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And the Winners Are...

Profiles of the recipients of the third annual Distingished Business Woman's Award.

Recognized for their professionalism, community service and entrepreneurial spirit, Julia Wheatley, Christine DeNovellis and Kathy Iorio received awards last month at the Third Annual Distinguished Business Woman's reception during Club Industry '99 in Chicago. Many of the women's peers attended the special ceremony to honor the trio of club pros for their contributions and commitment to the industry.

Once again, Club Industry thanks the nominating committee and you, our readers, for voting. And we congratulate our winners for continuing to uphold the highest standards in the fitness industry.

Business Woman of the Year

Julia Wheatley,
Owner, Women's Fitness Center Inc., Harrisonburg, Va.

Women's Fitness Center Inc. has been in existence for 18 years under a variety of owners and in a variety of locations. The 5,250-square-foot facility has 531 members, but it wasn't until Julia Wheatley took the helm that the center sharpened its focus on helping women lead healthy lifestyles.

Wheatley purchased Women's Fitness Center Inc. when it was financially unsound. The staff members at the time were neither motivated nor qualified to meet Julia's high standards of service. Wheatley transformed her facility through hiring educated staff, investing in leading technology and by providing an exceptional level of service to her members. Today, she has more than tripled her club's membership and restored profitability to the once ailing venture.

Wheatley's business acumen and drive to succeed may have gotten her to where she is today, but it is her belief in the power of education, her vision and her commitment to the community that make her a unique leader in the health and fitness industry. Last year, during the transformation of Women's Fitness Center, Wheatley received her master's of science in kinesiology. She believes not only in the enhancement of her own knowledge, but also in the education and training of her staff, members and the community. She works closely with the community, employs college interns and provides direction for students through speaking engagements on business and the fitness industry. Wheatley's success is due to her caring nature and the intimate atmosphere she provides at Women's Fitness Center, making anyone feel comfortable working out there.

To accomplish her goal of creating a member-oriented fitness center, Wheatley had the vision to invest in a fitness network system that has enabled her and her staff to give members the extra attention that they need. The fitness network has enabled more than 90 percent of her members to see real results and regularly communicate with the staff. With a very tangible impact in member retention and new member attraction, this investment in technology easily justified itself within a year. Wheatley has also instituted a weekly program that highlights members' achievements and accomplishments in the local newspaper. These stories educate and motivate members and nonmembers alike to the benefits of living a healthier lifestyle.

Wheatley has also established herself as a pillar of the community through involvement in local philanthropic events.

Entrepreneur of the Year

Christine DeNovellis,
Owner/President, Body Elite Executive Training Club Inc., Tampa, Fla.
When Christine DeNovellis opened Body Elite in 1993, she did so on a wing and a prayer. Not only was money so scarce that family and friends were recruited to paint and put on the finishing touches, but on opening day, Body Elite's checking account had a total of $200 with no additional funding forthcoming. DeNovellis had to rely on her own personal drive, charisma and abilities to see her through. During the first year she regularly put in 100-hour weeks and dedicated her few remaining personal hours to developing strategies to attract clients and quality trainers.

To make matters worse, three-quarters of the way through the first year, DeNovellis' mother was diagnosed with Lou Gherig's Disease and passed away 12 months later. But rather than succumb to grief, DeNovellis threw herself into her work with even greater energy and determination.

And she succeeded. After the first year, Body Elite no longer needed to advertise in order to grow. Word-of-mouth referrals have increased the business to the point where De-Novellis must expand to accommodate additional members. Also, the almost nonexistent member attrition rate - 7 percent - is a glowing testament to her attention to, and concern for, her clients.

DeNovellis has been in the forefront of the industry locally with her desire and efforts to bridge the gap between physician/physical therapy businesses and professional fitness. Over the last two years she has worked tirelessly to build relationships with medical and rehabilitation practices. But her true foresight is best displayed in her plans for the new facility that she is in the process of opening. This facility's services will range from treatment for injury, to physical therapy, to post-rehabilitation, to maintenance therapy. This will be accomplished by having physical therapists, massage therapists, chiropractors and personal trainers certified in post-rehab conditioning training on the premises for a seamless flow of treatment.

Christine has never let the fact that personal training tends to be a male-dominated profession stand in her way. She has wholeheartedly pursued the professional sports market with great success. But just as attentive as she is to growing her client base, she is also very attentive to the well-being of her staff. She fosters an atmosphere of friendship, teamwork and family.

Industry Enhancement Award

Kathy Iorio,
Director, Hamot Wellness Center, Erie, Pa.

Kathy Iorio is the director of Hamot Wellness Center, an 11,000-square-foot facility with 1,000 members. Her goal is to inspire others to lead healthier lives, and she makes use of every possible opportunity to take her message of health and wellness into the community. She is a favorite on the regional speaking circuit and writes a weekly column that appears in the local newspaper. Currently, she is responsible for the implementation and management of three programs geared for youth: Club House 24, Club House Goes to School and Project B-Fit.

In the fall of 1992, Iorio was a woman with a mission: to create a health and fitness show for children. In October of 1993 her mission was accomplished. Club House 24 is a 30-minute weekly television show that airs locally on Saturday mornings. Targeted for children 6 through 9, the program focuses on healthy living with regular segments on fitness, health and safety. It is co-sponsored by Hamot Health Foundation, WJET-TV and McDonald's.

With the success of Club House 24, Iorio took the show on the road. In 1995, Club House Goes to School was developed. Live health and fitness presentations were scheduled at area schools in the Tri-State area of Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York. The number of students visited by Club House Goes to School in 1996-1997 totaled more than 1,800 students. For 1997-1998, more than 2,200 students participated. Club House Goes to School continues to be a popular program for area schools.

With such a demand for live fitness and health presentation, Iorio developed a third program called Project B-Fit. Started in 1997, Project B-Fit enrolls interested 13- to 18-year-old youths in a youth leadership-training program. Upon completion of the program, the new youth leaders then work in teams to serve as mentors and role models for younger children. Project B-Fit teaches children to move, eat healthy and not smoke. Iorio schedules training sessions to train each individual Project B-fit leader. To date, more than 70 youth instructors in grades 6 through 12 have been trained. These Project B-fit leaders have visited 30 elementary schools reaching approximately 8,000 youth in grades K-3.

These programs enjoy a great deal of success because Kathy's enthusiasm, motivation and business skills are behind them. Her endless networking within her community enables them to flourish.

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