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ACE’s Graham Melstrand on Role Models and Influnces

By Patricia Glynn

In this edition of The Pro Project, CBI Unbound’s ongoing get-to-know-an-industry-expert series, we shine the spotlight on Graham Melstrand.

Melstrand is vice president of business development for The American Council on Exercise (ACE) of San Diego, California, the world’s largest nonprofit fitness certification, education, and training organization, an established and trusted resource for both fitness professionals and consumers.

He also serves on the advisory board of the Richmond, Virginia-based Medical Fitness Association, and as a commissioner for the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).

Previously, Melstrand was director of new business development for Reebok/CCS Fitness, and territory manager for Star Trac, of Irvine, California, which makes high quality cardio and strength equipment. Between 1981 and 1991 he was a nationally ranked cyclist, and participated in the U.S. Olympic Trials in both 1984 and 1988.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Never underestimate the power of a healthy level of professional curiosity.

In the course of my career, I’ve been able, thanks to my curiosity, to connect with a network of incredibly gifted individuals both inside and outside the fitness industry. Their input helps me to better understand and evaluate opportunities that might arise for ACE and the industry, and helps me to better recognize any unintended consequences that may be associated with pursuing them.

Can you name any business role models who have greatly influenced you?

There are several who work in a variety of fields.

I am impressed, for example, by Scott Waddle’s “the buck stops here” approach to leadership.  He was the captain of the USS Greeneville, the submarine that accidently sunk a Japanese fishery training ship off of Oahu, Hawaii, in 2001. Against the advice of his attorney, Waddle accepted full responsibility, which ended his naval career. Today, he is an author, public speaker, and works in the private sector.

In the fitness industry, I am grateful for the guidance I’ve received from Robert Romano, former COO of Powerhouse Gym International, who helped me channel the energy and passion I had as an athlete into my current work.

Ken Germano, executive director at The Medical Fitness Association and a one-time president of ACE, afforded me the opportunity to grow and participate in the industry at a national level.

And, Scott Goudeseune, the current president and CEO of ACE, has created a remarkable environment that encourages innovation, learning, and measured risk-taking.

Has one book made a difference in your life?

Yes—South: The Endurance Expedition by Sir Ernest Shackleton. Primarily, it’s a recounting of his historic, yet unsuccessful, attempt to cross Antarctica. Ultimately, though, it’s a narrative that offers lessons in leadership, perseverance, planning, and execution under adverse conditions. Such lessons, particularly those pertaining to leadership and planning, haven proven tremendously helpful for keeping ACE both on point and growing during these economically challenging times.

In your view, how can the industry get more people in clubs and exercising?

We could learn a lot from organizations such as Team in Training, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's endurance sports training program whose team members raise funds for cancer research and patient care. They manage to get millions of participants involved in significant, and often times physically demanding, events.

They provide leadership, a strong sense of community, and require a commitment that is time-bound. Many fitness facilities could, likewise, leverage or replicate such a model.

Are there any blogs or websites that you find especially valuable?

Several come to mind.  On LinkedIn, I enjoy the Fitness and Wellness Innovation group, and the IHRSA group, both of which feature robust discussions of ideas and opportunities geared toward advancing the industry.

I also like the ACE Facebook page, which captures the passion and enthusiasm of our certified professionals, as well as of candidates preparing for the exam. It demonstrates why fitness is such a great industry to be involved in.

Equally terrific is the ACE GetFit site, which includes our public research studies, product reviews, a fitness facility locator tool, an exercise library, and healthy recipes. It makes accurate information more accessible to consumers and, hopefully, encourages them to join fitness facilities and adopt a healthier lifestyle overall.

- Patricia Glynn is the associate editor of CBI magazine and can be reached at

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