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2017 IDEA World Fitness Award Recipients

They are hard-working professionals who care deeply about the fitness industry, exemplifying the values and attributes that make it so rewarding for all of us: professionalism,
education, balance, health, social interaction, fun.

Many fitness professionals owe their careers to a desire to help a family member recover from a debilitating disease or injury. Others were determined to share the joy of movement. Some simply stepped forward when a leader was needed, enjoyed it, and decided to pursue further training and education.

For the 2017 IDEA World Fitness Award recipients—honored at the 2017 IDEA World® Convention in Las Vegas in July—it all started with caring: for injured family members, for the health and well-being of those around them, for the future. These hard-working professionals care deeply about the fitness industry, exemplifying the values and attributes that make it so rewarding for all of us: professionalism, education, balance, health, social interaction, fun. The 2017 IDEA Program Director of the Year, 2017 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year and 2017 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year demonstrate how a beginning based on care translates to a journey of excellence.

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.


Debbie Bellenger
2017 IDEA Program Director of the Year

Debbie Bellenger, wellness director at CaroMont Health in Gastonia, North Carolina, believes that a good program manager needs to love everything about fitness, from listening to employees’ needs, attending meetings, creating new programs and fostering career advancement for staff, to, of course, modeling personal fitness and wellness.

Bellenger’s motivation to work with injured and sick clients is due, in part, to health challenges that hit close to home. A traumatic accident left her brother in a coma for 3 months, and her best friend was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her experience helping her loved ones regain their abilities launched a 30-year focus on sharing the message of health and wellness. Daily, Bellenger endeavors to follow this guiding principle: “How may I help you feel better and move better?”

“I believe in specializing group fitness to motivate deconditioned (and) new exercisers who are afraid,” says Bellenger, who designs classes “that provide appropriate-level instruction for overweight and out-of-shape clients, clients who live with diseases that limit their function and movement, and those with lower-back pain, arthritis, women’s health issues, etc.”

Bellenger believes that group fitness will “expand its wings” over the next few years to include “partnerships with physicians, providers, therapists and other like-minded professionals.” She strives to be a wellness leader and develop programs that “fill the gap for so many who need to be inspired to exercise and choose healthier lifestyles.”

With these goals in mind, Bellenger embraces the CaroMont mission to help keep clients out of the hospital. She considers that her company’s greatest accomplishment is the improved health and wellness of over 85,000 county residents who participated in its four-part Wellness Division program last year.

Recognizing that a program director’s job must balance the altruistic goal of improving people’s lives with the business goal of being financially viable, Bellenger is proud that in her years running the wellness division, the subsidy to the hospital has decreased by half a million dollars, while the number of people reached has nearly doubled. “All directors set annual goals that align with the board-approved corporate goals that roll down to our managers and employees,” says Bellenger. “Our key metrics annually are to increase revenue, lives touched and productivity and to [see a] 2% cost savings annually year over year.

“The wellness division . . . delivers the message to the local community that CaroMont is their partner in health and wellness,” says Bellenger. “We’re goodwill ambassadors who [share] that prevention is key and that we support locals in being healthy and avoiding unnecessary hospital visits. Our goal is to create a positive view of the local healthcare system so that when people do need medical attention, they choose CaroMont.”

Not content with past success, Bellenger continues to look to the future, seeking a world where fitness and wellness have no walls or boundaries. “My vision for the future is an industry that is adaptable, nimble and dynamic enough to respond to the ever-changing face of health care in the United States, one that is completely integrated with all other industries so that we’re mapped into a continuum of care that provides nutrition education, wellness coaching, physical activity, tobacco cessation and stress management, with onsite clinics for employees,” she says. “The key to our success is to be part of the physician referral process [so that we can] activate the vast majority of our [nation’s population who have] yet to participate in wellness.”

Bellenger is tenacious in her commitment to advocate for reimbursement for fitness and wellness services with insurance companies. “If we all come together [in this], we stand to have a greater impact on keeping the average individual motivated.” She also enjoys developing her staff’s talents and offering opportunities for employees to flourish.

Bellenger acknowledges the responsibility that comes with the prestige of being an IDEA award recipient, and she plans to mentor young professionals. She shares a message that may resonate with all fitness pros, no matter where they are in their careers: “Always have faith that you’re making a difference in someone’s life every single day, although you may not know it at the time. Your heart, dreams and passion will take you to success.”

“Always have faith that you’re makinga difference . . . Your
heart, dreams and passion will take you to success.”

—Debbie Bellenger

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.


Michael Piercy, MS
2017 IDEA Personal trainer of the Year

Michael Piercy started young! He was just 15 when his mom signed him up for his first fitness certification, and he’s been going strong ever since as a personal trainer, fitness manager and director, coach and master trainer—and even for a time as a Major League baseball player.

Now owner of The LAB, a personal training facility in Fairfield, New Jersey, Piercy has been building professional momentum for the past 20 years. In the last 5 years alone, he’s opened his business, become a TRX® master instructor and a training team member for Under Armour®, and attended his first IDEA World Convention, where he won an inspiration medal.

“Feeling stuck in a rut during my time as a fitness manager for a big club, I (took some gambles) that paid off,” he says. “After attending my first IDEA conference, I vowed never to miss another one. I then set a goal to present at the next one. These events were life-changing, and it’s scary to think what my life and career would be like had I not taken the leap to follow
my dreams.”

Not only has Piercy achieved his goal of presenting at IDEA events (numerous times), but he has become a published author and community leader, winning the 2016 mayoral award for community influence. This is in addition to coaching 35+ client sessions each week, with elite athletes from the MLB, NFL and NBA, as well as everyday fitness enthusiasts.

Always ready to laugh, he has incorporated fun into his core business values, which also include professionalism, caring, sacrifice and knowledge. As he puts it, “You can’t build a bridge to the client without fun and laughter. Laughter is the light for people who are in the dark, struggling to make significant changes in their lives. This one core value can lead to consistency.”

Piercy believes the relationship between the trainer and client is far more important than sets and reps. He credits his own coaches from his days as a professional athlete with teaching him that “the most important aspects in building relationships are quality coaching and a genuine love for people. Great coaches know how to meet people where they are and provide them with simple, effective strategies that allow them to reach their goals. Fitness doesn’t have to be boring. Clients who enjoy coming into an energy-filled environment are much more likely to reach their goals and avoid relapse.”

As part of reaching people where they are, Piercy is involved in numerous local projects, one of them being “Fitness as a Second Language” through the inner-city schools of New Jersey. Piercy created this project as a way to help people find quality food and fitness choices. Another community event (and a personal favorite of his) is the annual St. Jude’s Childhood Cancer Walk, where he speaks and leads a warmup.

Piercy’s background as a professional baseball player—along with the high expectations that accompany that career—is perhaps one reason he loves to help people learn the strategies that help them become their best. Quick to credit past mentors, he views personal training as a way to motivate people to make changes that will positively affect their quality of life. He holds himself to this same standard. “A great mentor told me, ‘You can only take someone on a journey as far as you have taken yourself.’”

With that in mind, Piercy consistently lives and models a healthy lifestyle, even getting 7–8 hours of sleep a night, an aspect that is often overlooked. “As a fitness pro and entrepreneur, it can be easy to use the excuse of being busy to skip workouts or neglect my own health in the service of others,” Piercy says. “I make a daily attempt to maintain the consistency and commitment I ask of our clients.”

Looking ahead to the impact he can make as an award recipient, Piercy says, “If I could send one message, it is that it’s okay to be yourself. There is not one type of fitness professional in our world—there are many, each with unique gifts and perspectives. Define and develop the best of yourself, focus on your strengths, and use your superpowers and gifts to coach and train authentically from your heart.”

“You can’t Build a bridge to the client without fun and laughter. Laughter is the light for people who are in the dark, struggling to make significant changes in their lives.”

— Michael Piercy, MS

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.


Jessica Matthews, MS
2017 IDEA fitness instructor of the Year

Jessica Matthews is passionate about her definition of a healthy lifestyle: “being mindful of who I am and what my values and intentions are in all of my personal and professional doings.”

It is a passion born from seeing the devastating effects of poor health in her immediate family. She began her journey as a yoga instructor and educator with the intention of helping both herself and those she loved. From there, she extended her exploration of what it meant to have a good quality of life to include more than physical activity. “Group fitness has the unique ability to truly transform the health and well-being of society as a whole, given the sheer number of people who can be reached,” she says. “I believe that over the next few years the role of group fitness will continue to shift toward providing more memorable, meaningful and inclusive wellness-oriented movement experiences, while cultivating a sense of community that serves the whole person in body, mind and spirit.”

After years of experience in multiple roles with ACE, Matthew is now a senior adviser and consultant there. She’s also currently a faculty member at MiraCosta College and Point Loma Nazarene University and has developed undergraduate curricula, with even more planned for the upcoming year. “The very first cohort for the all-new, accelerated, 1-year online master of kinesiology in integrative wellness program that I developed at Point Loma Nazarene University kicked off in August,” says Matthews. “I’m also working on two books, which are set to release in early to mid-2018. Additionally, I’m less than 1 year away from completing my doctorate in behavioral health with a focus on clinical integrated care through Arizona State University.

“As part of my studies, I am conducting research on the efficacy of mindfulness-based health coaching. Finally, after many requests over the years, I’m excited to share that in 2018 I’ll be offering a special mentorship experience for current and aspiring fitness and wellness professionals. It’s such an honor and a privilege to inspire and empower other passionate professionals.” Matthews also plans to continue teaching her weekly donation-based oceanfront yoga classes, in which 100% of the proceeds support various nonprofit San Diego organizations.

Matthews epitomizes a holistic approach in her personal and fitness philosophies, her dedication to her community and fellow healthcare professionals, and her belief in fostering the mind-body-spirit connection and creating a positive life experience. “My educational background demonstrates my commitment to providing effective, science- and movement-based experiences, but I’ve learned that while people want a safe and effective exercise experience [led by a knowledgeable] instructor who has the skills to help them reach their health and fitness goals, they first and foremost need to feel supported, valued and genuinely cared for,” says Matthews. “My job as an instructor is to create a positive experience not only with physical activity, but also with life itself. In this age of the internet, with content available at the push of a button, there’s clearly not a shortage of information regarding how to exercise or live a more healthful lifestyle; however, I provide a place where people can positively learn, grow, express themselves and transform in any way they choose—physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. My professional and ethical standards center on genuinely caring about each and every one of my students.”

It should come as no surprise, then, that Matthews is still focused on teaching yoga. Her students range in age from 17 to 80. She was the driving force behind Miramar College’s addition of yoga classes to the curriculum, as well as the sole developer of the 200-hour yoga teacher training there. She also co-developed MiraCosta College’s 300-hour yoga teacher training.

Her long-term goal is to help effect a change in our country’s healthcare system so that it provides wellness care instead of sick care. Her commitment to caring is best reflected in her favorite quote: “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”

“I provide a place where people can positively learn, grow, express themselves and transform in any way they choose—physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.”

— Jessica Matthews, MS

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