Veteran fitness pros know how important it is to pay attention to clients as unique individuals. Experience, education and empathy are key qualities that equip seasoned pros to help a wide variety of people with diverse needs.
The 2019 IDEA World Fitness Awards recipients mix technical expertise and interpersonal skills to make a difference for their clients and communities. The three pros chosen as Fitness Leader of the Year, Personal Trainer of the Year and Fitness Instructor of the Year were celebrated in June at the IDEA® World Convention in Anaheim, California.
Here, award finalists share stories, strategies and triumphs from their ongoing efforts to Inspire the World to Fitness®.
IDEA Fitness Leader of the Year
WINNER: AMY BOONE THOMPSON, SAN DIEGO
Before being named vice president of AIM Fitness Group, IDEA Health & Fitness Association, IDEA China and Oxygen in June, Amy Thompson was the national customer experience manager for Les Mills US. In this position, she fostered strong relationships with partners to advise and support them in making business decisions. She has more than 23 years’ experience in fitness programming, personal training and health club management.
She has also served as Les Mills’ U.S. representative on a global project to relaunch its group fitness management (GFM) education course.
“Amy plays a key role in championing GFM, working with some of the biggest U.S. club operators to help their group fitness programs excel in a fast-changing market, while navigating new challenges and opportunities in the form of virtual, at-home and digital fitness solutions,” explains Phillip Mills, CEO of Les Mills International.
Before Les Mills, Thompson was national director of personal training for Wellbridge, a chain of 20 multipurpose health clubs. She is especially proud of the WellStart physician-referred exercise program she created for the inactive.
What motivates her leadership? “In order to effectively lead and inspire people, you have to genuinely care about their success—and show you care—not just in the immediate sense as it relates to your own business objectives, but long term as it relates to that person’s entire career trajectory,” she says.
She sees herself as a “connector” of people and, to that end, created a free fitness professionals’ networking group on LinkedIn in 2008. The group has grown to include 27,000 participants.
Thompson believes technology plays a big role in shaping the fitness experience. “If clubs aren’t currently running virtual fitness classes, they are missing out on offering a service that appeals to the majority of members and dramatically increases attendance,” she says.
Her goal is to create a ripple effect that encourages others to be healthy. “I am not actively teaching in a club, due to my extensive travel, so I am creating ripples by offering free fitness classes to local families,” she says. “Kids are always included.”
FINALIST: TRAVIS BARNES, HORSEHEADS, NEW YORK
Travis Barnes is CEO of Journey 333, where he’s also a personal coach. He started with 14 clients and grew the company to five profitable locations in less than 4 years. He has written three books, including Results Fitness (Celebrity Press 2012). Barnes is founder and operator of FITBIZ Mastery, which teaches fitness pros how to systemize a business for success.
“He has refined [his] systems, replicated his success and taught his systems. He has systems for every single aspect of his business, and it’s translated into massive success,” says fitness entrepreneur Todd Durkin, MA.
Barnes is a leader, presenter and author with a goal of inspiring fit pros to overcome adversity. However, his success was hard-won. After seemingly healthy people exposed him to drugs in Las Vegas, he ended up serving almost 10 years in prison. “After incarceration I worked my way up through the ranks as a trainer, general manager and COO . . . only to then be fired. Then I offered mobile training until I got the opportunity to open my first location, which quickly grew to five club locations. Now, we’re a franchise.”
Barnes leads weekly meetings via Zoom with all his clubs, has live retreats for his team and frequently visits each location. He likes to hire people who have their own big challenges to overcome.
He is so dedicated to helping everyone become healthy that he initiated a partnership with two local competitors. “I said, ÔÇÿWe need to look at the couch as our competition. Let’s partner to help our community lose 5,000 pounds.’ We created a fitness trial opportunity where participants were required to visit all three gyms and choose the opportunity that was right for them. We developed a referral relationship, worked out at each other’s gyms and established a Small Business Fitness Association.“
A recovering addict himself, Barnes is involved with IMATTER, a group that fights against teen suicide, self-harm and addictions. “I have been the keynote speaker for various recovery programs, and my company created a fundraiser race for the group.”
FINALIST: TRICIA MURPHY MADDEN, SEATTLE
A 27-year veteran instructor and director, Tricia Murphy Madden is national education director for Savvier Fitness, where she manages more than 85 master trainers and over 6,500 trained instructors worldwide. She co-created Barre Above® and the Weight Loss Challenge and was co-author and creator of a children’s book and fitness program called The ABC’s of Exercise. In 2018, she spent more than 30 weekends presenting fitness-focused workshops nationally and internationally.
Murphy Madden hires master trainers for Barre Above and trains them with her 40-hour onboarding system. Her management style keeps team members well-educated and informed, financially successful, and loving their work. Under her guidance, the Barre Above master trainer team acts as a unit, a key factor in team retention and in the company’s tremendous growth.
This industry veteran empowers instructors. To overhaul her group ex evaluation process, she introduced a new protocol in which they are trained to be their own best critics. After teaching for 3 months, they are filmed teaching. Afterward, they watch their own videos and perform a self-review. “This allows me to stay in the role of nurturer [and not be a] taskmaster,” she says. “It also shows them how talented they are and boosts their confidence.”
Murphy Madden’s skills aren’t confined to the fitness industry. Former Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels was impressed with her business passion. “After I won the election, I asked her to serve on my transition team and advise me on how the city could help nurture small businesses,” he says. “Tricia leads by example and is a powerful influence.”
She teaches and coaches nearly every day of the year. “Whether in my hometown of Seattle or on the road presenting at events, I focus on creating inclusive experiences that leave attendees feeling successful,” she says.
So that parents at her daughter’s school can exercise more, she offers free fitness classes after school drop-off on Wednesdays. “I’ve built a sense of community, and these workouts have yielded exercise conversations between parents and children.”
IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year
WINNER: BRIAN NUNEZ, SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA
Brian Nunez is the founder and owner of FNS (Fitness Never Sleeps) Training Center, an award-winning performance training facility. His business provides a “team training” experience along with personal training, nutrition coaching and mental conditioning. In addition to managing a team of 16 full-time employees, he spends 15–20 hours a week training clients and teaching group classes. He is a Nike® master trainer who coaches elite athletes and creates fitness content for the Nike training department. Eight years ago, he launched a monthly “Peanut Butter and Jelly Day,” dedicated to giving food, supplies, time and clothes to needy people.
Nunez’s center is “for the ÔÇÿeveryday athlete,’ the mother, father, business professional, student and person who never would consider himself or herself an ÔÇÿathlete,’” he says. His business started in 2011 with 20 athletes and now has over 800.
His vision for the past few years has been to serve more people. “I launched a free 4-day-a-week, 20-minute program to do at home,” he says. “I have been blown away by the amount of engagement from people all over the world.”
Nunez is also passionate about growing the wider fitness industry. “Each month I offer free coaching calls to fitness professionals, helping them break through an area they are struggling with in their personal or professional life,” he explains. “Many personal trainers and coaches do not have coaches themselves and can feel alone at times. My goal is to create more collaboration.”
Tiana King, brand manager of training for Nike West, says, “Brian can pull together individuals who would never interact, enable them to find a connection point and then inspire them to build in an encouraging and intentional environment.”
Nunez’s belief? “Authenticity always wins. Sharing my journey and struggle is my favorite way to inspire the world to live a fit life,” he explains. He shares his personal story, starting with a difficult childhood, in his book Elevate to Great: How to Live Your Most Fit, Focused and Free Lifestyle (Self-Published 2018).
FINALIST: HAYLEY HOLLANDER, CHICAGO
Hayley Hollander is an international coach and educator and a business leader. She’s the education director for Gray Institute®, a master coach for Precor® and Power Plate®, and co-founder of Pivotal, a company empowering people to fulfill their greatest potential.
Through her 19 years in the industry, Hollander has also been a fitness director for Midtown Athletic Club® and director of training and education for PTA Global. She’s helped to create curricula and programs worldwide. She has taught more than 500 workshops, educated over 5,000 coaches around the world, and helped to develop and train more than 150 educators. Each week she trains 25–30 clients—a mixture of one-on-one clients, group training clients and sports teams.
“As our education director, Hayley has helped to lead and upskill 43 of our educators to teach our curricula, making a difference for thousands of movement professionals,” explains Gary Gray, PT, CEO of the Gray Institute. “She has played an instrumental part in creating business partnerships and bringing us into many countries throughout the world.”
As a personal trainer, she prioritizes learning. “By setting and meeting education goals throughout my career, I have increased my knowledge and movement ÔÇÿingredients’ and also increased my ability to understand clients and create unique ÔÇÿrecipes’ to map to their goals and needs.”
Hollander strongly believes in mentoring. “As a fitness director, I hired and trained dozens of new and veteran personal trainers. I helped to onboard them with new skill sets and enhanced knowledge. I now mentor educators who teach personal trainers and youth who are interested in pursuing fitness careers.”
For the last 2 years, she has volunteered her skills as a personal trainer and performance coach with the girls’ basketball team at Northside College Preparatory High School in Chicago.
She thinks the biggest challenge facing the fitness industry is that “social media has changed how we interact. Despite being an electronically driven culture, we can build relationships with movement as our currency and continue to make an impact in person while also providing meaningful content online.”
FINALIST: PETE HOLMAN, MSPT, ASPEN, COLORADO
Pete Holman runs a private practice called Aspen Integrative Kinetics, which focuses on sports performance, corrective exercise and physical rehabilitation. He sees 40–50 clients per week in the summer and winter and 20-25 clients per week in the offseason. Holman is a physical therapist, personal trainer, video blogger, educational presenter and two-time winner of the U.S. National Taekwondo Championship.
How does he help his clients? “I use my knowledge of cuing to maximize functional outcomes,” he says. “I utilize video analysis to allow clients to see their form and help correct their dysfunction, since many individuals are better visual learners than they are auditory learners. Clients love seeing changes in their form and are encouraged by the visual feedback.”
Holman is a top fitness product innovator. His first product, The Functional Training Rack, was licensed to Perform Better®. His second, the RIPCORE-FX, was acquired by TRX® and is now well-known as the TRX Rip Trainer™. His next product, the Glute Drive, was licensed to Nautilus®.
“Pete is an ÔÇÿout-of-the-box’ thinker, pioneer and inventor,” says Todd Durkin, MA. “He is constantly in the lab inventing, creating, and thinking how trainers and coaches can even further enhance human performance.”
Holman takes pride in his social media work. “I have posted 165 Quick Fit Tips—short, free informational videos that I designed to give personal trainers and fitness enthusiasts higher-level insight into biomechanics and help them better perform, coach or assess exercise.”
For several years, he ran an annual fundraising event for the Rocky Mountain Stroke Center. “The ÔÇÿStroke for Stroke’ fundraiser events brought together fitness enthusiasts and stroke survivors to engage in a friendly indoor rowing competition that raised money for the center,” he explains.
How can fitness pros improve the industry? “Much of [the fitness content] on Instagram ends up either injuring or discouraging individuals wanting to get in better shape. The occasional ÔÇÿhero’ post is okay, but most of our content needs to be geared toward helping the average fitness seeker.”
IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year
WINNER: DORIS THEWS, LAGUNA BEACH, CALIFORNIA
Doris Thews owns Team Thews Fitness and is a consultant and spokesperson for major fitness brands, including BOSU®, Schwinn® and Ryka®. She’s a group fitness instructor, personal trainer and running coach. An international lead master trainer for Schwinn, she develops and mentors new master trainers in North America, South America, Australia and China.
As senior vice president of fitness and innovation for VASA Fitness, she creates VASA-branded studio programming, trains instructors and teaches classes companywide. She also identifies technology and fitness trends that support company innovation.
Thews teaches indoor cycling, BOSU, yoga, Pilates and HIIT, leading 125 participants in three to five 1-hour classes weekly at various VASA Fitness locations. Additionally, she travels nationally and globally to lead weekend trainings and workshops.
“One way that I have pushed myself to become a better instructor is to present internationally,” she says. “When I traveled to China and South Korea, I worried that a language barrier might be a barrier to a good class. Instead, it was an unexpected gift that helped me learn to perfect the way I communicate, regardless of whether my participants and I speak the same language.”
Her goal is “to use movement to help others. Then they help others, and the uplifting continues.” For example, student Jeff Dickstein started out as a new indoor cycling participant and later became an instructor himself. “I have completed two classic distance triathlons and lost 100 pounds,” he says. “When I travel for work, I take cycling classes because of Doris. I am a better man today because of her influence.”
Thews believes strongly in community service. “One of my favorite experiences was when Julz Arney and I taught ÔÇÿGlory Yoga’ classes at various churches. The classes were free, but we encouraged donations that were given to local charities.”
What does Thews think fitness will be like in the future? “Programming will be more diverse and inclusive. New offerings will address the needs of the ÔÇÿsilent generation’ [born 1925–1945] to Gen Z.”
FINALIST: STACY MCCARTHY, SAN DIEGO
Stacy McCarthy, principal at Yoga NamaStacy, is a yoga, fitness and health expert with three decades of teaching experience. She’s a professor of kinesiology, health and nutrition at MiraCosta College in Oceanside, California, and has co-created and taught 200- and 500-hour accredited yoga teacher certification programs. She presents classes, workshops and retreats around the world.
McCarthy has taught a variety of formats, including high-low cardio, step, hip-hop, ski conditioning and boot camp early in her career. In 1996, after many years of studying with Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, the founder of ashtanga vinyasa yoga, she began teaching yoga and meditation. For the past 23 years, she has been at the forefront of bridging the gap between these practices and fitness. She’s grateful to have found a deep alignment between her vocation and who she is as a person.
“She is an excellent role model who has [made] exceptional contributions to both our industry and consumers, [putting in] years of dedication and endless hours of preparation to give the best as a leader in the fitness industry,” says fitness entrepreneur Tamilee Webb, who has mentored McCarthy.
“My goal is to create a safe, nonjudgmental environment that allows students to feel successful, no matter what their age, shape or size,” says McCarthy. “Through my DVD series, online on-demand classes and videos, I reach students around the world who may not have access to educated, experienced instructors.”
Through her popular “A Day of Namaste” retreats and pay-it-forward initiative, she grants full scholarships to deserving individuals who can take what they learn and make an impact in their community.
What’s next for the fitness industry? “There will be a greater emphasis on addressing lifestyle, behavioral changes and self-exploration with continued growth of the deeper aspects of yoga, such as meditation, breathwork, energy and connection,” she says. “What people need to stay on a healthy path is to feel loved and connected and [to have] a deep sense of well-being.”
FINALIST: JEFFREY SCOTT, LOS ANGELES
Jeffrey Scott is national senior manager of education and training for group fitness at Equinox. For over 16 years, his focus has been on education and innovation. He has certified almost 20,000 indoor cycling instructors through Schwinn® and personally mentored over 250 cycling instructors as national cycling manager for Equinox. He teaches 25 classes a year for free to raise critical funds for Cycle for Survival and Cycle for Heroes.
Although he was bullied in his youth, Scott never doubted that he had a purpose—to be of service. “I trusted that there would be a place for me, and I found my calling in fitness.” Each week, he teaches six to nine group fitness classes, such as Schwinn indoor cycling, HIIT Mix and Shockwave.
He also leads two to four instructor education sessions monthly and seven to 10 instructor certifications yearly.
“I inspire students by creating a fun, inclusive environment in every class,” he says. “When you get people to laugh and have a good time while they are ÔÇÿkicking butt,’ they are more inclined to return again and again. I show them that fitness does not have to be grueling, and I create a ÔÇÿwe are all in this together’ environment.”
Scott believes his true talent is bringing out the best in others and fostering their development. “My career, particularly within the last 5 years, has been dedicated to moving our industry forward with fresh talent and ideas. I mentor all contestants in the Prodigy by Equinox group fitness talent competition. I also travel nationally and internationally over 30 weeks a year, educating the next generation of fitness professionals. By developing the next generation, I am lighting the way for others.”
“When he is on the stage, there is no one better,” says colleague Amy Dixon. “He truly is the embodiment of authenticity and joy. He has an ability to use humor and emotion like no one I have ever seen. He creates a safe space to learn and grow and encourages others to do the same.”
Thank you to everyone who judged this year’s IDEA World Fitness Awards.
- Travis Barnes (Judge for Personal Trainer of the Year Award)
- Alexis Batrakoulis
- Fabio Comana
- Grace DeSimone
- Todd Durkin
- Trina Gray
- Farel Hruska
- Irene McCormick
- Portia Page
- Michael Piercy
- Krista Popowych
- Jan Schroeder
- Jason Stella
Award Criteria and Applications
Interested in the 2020 IDEA World Fitness Awards? You can apply for an award yourself or nominate another candidate. Applications and individual criteria for each award are posted at ideafit.com/awards. The deadline is March 1, 2020.