2016 IDEA World Fitness Award Finalists

Nine reasons to look forward to the future of the fitness industry.

By Alexandra Williams, MA
Jun 20, 2016

Whether they’re operating in the limelight or behind the scenes, fitness professionals share a similar goal—to help people get healthier and more fit. Some professionals design programs, some manage them, some implement them—and some do all three. The nine 2016 IDEA World Fitness Award finalists have hundreds of years’ experience among them, which translates into millions of lives changed by their deeds and efforts. In serving diverse clients—from moms to military members, from disease survivors to sedentary beginners—these professionals have made fitness their mission. Join us in recognizing these outstanding fitness instructors, personal trainers and program directors.

2016 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.

Finalist: 2016 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year


Yoav Avidar, LLB, MPE
Tel Aviv, Israel

Co-owner of Hagymnasia LTD, one of Israel’s leading fitness and dance certification institutes, Yoav Avidar set aside a law degree to follow his childhood passion for fitness.

Starting 20 years ago as a fitness instructor and personal trainer, Avidar worked his way up to become a studio owner, worldwide presenter, convention program director and fitness writer; a national sport aerobic champion and Nike® sponsored athlete; Israel’s 2001 Instructor of the Year, and the 2002 ECA Best International Presenter award recipient; an instructor trainer; and a certification program developer, DVD producer and star, and television personality.

Primarily known around the world for his dance-infused step classes, Avidar also teaches Spinning®, Pilates, TRX® Suspension Training™, stability ball, metabolic training, functional circuit training and corrective exercise. And he works diligently at being a healthy role model for his two daughters.

For the past 10 years, Avidar has been the program director of the Israeli Pilates Convention, the Israeli Mind Body Convention, the Nonstop Fitness Weekend Convention and the Genosar Spring Fitness Convention. More than a decade ago, he wrote the most comprehensive step and aerobics methodology manual ever published in Israel—a manual that is still widely used today.

Currently, his professional focus is on his institute. “I’ve been able to help others learn and gain experience, by offering continuing education courses in personal training, group fitness, kids’ fitness, jazz, indoor cycling, kickboxing, stability ball, posture and more. We’ve even been recognized by the Israeli government.

“Over the next few years, I’d like to leave a legacy of excellence and professionalism in the fitness industry.”

Finalist: 2016 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year


Linda (Freeman) Webster
Green Bay, Wisconsin

Since 2008, Linda (Freeman) Webster has worked at Aurora BayCare Hospital in the sports medicine department, first as the wellness supervisor (2008–2010) and now as a group fitness instructor, personal trainer and lead. She works mainly with hospital employees, including physical therapists, occupational therapists and personal trainers.
In the 8 years since she started there, Webster has quadrupled participation in the employee fitness program, adding medical fitness classes, bariatric programming and yoga, as well as boot camp, aqua, kettlebell, Pilates and core workouts. Along the way, she has coordinated various charity events to support local Wisconsin programs.

Asked about the future, Webster says, “I hope to continue to work with the local addiction-recovery community by offering free meditation, breath and yoga classes, which can help enhance [people’s] coping skills. This population is struggling to overcome many obstacles, and I feel I can have a positive impact by sharing my time and love of yoga.”

Webster also owns Guru Fitness® LLC, a company that creates continuing education workshops for conferences and fitness facilities. Additionally, she is a frequent presenter at fitness conventions, provides consulting services for fitness businesses, and writes for industry publications and websites. Her DVDs focus mainly on yoga, Pilates and lower-body strength.

Her secret passion? Mentoring others as they progress in the fitness industry, and creating fusion classes. “I thrive on fusing formats for new, exciting, effective workout experiences, blending science with creativity. I also love finding new ways to reach people and revitalize current members.” Webster calls this the “spark.”

Finalist: 2016 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year

Kenneth Weichert

Kenneth Weichert
Brentwood, Tennessee

“Hooah!” If you’ve ever taken a class from Sergeant Ken, you will recognize this call to action. With over 25 years of military service, Kenneth Weichert takes his fitness seriously . . . with a smile. One of the first Master Resilience Trainers from the resilience training program offered jointly by the U.S. Army and the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, he specializes in the link between resilience and physical and emotional fitness, which he addresses with both military and civilian participants. Warrior Fit Camp, a tactical fitness, nutrition and life-coaching course Weichert created to serve obese and depressed soldiers and airmen, is something he deserves to feel proud of. “WFC is the first line of defense for the Suicide Prevention Task Force, designed to help military service members focus on authentic happiness instead of hopelessness. We are planning a nationwide immersion program beginning in late 2016 for veterans with PTSD that will include specialized fitness, nutrition and life coaching.”

A believer in leading through learning, Weichert has studied extensively, while continuing to host the Fit for Duty show on the Pentagon Channel, developing fitness programs for adults and youth, writing extensively about fitness and resilience, traveling the world as a presenter and speaking on all the major television networks. He is a six-time U.S. Army Soldier of the Year.

2016 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.

Finalist: IDEA Program Director of the Year

Grace De Simone

Grace De Simone
New York City

The national group fitness director at Optum™ for over 15 years, Grace De Simone oversees more than 150 onsite fitness locations, 900 instructors and more than 2,000 weekly classes throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

As most of the programs are based inside corporations, De Simone works to ensure that each instructor is a good fit with each company’s unique culture. “Hospitality is paramount to our success, and our staff is trained to anticipate members’ needs using intellect, motivation, creativity and compassion. We measure success by engagement.”
Through her innovative Trend Watch program, which introduces new classes, training styles and techniques to staff members and clients, she has managed to attract 25% new attendees.

A member of numerous fitness advisory boards, De Simone has helped to guide and implement curricula that benefit group fitness instructors, older adults, club owners and managers, sales staffs and philanthropic endeavors.

“Participating in committees and industry projects has afforded me the honor of working with thought leaders and organizations to help shape the industry. My motto is, ‘Always leave it better than you found it.’ I hope to create a wellness solution that is comprehensive enough to teach the unteachable and reach the unreachable. I want to take the
‘back-row’ people on a road to health and wellness.”

Finalist: 2016 IDEA Program Director of the Year

Tricia Murphy Madden

Tricia Murphy Madden

Thinking globally and locally at the same time, Tricia Murphy Madden is both the co-creator and education director for the Savvier® program Barre Above™, and the fitness director for Denali Fitness, in Seattle. She has served on various committees, including her local King County Best Starts for Kids Initiative Committee.
“I love opportunities to get connected both locally and nationally. The more involved I am, the more I will learn and bring to my classes and programs.”

With her emphasis on community, Madden has been part of the City of Hope® workouts for more than 20 years—she even created the Yoga for Hope fundraising event, now in its 6th year. When she travels, she participates in local fitness classes to experience and learn from workouts around the world; these classes then inform her programming decisions back at home.

Madden also models an active, movement-filled life for her daughter. “I’m proud of teaching my daughter about the inner happiness [that] movement creates. Instead of telling her what not to do, I show her how fun movement can be so she’ll be physically literate and a happy, healthy mover for life.”

This same philosophy informs Madden’s approach to her job. “Taking an idea and developing it into a worldwide phenomenon that works for everybody gives me great pride. I want my employees to be confident in who they are as thinkers, educators and coaches. Otherwise they are denying the world their many gifts and talents.”

Finalist: 2016 IDEA Program Director of the Year

Amy Boone Thompson

Amy Boone Thompson

Before taking on her current role as national director of personal training services for Wellbridge, Amy Boone Thompson started a LinkedIn networking group to help advance the careers of her colleagues; that group has now grown to more than 27,000 fitness professionals.

Thompson then thought about the 80% of the population who don’t exercise, and she created WellStart to attract them. “We need to be at the forefront of changes that impact obesity and disease rates, which means we need more qualified professionals delivering wellness programs to partner with the medical community.” To accomplish this, she organized a medical advisory board to review and advise the WellStart trainers.

A strong advocate for fitness, Thompson serves on the board of directors for the National Personal Training Institute and is an industry advisory panel member for the American Council on Exercise.

“Through training, continuous education, development and promoting from within, I’ve created a program and business system to help our trainers gain additional credentials and expertise, allowing them to earn more money while reaching more members,” says Thompson.

A lover of stats and measurement, she is particularly proud of reducing the attrition rate at Wellbridge. In an industry that keeps 1 of 5 trainers for a year, she partially attributes her 3.5-of-5 trainer retention rate to the company’s employee benefits, particularly the complimentary continuing education courses.

2016 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.

Finalist: 2016 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year

Danielle Ann Girdano

Danielle Ann Girdano
Wylie, Texas

Transforming herself from an obese child and a morbidly obese young-adult smoker, Danielle Ann Girdano is today a cyclist, a vegan and the owner of D’fine Sculpting & Nutrition LLC. Her background is one reason why she takes professionalism and ethics very seriously.

“When I was morbidly obese, I tried every product I could get my hands on. It was a vicious cycle of [trying products and losing] self-esteem. Knowledge is power, and I believe that honesty is crucial when dealing with clients.” To this end, she integrates positive behavior modification and nutrition into her training sessions to empower clients to take their health into their own hands.

“I believe the future of our industry lies in communicating the importance of our quality of life over a focus on weight loss,” she says.

Drawing on her experience and understanding of obesity, childhood bullying and relationships (plus her love of math and science), Girdano developed the D’fine Method to help people reach their weight loss goals.

A certified professional speaker, she gives talks to exercise consumers, medical pros, fitness pros, parents and corporate leaders. She also serves on a number of advisory boards, including the board of The Cooper Institute®.

“I believe in ripples of positive change. When you help one person, that [person] then influences the next, and so on. My upcoming goals include advocating for insurance coverage for personal training, reducing childhood obesity and helping give greater credibility to our industry through licensing or standards.”

Finalist: 2016 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year

Carol Michaels, MBA

Carol Michaels, MBA
West Orange, New Jersey

A trailblazer in the field of exercise for cancer, lymphedema and osteoporosis patients, Carol Michaels founded Recovery Fitness®, a nationally recognized exercise program designed to help cancer patients recover from surgery and treatments. One of the first of its kind, the program includes the Cancer Recovery Specialist course she designed for personal trainers. “Prior to my programs, cancer survivors were told to stay home and rest instead of regaining functional fitness.”

After seeing the effects of cancer on a number of her close relatives, Michaels made it her mission to be a source of hope and healing. To that end, she is constantly educating herself on the latest research in fitness and oncology so that she can design individualized programs that take clients’ medical issues and functional goals into account.

Endorsed by major medical centers, she advocates for building relationships with health providers and wants to see the fitness industry develop more programming for special populations, especially in low-income communities.

An author and international speaker, Michaels has been honored on an international scale in both the medical and fitness communities. Her vision of the future is straightforward: “I hope to significantly increase the number of affordable and accessible programs for those who suffer from chronic illnesses.”

Finalist: 2016 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year

Amanda Mittleman, MS

Amanda Mittleman, MS
Huntington Beach, California

Inspired to go from “sedentary to superhero” in the early 1990s, Amanda Mittleman worked toward her dream of owning her own fitness business, which she achieved in 2009, the same year she earned her master’s degree in kinesiology.

Now the founder and owner of Mo-Mentum Fitness Consultants in Huntington Beach, California, Mittleman is extremely passionate about her mission to save lives through exercise and healthy living. “We fitness professionals save lives by keeping people out of the hospital. I create programs that support people in their quest to live healthier lives.” As a corrective exercise specialist, she focuses Mo-Mentum on helping families and the sedentary population. Mittleman is also a strong supporter of the Special Olympics and the Wounded Warrior Project®.

Inspired to join the world of fitness when her now-grown twins were babies with medical needs, Mittleman knows firsthand how necessary healthy living is to a good quality of life. “In the next few years I hope to reach people locally, nationally and globally to convey that exercise is not optional, and is no longer centered around obtaining a hard body. Being fit can lead to graceful aging, freedom, confidence and empowerment.”

The Selection Process How are the award 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 2017 awards is February 1, 2017. (See www.ideafit.com/idea-awards-application.)
  • A committee of fitness peers reviews the applications, with committee members reviewing 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,” make a difference in their communities and inspire other people, 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 in a future issue of IDEA Fitness Journal.

Alexandra Williams, MA

Alexandra Williams has taught fitness for 17 years and has a master’s degree in agency counseling, with an emphasis on marriage and family. Her professional training has forced her to scrutinize her own value system, especially as she attempts to raise ethical children. The author wishes to thank Jack Raglin and Jim Gavin for their helpful insights and suggestions.

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