These 9 career pros have scaled to the pinnacle of our industry. Find out what keeps them inspired.
In setting after setting, from Europe to Southern California, from online videos to on-campus fitness rooms, in adversity and in action, the finalists for the 2017 IDEA World Fitness Awards exemplify all the diversity and excellence that exist in the world of fitness and health. Join us in recognizing the achievements of these nine personal trainers, fitness instructors and program directors.
2017 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year
This award recognizes a practicing industry professional who spends at least 15 hours per week actually training clients one-on-one; who has demonstrated exceptional leadership, business management, motivational and instructional skills; and who has inspired clients to greater personal growth and a higher level of fitness.
Alexis Batrakoulis, MSc
When he’s not at home training clients, leading courses as the education director at the Greek Athletic & Fitness Training School or fulfilling his duties as the secretary of the Hellenic Exercise Professionals Association, Alexis Batrakoulis is traveling throughout Europe and the United States, sharing his knowledge as a technical expert in personal training.
With over 15 professional certifications to his name, he has been dedicated to raising professional standards for the last 20 years. Not only is he a subject-matter expert and master trainer for the American Council on Exercise; he is also a recognized certified personal trainer emeritus through the National Strength and Conditioning Association and a member of the Professional Standards Committee of EuropeActive.
“I consider the most important thing for credible and highly respected personal trainers is the education and effort they provide to clients,” he says. “My first priority is to help every client achieve his or her goals, as well as to create a better fitness culture, attitude and behavior.”
Batrakoulis has created a continuing education course for fellow professionals entitled “Exercise for Overweight and Obesity: Bridging Theory Into Practice.” He has also launched two regular regional events to promote the value of structured exercise, giving special attention to underserved communities.
Batrakoulis imagines a world where everyone discovers a love for exercise. Client Polytimi Karvasoni is an inspirational example. “At 31, I had never exercised before,” she says. “With guidelines and encouragement from Alexis, not only did I lose weight and improve my posture (from extreme kyphosis), but I also changed my attitude toward exercise in general. I never imagined that could happen to me.”
If he receives the award, Batrakoulis says he will use it to spread the word about the “magic pill” called exercise. “My vision has always been health promotion through structured and supervised exercise,” he says. “My mission is to motivate people, while my passion is focused mostly on the fight against obesity.”
Anthony Carey, MA
An expert on biomechanics, Anthony Carey has been working in the fitness, corporate wellness and athletic training industries for more than 26 years. Owner of Function First, which he opened in 1994, Carey helps people reduce pain-provoking mechanical stress and addresses limitations in functional movement.
According to client Rita Krupp, Carey is a life-changer. “I had been dealing with significant neck pain for 20 years when I was referred to Anthony and Function First,” she says. “I had tried everything and didn’t think [his approach] would work for me. Within days I went from chronic pain to seldom feeling discomfort. I’m stronger and more active than ever.”
As part of his work to help people reduce pain through exercise, Carey has published the Pain-Free Movement Specialist curriculum; the book The Pain-Free Program: A Proven Method to Relieve Back, Neck, Shoulder and Joint Pain; and a second book, Relationships and Referrals: A Personal Trainer’s Guide to Doing Business with the Medical Community. He has also authored numerous articles and textbook chapters and is an expert contributor to multiple world-renowned publications.
In fact, contribute is the one word Carey uses to encapsulate his personal mission. “[I want to] contribute to the quality of life of my clients, contribute to raising the bar for our profession and contribute to a positive life experience for everyone I come into contact with,” he says.
Carey has two young daughters, and many of the contributions he makes are to local elementary schools through fundraisers. He has offered free training services to school teachers and supports a local girls’ running club. Carey also puts a lot of effort into building links with the local medical community.
Carey says his clients come to him because they are motivated to live a life without pain, and he is determined to help them. He’d use the award to help the public understand “the many different backgrounds and areas of expertise a fitness professional may possess.”
Michael Piercy, MS
West Caldwell, New Jersey
Formerly a Major League Baseball player, Michael Piercy now spends his career helping his clients hit major goals at his fitness center, The LAB. Those clients include elite athletes from the MLB, NFL and NBA, as well as everyday athletes and enthusiasts.
Anyone who has met Piercy appreciates his legendary laugh and sense of fun, so it’s not surprising to find “fun” listed as one of his core business values (along with professionalism, caring, knowledge and sacrifice). And he takes fun very seriously in his work! “No program at The LAB is implemented unless it’s F.U.N. (Functional, Usable and Naturalistic),” he says. “Fitness doesn’t have to be boring. Clients who come into an energy- filled environment are much more likely to reach their goals and avoid relapse.”
Kareem McKenzie, an NFL Super Bowl champion, agrees: “Michael directs your passion toward success, but he also makes you fall in love with what you do. There is no limit to the creativity and innovation he uses to challenge you mentally and physically.”
This ability to make hard work fun may be one of the reasons The LAB was named the 2016 Best of West Caldwell’s for fitness centers and why Piercy received the Mayoral Award for Community Influence the same year.
A TRX® master instructor for the past 6 years, Piercy leads up to 40 client sessions a week. He also writes for a variety of publications and travels to speak at conferences—part of his personal mission to “pay it forward” through mentorship. Piercy would like to represent the values both of his peers and of “this amazing industry . . . to do extraordinary things to both serve our communities and be a positive influence in the world.”2017 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year
This award recognizes a certified group fitness instructor 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.
Irene Lewis-McCormick, MS
Irene Lewis-McCormick may be based in the middle of the United States, but her stellar reputation radiates outwards. She teaches exercise physiology at Drake University in Des Moine, Iowa; develops and leads education courses for Power Systems; coaches at Orangetheory® Fitness; works as a master trainer for SCW Fitness conventions and certification programs; and represents RYKA® Fitness as an ambassador. She’s also a master instructor and trainer for Savvier Fitness, TRX Suspension Training® and SCW Fitness Education.
Closer to home, Lewis-McCormick offers “In the Park” summer workouts, fulfilling her desire to show people how to, as she explains it, “thrive through exercise.” She’s been thriving since elementary school, when she competed in track and field, and she knows the value of persistence and grit, qualities she tries to impart as a fitness professional. In addition to teaching, she enjoys taking hot yoga and walking with her neighbors. Lewis-McCormick is passionate about helping the next generation of fitness professionals. Emily Hampton, a former student of Lewis-McCormick’s, knows this firsthand. “Irene was one of our first clients when I opened Ignite Yoga 5 years ago. Not only was she supportive of my fitness endeavors, but she was an incredible mentor for me. I was lucky to have her advice and support when I was unsure and lacked confidence. She became a regular in our yoga community, supporting myself and all our teachers with her positivity.”
This perfectly exemplifies Lewis-McCormick’s personal mantra: “A little less me; a little more we.” Whether she’s teaching, training, or facilitating certification courses and conference sessions, she puts her energy and focus on making other people feel great. Her advice? “Don’t walk away from a session or class until everyone feels successful.”
Laguna Beach, California
Talk about a weekend warrior: Doris Thews recently traveled 40 out of 52 weekends, delivering certification programs to instructors across the country and around the world. A definite multitasker, Thews presents workshops on behalf of Indo-Row®, ShockWave, Schwinn® Indoor Cycling and Hedstrom Fitness (BOSU®), and she’s collected some impressive statistics: visiting six countries, flying more than 1 million miles, training 40,000 instructors and mentoring over 50 international master trainers.
According to fitness professional Julz Arney from Los Gatos, California, Thews consistently “raises her hand for work—even for the most challenging travel to the most remote places, and even if it’s to reach only a small number of fitness professionals- in-the-making—because she believes that anyone who has the gift and calling to serve through fitness deserves the best-quality education.”
When at home, Thews teaches a variety of classes at multiple local clubs, purposely reaching a diverse group of participants. Motivated by a desire to successfully assist running clients, she has also gone from viewing running as punishment to becoming a world-class endurance runner who has completed four of the six major world marathons.
If one word could represent her, it would probably be joy. “It’s my absolute joy to be a fitness instructor. I think I would feel awkward and incomplete if I didn’t teach,” she says.
She finds joy in volunteering as well. Two of her favorite fundraisers have been Glory Yoga, a church-based program that raised donations for local charities, and a running event for the Orange County Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation, to support families dealing with cancer. Jay Blahnik, 1996 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year, San Francisco, says, “Doris never forgets to give back to her community and other people in the industry. I continually see her looking for ways to raise awareness and money for important causes, charities and events. It would be easy for her to be successful without being generous, but she truly believes in helping others.”
Jessica Matthews, MS
Chances are you’ve seen Jessica Matthews in a fitness video, either on the Oprah Winfrey Network or as an ACE expert. She’s come a long way since the day she was named “PE Student of the Year” at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina.
Today, Matthews is both student and teacher—a doctoral student at Arizona State University and a professor at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. For over 11 years, she has filled multiple roles at ACE, from certification director to exercise physiologist to her current role as a senior adviser and consultant.
Viewing healthy living from a holistic perspective, Matthews is a vegetarian, yoga practitioner and instructor, and follower of Ayurveda practices. Her mission is to transform lives “not only physically, but also emotionally, mentally and spiritually. “After witnessing the devastating effects of chronic diseases on the health of family members, I set out to help both myself and those I love to live a better quality of life. Beyond just physical health, this includes well-balanced emotions, positive social interactions, ongoing learning and self-study, and enhanced mental health.” As a teacher, she loves encouraging others to be more present and enjoy their lives.
This holistic approach had a profound impact on former student Brittney Olberding, who met Matthews while recovering from a traumatic brain injury. “Jessica has taught me to live in the present moment and celebrate what is possible today. She has empowered me and has brought hope and abilities to my life and to the people I work with.” Brittany is now a yoga teacher herself.
In addition to speaking at conferences and volunteering, Matthews has contributed to the success of ACE by serving on exam- and curriculum-related committees; developing educational materials and content; and serving as a technical editor for the ACE Group Exercise Leadership Specialty Certification Manual and as lead editor for the ACE Group Fitness Instructor Handbook: The Professional’s Guide to Creating Memorable Movement Experience.2017 IDEA Program director of the Year
This award recognizes 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.
Debbie Bellenger, MA, MBA
McAdenville, North Carolina
As wellness director at CaroMont Health, an independent healthcare system, Debbie Bellenger has brought its vision of being “your partner in health and wellness” to life, creating programs for 5,000 employees at 19 locations. Her team manages over 50,000 annual visits for personal training, group fitness and medical wellness, and she reaches more than 10,000 visitors every year through her direction of cooking classes, special events, CPR courses and smoking cessation classes.
A big fan of prevention as the key to community health, Bellenger sees herself as a goodwill ambassador on behalf of her employer. “We let residents know that we support them in being healthy—and avoiding unnecessary hospital visits. The goal of our work is to create a positive view of the local healthcare system so that when (our community members) need medical attention, they’ll choose CaroMont.”
Bellenger is especially proud of her work as program director for Jump Start, a weight loss program; P.R.I.D.E. (Power to Recover through Individualized Development and Exercise), for those with or recovering from cancer and for their family members; and Step Up, Shape Up, a walking program.
She is also cognizant of the bottom line, knowing that a financially stable company can more easily invest in its employees. She says the wellness program “measures growth by increasing the number of lives impacted annually, increasing revenues annually and incrementally reducing the subsidy to the hospital.” And over the last 6 years, she has succeeded in reducing that subsidy by half a million dollars and increased the number of lives touched from 43,571 to 85,000.
One of those lives belongs to Daphne Friday. After taking several of Bellenger’s classes, Daphne nominated her for a CaroMont Healthcare Hero award. “Recently I was part of Debbie’s WOW (Women Optimizing Wellness) course,” she says. “We learned about nutrition, sleep disorders, diabetes, chair yoga and Pilates. I’m so glad I started my personal wellness journey with such a fine group of women led by such an enthusiastic role model!”
Amy Boone Thompson
She’s the national director of personal training services at Wellbridge, a fitness management company, but Amy Boone Thompson also sees herself as a client. “Like most of our clients, I need accountability,” she says. “I need encouragement, and I need a set schedule to get my daily exercise, so I work out with my own personal trainers, which has helped me learn firsthand what our team is doing well and how we can improve.”
Under her leadership, Wellbridge has increased its personal training staff by 22%, thanks in part to her advocacy of career advancement opportunities that help trainers “gain additional credentials and expertise and earn more money.”
Boone Thompson has also led Wellbridge to a 35% growth in personal training revenue over the past 5 years, traceable to the various programs and changes she has implemented: wellness and small-group trainings, improved professionalism and service, better hiring practices, and a template that gets new trainers off to a successful start. Her point of pride is the low staff attrition rate under her watch.
Her two main areas of focus are strengthening alliances with the medical community and small-group training. “Our Medical Advisory Board advises our team on the latest research, reviews our programming standards, and works with other physicians to ask for referrals, ” she says.
Boone Thompson sees small-group training as one of the fastest-growing models in the industry because it “costs less, pays the trainer more and retains the most members.” She has added and replicated eight nationally branded programs, which now account for 12% of the total department revenue. A strong advocate of corporate support for her employees, she sees a direct correlation between the skills her instructors and trainers have gained through this support and the revenue increases. Eve Fogarty, physician liaison for WellStart (a Wellbridge physician referral exercise program), explains: “Amy expects her staff to have the gold standard in certifications and is always offering them more continuing education to enhance their skills and the patient outcome.”
Steven Trotter, MS
Steven Trotter’s personal mission statement is “Take people to a place they can’t get to on their own.” That mission has taken him back to Virginia Tech, his alma mater, where he’s now assistant director for fitness programs; he has also taught at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Helping students reach new heights is his passion.
Trotter could certainly teach a course on resilience, having grown up as an overweight, unfit, unhappy child. But on his 16th birthday, Trotter got his driver’s license and promptly drove himself to the gym to start a “new way of feeling,” and he’s been a go-getter ever since. Within 2 years, he’d lost 130 pounds and was teaching fitness classes. Now he is guided by a desire to “deliver programs that encourage people to become a better version of themselves. I’ve been in our members’ shoes and know what it’s like to step foot into a gym for the first time and experience triumphs and tragedies.”
One of those triumphs is Trotter’s management acumen. Financially responsible for bringing in $200,000 in annual revenue, he has exceeded that by over $100,000 in each of the past 3 years. He also dedicates himself to mentoring the next generation of fitness leaders, as he firmly believes that “mentoring professional and student team members is crucial to their personal development and the betterment of the organization/institution.” Losing team members to graduation every year is rewarding to Trotter rather than disheartening, as many of the students move on to become fitness leaders themselves.
One of them is Katie Reid, who went on to become the business operations manager at Les Mills U.S. in Chicago. “The energy and passion coming from the entire Virginia Tech team greatly exceeds that of many other schools, and I attribute that to Steven’s leadership,” Reid says. “His involvement with ACE and NIRSA [the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association] gives him a great scope of knowledge for creative and diverse programming.”The Selection Process
How are the awards finalists and recipients selected?
Here is a brief overview of the selection process:
- Applications for the IDEA World Fitness Awards are posted on the IDEA website (www.ideafit.com). You may apply for an award yourself or nominate another candidate. Applications must adhere closely to the specific guidelines and be received by the deadline. The deadline for the 2018 awards is February 1, 2018. See www.ideafit.com/idea-awards-application for more information.
- A committee of fitness peers reviews the applications, with committee members examining and rating each application independently. There is no discussion between judges about each applicant. Each year, a new committee is selected to judge the applications. Applicants are judged by their written responses to questions on how they “walk the walk,” inspire others and make a difference in their communities, as well as by their education and industry experience. Selection of award finalists and recipients is based entirely on the mean averages of the committee members’ ratings.
- Finalists are notified, and the recipients are announced at the IDEA® World Convention and in a future issue of IDEA Fitness Journal.