The efforts of the IDEA World Fitness Award finalists start at home but, like ripples from a stone thrown in a pond, their actions fan across the globe. Their passion for spreading the health and fitness message to clients—and the world at large—motivates them every day.

Please join us in celebrating the careers of those shortlisted for 2013 IDEA Program Director of the Year, 2013 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year and 2013 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year. (Check the July–August issue of IDEA Fitness Journal for an announcement of the recipients.)

Congratulations to all the fitness pros who were considered for these awards. Here is a quick look at the finalists’ careers, taken from the applications IDEA received by the deadline of January 1, 2013.


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.

Finalist: Debbie Bellenger, MA
Gastonia, North Carolina

Debbie Bellenger is wellness director for CaroMont Healthcare System in Gastonia, North Carolina. She was recruited into this new position to develop, deliver, evaluate and customize 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 new 4,500-square-foot interactive wellness center called Discover You!

“In year one at CaroMont Health we reduced healthcare claims costs by 2%,” 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.”

Discover You!—which Bellenger opened—features 17 interactive technology exhibits and a community room with teaching kitchen. It promotes health, wellness and healthy lifestyles and is one of a kind in the Southeastern states.

Her 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.

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. Along with CaroMont’s employees, family and friends, she helped raise $50,000 at the American Heart Walk.

In March, CaroMont won the corporate cup in Charlotte, North Carolina, and placed second for the second year in the Charlotte Business Journal, winning the Healthiest Employer award.

Finalist: Carol Espel, MS
New York, New York

Carol Espel is the global director of group fitness and Pilates for Equinox® Fitness Clubs. She oversees 60 clubs throughout the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom and has been credited with being the first to launch trend-leading group fitness programs such as Whipped, ShockWave, Breathless: The Ride, Tread & Shed, Power Nap, 30/60/90, Barre Burn, Animal Flow and MetCon 3.

“MetCon 3 is a high-intensity metabolic conditioning workout that has been extremely successful at reaching our members,” she says. “It is popular with men and women, beginners and advanced, and young and older exercisers.”

Espel manages quality control standards, talent recruitment, training and development, and a multimillion-dollar annual budget. She has spearheaded the company’s Group Fitness Training Institute, which is designed to elevate instruction and education standards for the instructor teams.

She is part of—and also manages—Equinox’s group fitness creative team, consisting of nine regional managers, 60 managers and over 1,000 instructors. “We launch four to eight signature group programs each year, and they give our instructors a way to amplify their reputations and expand their careers. The programs help us [provide members with] innovative programming and fresh approaches to movement, and they often involve collaborative partnerships with top thought leaders inside and outside of the fitness industry.”

Espel was instrumental in developing Cycle for Survival, which raises funds for rare-cancer research at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. The event takes place exclusively in Equinox Fitness Clubs across the country and has become the largest in-club fitness fundraiser in the world, raising more than $18 million in just 6 years.

Finalist: Tami Reilly, MS

Hamden, Connecticut

Tami Reilly is associate athletic director for fitness and wellness for Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut. She operates and maintains a recreation center, two fitness centers (with a third to come in the fall), an indoor track and studio facilities for students, faculty and staff. She manages 60 staff, including students, and her responsibilities have grown from overseeing one physical facility in 2003 to directing three in 2013.

“Our free exercise classes are always open to everyone—there is no need to sign up for sessions,” she explains. She supervises an array of program offerings, including step, Pilates, kickboxing, Butts and Guts, Thighs, FitFest, reflective hikes, yoga, Farmer’s Market—Fitness Day and Zumba® Social with sororities. She also partners with on-campus organizations to provide wellness experiences that meet the needs of each group.

Reilly initiated an instructor-training program as a credit class, providing a feeder program for the university’s group fitness classes. Recreational classes have increased from 12 to more than 90 per week under her watch. “As a leader, I try to find a balance between giving my employees creativity and space while guiding them onto the right path. I want to give students permission to learn from their experiences and make them better the next time. I try not to hand them everything on a silver platter because there is little room for personal growth if I do that.”

She is passionate about helping people in her community and the world at large. For example, she provided student instructors for an after-school fitness and nutrition program run by an elementary school. She has also worked in conjunction with the university’s Albert Schweitzer Institute to offer a wellness retreat for self-care and self-worth to women in Barbados who are suffering from domestic abuse.


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.

Finalist: Brett Klika
San Diego, California

Brett Klika is director of athletic performance for Fitness Quest 10. He manages a staff of eight athlete performance specialists and maintains a personal training schedule of 20–30 client sessions per week. In addition to providing ongoing education for trainers and everyday people, he has written The Underground Workout Manual and speaks, consults and writes for organizations such as Gatorade®, Virgin Active (UK), Johnson & Johnson and various school districts throughout the nation.

“My programs are based on the physical and emotional needs of the different ages and levels of clients involved,” he says. “By applying scientifically sound exercise programming in a fun environment, clients can achieve ongoing success. My program Be Great!, involving over 700 kids a year, combines physical development pedagogy with life-skills training for boys and girls aged 6–college. Not only do these youth go on to be leaders on the field and in the classroom; many of them are inspired to become fitness pros.”

Klika is committed to creating a fulfilling experience for clients. “I don’t contaminate clients with toxic comments or gossip, and I try to get clients to laugh and play. I don’t want them to view exercise as ‘penance’ for the ‘sins’ they have committed. I want them to look forward to being active.”

Klika’s goal for the personal training industry? “When training, presenting and writing, I aim to motivate, educate and inspire trainers to expect greatness from themselves. This enables them to deliver a successful and empowering experience to their clients.”

At Fitness Quest 10, he brings in local physical therapists, youth sports medicine doctors, orthopedic surgeons and other youth healthcare professionals to speak at free informational parent nights on topics like injury prevention, college prep and lifetime fitness. He also creates community outreach programs that let young people experience exercise as a fun and positive life habit.

Finalist: Frank Pucher
Roseland, New Jersey

Frank Pucher is president of Fitness 121 Personal Training in Roseland, New Jersey. His 5,000-square-foot facility provides personal training and Pilates services to more than 200 clients weekly. He leads a team of eight full-time personal trainers and delivers over 25 client sessions weekly.

He also provides fitness coaching. “The coaching process addresses specific personal obstacles outside of fitness that inhibit or affect people’s ability to practice better fitness. “My skill is in knowing the right questions to ask and having the right tools and techniques to empower people to find those answers within themselves,” says Pucher.

“I believe in coaching people to reach beyond their grasp,” he says. “Through a mutual commitment, I maintain a program of accountability toward the desired goal. For some, this is an aesthetic goal; for others, it’s a health issue or perhaps a performance issue. For me, coaching is about the person first and the training second.”

Pucher is one of three coaches in Todd Durkin’s Mastermind Program. “This high-level coaching program helps fitness pros create greater success both personally and professionally,” he explains. “My purpose is to inspire the next generation of personal trainers. I’m committed to helping them be not only the best personal trainer they can be, but also the best person they can be.”

Pucher has spoken to fitness consumers and fitness pros at his own studio and other facilities around the country. Sample presentations include The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise, Proper Nutrition and Positive Mindset.

Finalist: Mike Z. Robinson
San Luis Obispo, California 

Mike Z. Robinson owns MZR Fitness, training clients 38–40 hours a week and managing six staff members. An ACE-certified personal trainer, he is also the founder of Mike Z. Robinson Enterprises, which provides mentorship and personal trainer development programs, gym design, speaking and consulting.

Robinson’s guarantee to his clients is that their workouts will be completely customized to them and that they will never do the same workout twice. “I’m constantly changing the workouts so that their bodies never adapt to any particular routine,” he says. “I also change up the scenery so that they never get bored with their surroundings. We exercise at the facility, the high school/college, the park, the beach, in their backyard, on hiking trails—pretty much anywhere!”

“To build camaraderie between myself and my clients, I invite them to quarterly socials, and we take unique field trips such as skydiving, hiking Half Dome in Yosemite and driving to attend a fitness class with Richard Simmons in Beverly Hills,” he explains. “We capture these moments with pictures [which we put] on the wall and our social media sites. They remind clients of our wonderful times together.”

Robinson has created many successful partnerships with national companies. For example, this year he is teaming with WeightWatchers® to provide an exercise component for a weight loss and fitness incentive program being implemented in San Luis Obispo.

Robinson gives back to the community through an annual fitness fundraiser, the proceeds from which go to the Family Care Network, an agency that serves foster and high-risk children. He has also performed the warm-up for 2000+ people at the network’s Miracle Miles for Kids 10K.


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.

Finalist: Shannon Fable
Boulder, Colorado

Shannon Fable is the founder and CEO of Sunshine Fitness Resources, as well as the owner of Balletone® and GroupExPro. She is an international presenter, program developer and master trainer for several companies. An ACE-certified group fitness instructor, personal trainer and lifestyle and weight management coach, she also consults for fitness pros on career development, communication, leadership and other topics via live and virtual trainings.

Fable teaches the Balletone class regularly, has trained thousands of instructors stateside on the Balletone concepts and has taken the program to Japan and Taiwan with amazing success.

To reach students, she uses simple, systematic instructional methods. “My message, which grew out of my study of communication, is, ‘It’s what you don’t say that counts.’ I focus on spending equal or more time thinking about how I will deliver the information versus just what I will deliver.”

As a member of several program development teams in the past 15 years, she has helped develop and deliver programs for BOSU®, Schwinn® Indoor Cycling, Urban Rebounding, Gliding™, Power Systems® and the American Council on Exercise, among others.

Fable now serves as director of exercise programming for the corporate division of Anytime Fitness®. She is an ACE board member, a freelance writer for industry publications and texts (including the ACE and ACSM group fitness instructor manuals) and a certified Book Yourself Solid® coach.

To help meet the demand for qualified instructors, she created a nonprofit organization that provides free education to instructors. “In exchange for the education, they provide free classes and lectures to schools, retirement communities, correctional facilities and members in their own facilities,” she says.

Finalist: Linda Freeman Webster
Green Bay, Wisconsin

Linda Freeman Webster is a group exercise instructor and personal trainer for Aurora BayCare Medical Center Sports Medicine; an instructor for Greater Green Bay YMCA; and the owner of Guru Fitness® LLC.

An ACE-certified personal trainer, she teaches all the formats offered at her facility, including indoor cycling, yoga, Pilates, Pilates 50/50, yoga-Pilates blend, strength, Zumba, aquatics, kickboxing, circuit, contact boxing and medical fitness. (She is the only instructor on staff able to do so.)

Freeman Webster has created several classes—among them, YES Training®, which combines yoga techniques (like aligning breath with movement) and yoga postures with traditional strength training. She has devised medical fitness classes for her employer and provided in-house training to peers. She also developed and facilitates the personal training boot camp program, the highest revenue-generating personal training program in the department. She focuses on providing the best experience possible for her students. “I set a goal to make eye contact with each student throughout the class and acknowledge [everyone’s] efforts in positive ways,” she says.

She is a Keiser® National Trainer and has designed classes for the fitness industry in general. These include Release, Align, and Renew, which fuses Pilates mat work, physical therapy techniques and myofascial release.

Freeman Webster enjoys giving back to the community. She created “Pair & a Spare Spin-A-Thon” to collect new underwear and socks for the needy after hearing that these things were the most requested items at local community organizations. She has also brainstormed and organized Heart-A-Thons to help employees and their families at her hospital raise money for the American Heart Association.

Finalist: Norma Shechtman, MEd, MA
Irvine, California

Norma Shechtman owns Shechtman Consulting. She creates CEC home study courses, writes for fitness journals, presents internationally and consults with fitness studios and corporations. She has held a number of positions with The Sports Club Company: group fitness manager, education coordinator and Pilates coordinator. A veteran fitness instructor, she currently teaches 13 classes a week, including cycling, Pilates, sculpt, TRX®, Rebound, Tread & Shred, aqua, circuit and boot camp at Equinox Sports Irvine, Shape-up and private corporations. Her Beyond Pilates class is a big hit since each session is designed around a different piece of equipment.

Shechtman loves to teach and generates an atmosphere of joy, fun and celebration. She always demonstrates modifications and offers alternate exercises so every student’s needs are met. Her classes attract participants from many age groups.

She enjoys helping other instructors grow their skills. For example, she created, designed and implemented an ACE certification review course that has had a 95% student success rate. She has also developed teacher-training and fitness programs that place special emphasis on teaching techniques, understanding the body, program development and motivational skills.

Shechtman climbed to the base of Mount Everest and is now sharing that passion through the Equinox hike club. “People join me to explore local mountain areas and get to know each other,” she says.

She has helped City of Hope™ by organizing instructors, raising money and helping procure prizes for the fundraiser at the club. “We raised over $12,000 for AIDS and related cancer research,” she explains. She has also raised money for Cycle for Survival.