supervising more than 120 site directors, 700 instructors, and over 2,000 classes per week.
De Simone helps strategize worksite wellness programs, including walking, weight loss challenges, lifestyle intervention classes and health lectures. “Every one of our corporate accounts is different,” she explains. “We run classes in full-fledged fitness facilities in some environments and in conference room-turned-exercise-class in others.”
To keep students safe, she created the “I’m Okay” safety protocol, which reduced the overall rate of fainting incidents and other lunchtime maladies by 28%. “Students are taught the signs of overexertion and poor preclass nutrition. They are asked to let the instructor know they are okay before leaving class early,” she explains. “If they don’t feel well, they are instructed to sit down so we can address the need.”
She also implemented Trend Watch, to introduce new classes. “This tool allows members to experience the latest trends, as vetted by us,” she says. “[When we label a] program a ‘trend,’ our members understand that it’s unproven. Trends that yield excellent results are considered for regular or specialty offerings.”
De Simone serves on the Plus One Cares Philanthropic Committee, leading community outreach opportunities for staff and serving organizations such as Groundworks and March of Dimes.
IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year
This award recognizes an individual 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.
Recipient: Douglas Brooks, MS
Douglas Brooks, MS, exercise physiologist, is director of global programming for BOSU® and for RealRyder® Indoor Cycling. A former Ironman triathlete, he is also director of athlete conditioning for Sugar Bowl Ski Academy.
Brooks trains clients individually and in small groups for an average of 30 hours per week. He works directly with 65 Sugar Bowl Ski Academy student-athletes and indirectly with 400 athletes from Sugar Bowl Ski Team and their associated conditioning programs. His clients range from world-class professional athletes to 13-year-old beginning athletes to adults doing general fitness training.
Why do clients like Brooks? “They know that I am human; I fail often and move forward. They see that I manage my life in a similar manner to how I counsel them. Message: Exercise works; don’t quit; grind it out when you need to; give yourself some slack. But never quit on me; never quit on yourself.”
Ski racer Brian Francis says, “I would not be in the position I am today without the guidance and encouragement of Coach Douglas,” he explains. “He understands the complexity of skiing and delivers the best program to help us succeed at ski racing. Plus, he has unbounded energy that fires up the team.”
Back in 1991, one goal Brooks had was to “elevate the status of personal training beyond the stereotypical ‘muscle head’ trainer,” he explains. “By writing Going Solo and The Complete Book of Personal Training and teaming with organizations like IDEA, I have helped create a respected industry based on quantifiable standards of excellence.”
Brooks has impacted fitness globally from the consumer level to the professional level. He has presented fitness workshops in more than 30 countries; written six textbooks, plus numerous articles and manuals; and produced and been the talent in numerous DVDs. He speaks at about 25 fitness conferences per year.
He has seen the industry evolve in many ways. “Personal training is now shifting toward a focus on small-group, or what I call ‘team training,’” he says. “It is cost-effective, but even if cost is not an issue for a client, many prefer the energy of the small-group dynamic. There will always be a case for one-on-one training, but I encourage most clients to switch to team training.”
Brooks enjoys helping the community. For example, he participates in the Lake Tahoe Century Ride for World Bicycle Relief®. “The ride serves as a community builder plus a fund raiser for this Chicago-based, nonprofit organization dedicated to ‘providing access to independence and livelihood through the power of bicycles.’”
Finalist: Hayley Hollander
Personal trainer Hayley Hollander wears many hats. She is fitness director at Midtown Athletic Club-Bannockburn, in Chicago, owner of HHPT in Las Vegas, and cofounder of Advanced Training Performance (ATP), also in Las Vegas. She is a master trainer for Technogym® and a PTA Global faculty member. In her variety of roles, she offers personal training; develops and implements small-group training programs; recruits and educates staff; leads seminars for the public; teaches fellow colleagues and trainers; and more.
She passionately believes in serving clients based on their likes, wants and needs. She always asks for feedback and incorporates it into clients’ programs. “To have your feedback implemented is validating and will provide credibility for the trainer, while building trust between the trainer and the client,” she says.
Along the way, to truly understand her clients’ needs, Hollander has become her own guinea pig. For example, she personally took swim lessons in order to understand what clients would need in their triathlon programs.
She enjoys serving her community: She has trained kids in an after-school program for Canarelli Middle School and offered free outdoor boot camp classes for children.
Hollander loves her job. “There is no doubt in my mind why I wake up every day,” she explains. “My mission is to help people accomplish the things they didn’t believe that they could do, and I do that by guiding them through their own personal health and fitness journey.”
Finalist: Carol Michaels, MBA
Short Hills, New Jersey
A trailblazer in the area of cancer and exercise, Carol Michaels is the founder of Recovery Fitness®, an exercise program designed to help cancer patients recover from surgery and treatments. She owns and operates Recovery Fitness and Carol Michaels Fitness, and works with physicians and other health professionals to develop her program, which is also offered in hospitals and community centers.
Author of Exercises for Cancer Survivors, Michaels develops individual and group exercise programs to alleviate pain and tightness, and she designs and instructs strength, flexibility, balance and posture programs for those with cancer. She has been a consultant to hospitals and health organizations on fitness, cancer exercise and osteoporosis.
“I am able to build strong relationships with my clients because I take the time to listen and understand their health issues,” she explains. “I create a soothing environment for them in an uplifting atmosphere. They know communication lines are always open to discuss their health issues or other subjects.”
Michaels creates exercise groups for clients who share similar cancers, surgeries, issues and concerns. “This format results in a support group and makes taking care of health enjoyable, fun and cost-effective,” she says.
From time to time, she participates in community charity events by donating revenue from a day’s session to charities selected by her class participants or individual clients. Michaels is also involved with the health needs of low-income communities. For example, she donated her time to establish a Recovery Fitness program at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center.
IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year
This award recognizes an individual IDEA member who is a practicing group fitness instructor and 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.
Recipient: Krista Popowych
Vancouver, British Columbia
Krista Popowych is a veteran group fitness instructor and presenter. She is education director and a master trainer for Keiser® and JumpSport® Fitness™ and former manager of the Richmond Olympic Oval, overseeing the fitness, sports, events and customer care teams from startup to post-Olympic legacy initiatives. She used to host the Canadian fitness television show, The Caribbean Workout, reaching 35 million viewers.
“I teach boot camps, athletic training, fitness trampoline, indoor cycling, step, kickboxing, strength, yoga, and anything and everything in between,” says Popowych. “I have taught to all market groups, including the active aging, cardiac rehab, high-school students, women’s rehabilitation and wellness programs, and corporate fitness.”
Being innovative in class design is a passion for Popowych. “Creating catchy programs and names entices people to try something new,” she says. “It’s important to create the hook, deliver the wow and educate. Some noteworthy classes, both present and past, include Express Workouts—30-minute sessions for the new to the advanced exerciser; Transformer— group resistance training; and Row and Ride—combining indoor cycling and indoor rowing.” Programs like these have increased participation in non-prime-time classes.
Popowych also enjoys helping fitness pros. “I regularly receive feedback that I give instructors information and choreography they can use right away with their own students,” she says.
She teaches weekly yoga sessions for kids aged 7–9 at Sacred Heart Elementary School. Plus, she has volunteered hundreds of hours at the school, including offering warm-ups for training and track meets and leading energy breaks for the 2 weeks leading up to the school’s annual walk-a-thon, a significant fund-raiser for the school.
While Popowych’s work reaches hundreds, she enjoys making a difference person by person. For example, Sara Sjerven has come to her classes for over 11 years. “When Sara asked if I would train her, I partnered her with another client who I thought would be a good fit,” says Popowych. “Sara gained more confidence, her fitness level improved, and her training partner became a friend. When [Sara] mentioned that she had been a dancer, I encouraged her to become an instructor. Today she is teaching amazing fitness classes.”
Sjerven says, “Krista pushes me from whatever level I’m at. I wake up most mornings feeling amazing because I am fit and in great health. I owe much of this to Krista. When I was looking for a mentor, she was there, and she has encouraged me every step of the way.”
Finalist: Amy Dixon
Amy Dixon has worked for Eqinox Fitness Clubs for over 10 years. She recently accepted the new corporate role of West Coast cycling master trainer, which lets her work with newer instructors to help them deliver an uparalleled member experience. She also teaches several fitness classes per week. She is a master trainer and an international program developer for Schwinn® Cycling, BOSU and ShockWave.
Her classes consistently average 40-60 men and women ranging from 18 to 80 years old. These numbers have helped Equinox Santa Monica be one of the top-performing city clubs for 10 years running.
Dixon specializes in inspiring and coaching her students to move with confidence and strength both inside and outside of the studio. “I work hard to motivate my students to feel capable of finding the best version of themselves every class,” she says. In 2012, her club was recognized as having the Group Fitness Program of the Year out of more than 50 clubs.
As senior manager of group fitness for Equinox for over 8 years, she created and launched three successful national programs: Super Hero Training Camp, Full Circle, and Breathless: The Ride. She has taught workshops to instructors and given master classes for members across the United States. She also offers classes through FitnessGlo®, a global site for online classes.
Dixon serves as one of the lead instructors and participants in Cycle for Survival, which raises funds for rare cancer research at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
Finalist: Linda Freeman Webster
Green Bay, Wisconsin
Linda Freeman Webster is a group exercise instructor and personal trainer in the sports medicine department of Aurora BayCare Medical Center, an instructor for Bay Area Yoga Center, and the owner of Guru Fitness® LLC, through which she presents CEC workshops.
Freeman Webster, an ACE-certified personal trainer, teaches all the formats offered at her facility (she is the only staff instructor able to do so), including indoor cycling, yoga, Pilates, Pilates 50/50, yoga-Pilates blend, strength, Zumba®, aquatics, kickboxing, circuit, kettlebell and medical fitness.
She created medical fitness classes—a blend of yoga, Pilates, traditional core work and stretching personalized to accommodate medical conditions—for her employer and provided in-house training to peers. She developed and facilitates the 6-week, for-fee Small Group Kettlebell class, which sells out every session within 48 hours. And for the fitness industry in general, she has devised classes such as Lean Legs, Great Glutes; Kick A** Strength; and Pilates 50/50 (50% standing Pilates-based work and 50% Pilates mat work).
Freeman Webster thrives on creating new classes. “I love blending science and fact with creativity and entertainment to find new ways to reach new people and spark current members,” she says.
She also enjoys giving back to the community. For example, her Pair and a Spare Spin-A-Thon event collected over 420 pairs of new underwear and over 500 pairs of socks for the needy. (She created this project after hearing that underwear and socks were the most-requested items at many organizations.)