Whether they’re leading one client or 3,000 students at a time, fitness professionals give their all every single day, keeping in mind how important it is to reach, inspire, and gain the respect, attention and, above all, consistent attendance of their students. These pros know how to look at fitness and a fit lifestyle from the client’s point of view, and can program, train and teach accordingly.

The 2016 IDEA World Fitness Award recipients all excel at recognizing the challenges and rewards that are part and parcel of this industry. They exude enthusiasm, value knowledge,
and share a mission to help everyone—not just a select few—to find a way to enjoy and succeed at a healthy lifestyle. The 2016 IDEA Program Director of the Year, 2016 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year and 2016 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year were celebrated at the 2016 IDEA®World Convention in Los Angeles in July.

2016 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.

Recipient: IDEA Program Director of the Year

Grace DeSimone

Grace DeSimone
2016 IDEA Program Director of the Year

Grace DeSimone, national group fitness director at Optum™for over 15 years, believes that programming is the heart of any fitness community. Looking forward to the next few years,
she predicts that the role of the program director will become “more critical as our industry strives to deliver programs that integrate and streamline products and services together to enhance the participant experience.”

To do this, she says, we need to find ways to keep both active and new members engaged by rising to the task of constantly refreshing and updating our programs. DeSimone emphasizes one challenge that has been around for years: reaching the unreachable. Her plan? To bring programs to the inactive.

She also believes that wellness for disease prevention will become the norm and that directors will need to embrace it. “At Optum, ’healthier’ isn’t just a feeling; it’s a mission,” she says. “Directors are the heart of the program; the staff and instructors are the soul. Together, we create an experience. Group fitness instructors touch more lives in 1 hour than any other fitness professionals. It’s not about me; it’s about we. The lives we touch, one program at a time, one person at a time—for us, this is a career, not a job. It’s a lifestyle, not a moment.”

Her goal is to make group fitness accessible to everyone, especially those who most need it. She plans to use the platform this award provides to spread the word that “every small effort made toward improving your health is, in fact, a big stride.” And she adds, “If we can encourage more people to make the move toward adopting good, healthy habits, we will have been successful.”

One of DeSimone’s clients who has seen her abilities improve one habit at a time is Donna Watts. “I started taking Grace’s classes about 2 months after having bariatric surgery. I was morbidly obese, but Grace never made me feel uncomfortable, even though my knees would barely allow me to do a squat.”

Referring to DeSimone’s strength at program design, Watts mentions improving her cardio and strength week after week, while feeling continually challenged and supported. “Because she offers options and modifications for people of differing fitness levels, I feel Grace’s programs are as challenging now, with my much improved fitness level, as the first day I stepped foot in class.”

Not only did Watts get down to a weight she considered healthy, but DeSimone invited her to be one of the models in a fitness shoot for an instructor manual. “Me? A fitness model? A woman who weighed over 300 pounds just a year earlier? This recognition was just another way Grace motivated me to adhere to my new, fit lifestyle; it was a turning point, where I fully acknowledged the new me,” shares Watts.

So what surprises does DeSimone have in store for her clients in the upcoming year? Employee wellness programs that help people learn healthy behaviors through a fun, friendly, evidence-based approach. “Engaging people in healthy initiatives at the place they spend most of their waking hours can have an amazing impact on their overall health,” she says. “We are working on solutions for employers with unique spaces and dispersed workforces, and designing signature classes for circuits, metabolic training, strength and core. We have a unique fusion of group fitness and ergonomics that we deliver right to the office.”

She also mentions a new On the Beat™ program that will be rolled out across the U.S. “On the Beat is an activity that can be done by almost anyone anywhere. It mimics walking with upbeat music that sets ’the beat’ along with marching-style movements.” The program is designed to help participants add more steps and movement to their day. DeSimone created it with a special desire to “serve the back row—those who creep in hoping not to be noticed.” Her hope is to allow participants to make progress at a pace that is right for them.

“I vow to continue my mission of bringing wellness opportunities to everyone, one step, stretch and lift at a time.”

2016 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.

Recipient: IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year

Carol Michaels, MBA

Carol Michaels, MBA
2016 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year

Carol Michaels, who for over 20 years was a thought leader in exercise for people with cancer, wants to use the platform that this award affords her both to raise awareness of the
importance of exercise for people with medical conditions and also to reach a larger audience.

Referring to emerging research suggesting that those who exercise have a lower rate of cancer recurrence, Michaels finds herself uniquely positioned to help cancer survivors in their recovery process. “A well-designed program can reduce side effects and improve quality of life,” she says. “Studies have indicated that exercise during chemotherapy may increase fitness and energy levels, improve mood, and help patients to better tolerate the treatments. After treatment is [over], exercise can increase strength and aerobic capacity, improve joint flexibility, elevate mood, and assist with resumption of regular activities and work demands.”

Michaels uses this “long view” philosophy as a guide for all her clients, not just those in recovery from cancer treatment. With a holistic focus on personal training and client health, she believes that “training is more than developing the right exercise routine. Trainers must understand not only the physical issues of their clients, but also the emotional issues.” Referring to the mind-body connection, she believes the underlying emotional issues must be addressed before clients can achieve long-lasting results.

One person who can testify to the benefits of that philosophy is Bonnie Anderson. “Having mesothelioma and dealing with the recovery from multiple surgeries was a difficult road for me. However, the help I’ve received in rehabilitating my mind and body has been amazing. Carol creates a warm and friendly environment where I feel supported at becoming stronger as well as being comfortable with my progress. She helped me return to my presurgery physical condition, of course; but more importantly, she has empowered me to take back my life.”

Michaels encourages all trainers to help clients take back their lives, especially those with medical conditions. “Pick an area of fitness that you are passionate about, and become an expert in that field. Be committed to constant, ongoing education. Communicate regularly with your clients’ health professionals so you understand each client’s particular issues and can create the best fitness program for the situation.”

Over the next year, Michaels plans to develop additional exercise programming for special populations. For example, she has an exercise video coming out soon that’s geared for people with osteoporosis.

She also has her eye on increasing her “prehab” work with clients so she can help them decrease their risk of developing impairments in the first place. “Twenty years ago, exercise was not part of the recovery process for cancer survivors. They had no place to go, so I developed the Recovery Fitness® exercise program to decrease the side-effects of surgery and treatments, and to get survivors back to the activities they enjoyed prior to diagnosis.”

With this award, Michaels will keep on raising awareness of the importance of affordable and accessible exercise programs for those who suffer from chronic illnesses, while continuing to educate the public about the benefits of exercise and healthy lifestyles.

2016 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.

Recipient: 2016 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year

Kenneth Weichert

Kenneth Weichert
2016 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year

Sergeant Ken, as he’s known around the world, has a lot of plans for 2017. As a Master Resilience Trainer for the Tennessee Army National Guard (Reserves), Weichert helps soldiers and their families “turn stress into strength, and obstacles into opportunities. Over the next year, I plan to put more of our programs online in order to reach more people and fight the suicide problem that has plagued our military for decades.”

While that is a big enough task on its own, Weichert doesn’t stop there. With more than 5,000 instructors leading his boot camp programs in 14 countries as well as at several U.S. Army and Air National Guard bases, he has expansion in mind. “I hope to help fitness leaders learn how to inform, impact and empower their team members through connections, rapport and relationship building [in] our first official Boot Camp Instructor Course and Leadership programs,” he shares.

In addition to developing boot camp programs and soldier resilience trainings, Weichert holds families close to his heart. Having launched family oriented workouts in Singapore, China, Canada, the U.S. and the Philippines, he is adding five more countries in Asia and the Middle East to his list.

One of his biggest fans is Fabio Comana, MA, MS. “Ken has served his country and dedicated much of his military career between tours to helping our soldiers integrate successfully back into society. His astute awareness and understanding of a person’s psychoemotional status and how to successfully engage [people] to build trust and rapport are innate skills. While he dons the military attire for effect, at the core beats the heart of a man who truly knows how to engage people—who helps them overcome their ambivalence and apprehensions and truly enjoy the exercise experience. He has a strong discipline and work ethic, and genuinely demonstrates a deep passion for educating, instructing, inspiring and connecting with others. It comes as no surprise to hear time and again that people will move mountains just to attend one of his classes,” Comana says.

Weichert attributes much of his success to his certification as a Master Resilience Trainer. “My entire approach changed immeasurably when I got certified in 2010.” Using what he learned as a resilience coach, coupled with the leadership skills he gained while working with the U.S. Army National Guard Suicide Prevention Task Force, Weichert now focuses on making his fitness programs successful through six core fitness dimensions: emotional, nutritional, physical, social, family and spiritual.

With his emphasis on these dimensions, Weichert is an advocate for team programs. His suggestion for his fitness colleagues? “We must listen to our clients’ specific needs and integrate appropriate and timely coaching techniques (emotional fitness), then create a team-building atmosphere during fitness sessions (social fitness). This is precisely why boot camps and other team-training programs are getting the job done more efficiently.”

His bottom line? “When life gets tough, people will look for what will make them feel better, and not simply look better.”