As a child, IDEA member Sonya Bruton,
who lives in Apex, North Carolina, distinctly
remembers buying clothes from
the “chubby” section at Sears department
store, and how painful it was. Today, people
have a tough time imagining Bruton
as an overweight little girl, but she is the
same person who listens so well and
offers sound fitness advice. It is because
Bruton spent so many years developing
her own passion for health that she is now
able to help others.

In addition to being a journalist, certified
personal fitness trainer, group fitness
instructor and lifestyle coach, Bruton
is also chief executive officer of the North
Carolina Community Health Center
Association, an organization that represents
the interests of the state’s nonprofit
health centers to federal, state and local
agencies. Her love for fitness was born in
a church basement, at the tender age of
15. “I fell in love with the combination of
music and movement,” she says. “What I
remember most is the feeling of pure joy.
The hourlong classes seemed to fly by; for
the first time, I started to lose weight and
become more defined. After 3 months,
the Saturday offerings ended and I
wanted more. There weren’t any options
for teen membership and though my
minister was enthusiastic, he was untrained.
So,while we had a good time getting
in shape, we also racked up shin
splints and pulled muscles. Those early
lessons of love for the activity, limited access
and the need for training fueled my
fitness career and choices.”

Caring Crossroads

Bruton took group fitness classes during
every semester in college and started
teaching her sophomore year. As time
went on, she added certifications and
specialty trainings. In 2002 she found
herself at a crossroads. “I had done a
great deal of personal development and
started to ask myself if it could be possible
to make a living from my passion and
love (fitness) versus my competencies
(growing and developing organizations),”
Bruton says. “Though my career
had included the newspaper industry and
higher education and culminated in the
top spot of a statewide association, I didn’t
get the satisfaction that came from fitness.
I figured out that what I loved most
was helping people get from here to there.
I love the transformational nature of fitness.
I love the empowerment, the ability
to overcome and the camaraderie. There
is no greater pleasure for me than being
with someone throughout their journey.”

In order to live her passion, Bruton
wanted to “live big and make a contribution
to the masses.” She wanted her idea
to trickle down to all neighborhoods. She
added wellness coaching in 2005 and began
to “seriously pursue spreading fitness
beyond the walls of the gym.” She joined
eClubSoda, an online and teleconference
group meeting for people who want to
enforce positive habits, as a way to continue
her own personal development.
About 6 months into her membership,
destiny started to take shape. “Several
members began discussing their struggles
with weight loss, diet and exercise,”
Bruton says. “An online conversation
began about the possibility of talking regularly
about health and weight loss and
offering support around health and fitness.
I understood their challenges and
recognized the dangers of participating in
a forum where all participants are well-intentioned
but untrained, so I asked
them to hold off while I developed a more
formal structure.

“I had recently read a feature story in
an IDEA magazine comparing the curricula
and prices of several coaching certification
programs. I immediately enrolled
in the Wellcoaches Corporation program
and started to design WakeUp Well and
Rest Well. I proposed the final product to
[co-founder of eClubSoda] Nan Shaw, became
a partner in the company and
launched the new calls.”

Wake Up and Smell Success

WakeUp Well and Rest Well has two parts.
WakeUp Well is a weekday teleconference
from 6:45 AM–8:00 AM. Rest Well is a companion
call held on the weekends from
9:00 PM–10:15 PM. Bruton explains how it
works: “A typical call begins with hellos
and check-ins. It’s common for 25% of
the participants to be exercising (usually
walking, running or on cardio equipment);
another 20% have just returned
from the gym; 30% are getting ready for
the day; 15% are having coffee; and the
rest dial in from their beds. If there is
background noise, the caller stays on
mute unless he or she is speaking. There
is usually time for two callers to receive
coaching, feedback and/or support for
something going on in their lives.”

Bruton says members benefit most
from the connection they feel, as well as
from the community. “We have a core
group of 25 people who call every day and
have truly bonded like family,” she says.
“We have seen members through the loss
of a child (and other close relatives), divorce,
retirement, birth and many other
life milestones.We know the real person,
the one who in some cases people have
been afraid to show. We deal with real
lives and real issues—that in itself is a gift
that we all treasure and hold reverently.”

Bruton’s goal is to grow beyond the
175 members she has now. She wants to
reach as many people as possible and
share “compassionate accountability” with
a global network. Along the way, she relies
on collaboration and partnership as cornerstones in her business plan. “I find that
many people in the health and fitness industries
have mastered the art of collaboration.
I partner with clients, members
and students. For me the distinction lies
in the interdependence. I can’t be successful
without equal creation from participants.
It takes both pieces of specified
wisdom to find solutions, establish strategies
or make lasting change. It’s important that people listen to their bodies and their
lives. The path to health and wellness is
well worn, but each person adds steps that
are fresh and unique.”

Joy Keller is a senior editor of IDEA Fitness
Journal.