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IHRSA Rising Stars: Class of 2017

This month, IHRSA and Club Business International are pleased to introduce our readers to 22 of the industry’s true “Rising Stars.”

The young men and women briefly profiled below have already had a significant impact on, and made valuable contributions to, the health and fitness business. Whether working locally or internationally, personally or virtually, they’ve had a positive effect not only on the industry, but, more importantly, on the lives of hundreds of thousands of club members.

Their backgrounds, disciplines, and positions may differ, but they’re united in terms of their enthusiasm, energy, passion, and unqualified commitment to improving the lives of others.

These 22 individuals—the tip, as it were, of the industry’s talent iceberg—were nominated by the readers of CBI as part of IHRSA’s Rising Stars initiative, and, subsequently, selected by members of the association’s staff.

Senior Account Manager
Corporate Fitness Works
Falls Church, VA

Julia Arguelles is all about people connecting with people, and, right now, she’s focused on the millennials. “Bridging the gap between millennials and the other generational cohorts that clubs serve ... is a significant challenge,” she acknowledges. “But the millennial generation is a dynamic force, one that drives change and pushes boundaries. It should be viewed not as an obstacle to helping members connect with one another, but, rather, as a fresh new opportunity to do so.” Arguelles, 35, currently oversees 14 fitness and wellness centers, in six states, for Corporate Fitness Works (CFW). Known for her engaging, organized, and detail-oriented approach, she also brings strong leadership skills to her current role as vice president of the Mid-Atlantic Club Management Association (MACMA). This affiliation, she explains, “has expanded my outreach in the industry, introducing leadership, training, and programming best practices gleaned from commercial clubs into the corporate environment.” As a volunteer race director and community events organizer, Arguelles has raised more than $290,000 for local charities over the past 13 years. These activities also enhance her work at CFW, she points out, by helping her keep up with regional issues, and explore local educational and developmental opportunities.

Personal Trainer
Bodytech Holding
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Brivio may have been nominated to be one of IHRSA’s Rising Stars by a colleague, but, in fact, the most enthusiastic and grateful of this young man’s fans are the hundreds of autistic children that he’s worked with, and helped, over the past 10 years. Bodytech makes products and services that have been specifically designed for children with special needs, such as autism, and Brivio is the passionate point person for the firm’s initiative. Over the years, he’s developed “beautiful physical activities” for his charges at one of the largest health clubs in Rio de Janeiro—some 300 boys and girls are currently enrolled—and his team is now introducing the program at other locations in the city and throughout Brazil. “There are no words to describe all of the emotions, surprises, and happiness that I’ve experienced,” he says. His program focuses on improving the children’s motor skills, and also has a positive impact on their autonomy, self-confidence, discipline, and self-esteem, and, in some cases, reduces their reliance on medications. “The most gratifying aspect of my work is to be able to ‘include’ these children in a healthy space,” he reports. “Sport makes an enormous difference. ... They become more receptive, more involved, more connected to their environment, and, most of all—they feel happier.”

Vice President of Human Resources
US Fitness Group, LLC
McLean, VA

“As simple as it sounds, I’m happy and fulfilled” is Kristy Byrd’s response when asked how her life has changed since she left a promising career as an attorney several years ago to join US Fitness. The satisfaction, she explains, comes from “working in an industry that truly changes peoples’ lives in a positive, healthy way, and that offers meaningful employment opportunities to a diverse workforce.” Byrd, 35, who had no specific experience in the fitness industry, set forth on her new journey as the general manager of one of the firm’s Crunch Fitness facilities. While serving in that role, Byrd obtained her certificate as a senior professional in human resources (SPHR) in her spare time. It wasn’t long before her skills and expertise were noted, however, and she was plucked from the club to serve as the director of human resources at US Fitness’ headquarters. There, Byrd improved training and communication procedures, and oversaw several significant corporate initiatives. In 2016, she was named vice president of human resources, and now attends to the needs of the more than 4,000 employees who power the group’s three brands—Crunch Fitness, One Life Fitness, and Sport & Health.

Total Gym
San Diego, CA

You might say that Jesse Campanaro was destined to one day head up Total Gym, since he’s always been active. He was a competitive gymnast; played NCAA football at Bentley University, in Waltham, Massachusetts; and, today, enjoys surfing and snowboarding. As a youngster, Campanaro began working with Total Gym, a business founded by his father, Tom, by upholstering the boards that are an integral part of the firm’s exercise equipment. He subsequently became a commercial sales rep for its flagship Total Gym unit and GRAVITY group fitness program, in 2003; national sales manager, focusing on the physical therapy, commercial fitness, high-end consumer, and international markets, in 2006; president, in 2012; and, most recently, CEO. Now, Campanaro drives growth and innovation, and promotes the company’s cultural ethos—“The No. 1 company to work for in San Diego.”

His advice for parents who hope their children will carry on the family business? “Allow them to get involved if they want to. If not, encourage them to follow their own dreams!”

Cofounder, Managing Partner
GIVE Fitness
Atascadero, CA
Chief Operating Officer
Fitness Division of Working to Give

It’s been said that luck is what occurs when preparation meets opportunity, and Josh Donovan, a former U.S. Marine Corps veteran and 13-year fitness industry professional, was very prepared for that magic moment. Donovan was looking for a way to use his experience in, and understanding of, the fitness sector to “create a different type of fitness product.” And he found it, thanks to a fortuitous meeting with Matt Holguin, the founder of Working to Give (WTG), a for-profit company with a singular purpose-driven—as opposed to profit-driven—business model. Its premise is simple: 50% of its profits are reinvested in the firm to sustain growth, and the other 50% is contributed to the local community. Together, Donovan and Holguin created WTG’s Fitness Division, and, in 2013, launched GIVE Fitness; since its opening, the club has acquired some 3,000 members, and donated more than $50,000 to Atascadero-area initiatives. A member of the Fitness Industry Technology Council (FITC), Donovan, 32, feels it’s important for the industry “to integrate technology into the prospect and member experience ... and truly connect with consumers to understand their needs and desires.”

Vice President of Fitness
Steve Nash Fitness World and Sports Clubs
British Columbia, Canada

Years ago, Nastasia Genova joined a gym for the first time, and hired a personal trainer to help her lose 30 pounds and regain her self-esteem. By the time she reached her fitness goals, Genova, now 34, had been transformed both physically and mentally. “I wanted to pay it forward and embark on a career that would allow me to live my passion and purpose every day,” she reflects. She hasn’t stopped since. She became a certified personal trainer, club manager, district fitness manager, director of fitness, and, today, serves as the vice president of fitness for the Steve Nash Fitness World and Sports Clubs. Overseeing 350 trainers in 22 locations, she’s achieved record profit margins, created a unique team culture, developed an on-boarding system for trainers, reduced staff turnover, introduced a supplements line and won numerous awards.

“We must continue to find ways to increase our reach in the community and our engagement with members to fight obesity globally,” she insists.

Director of People & Fitness Operations
Newtown Athletic Club
Newtown, PA

Those who know or work with her regard “golden” as an apt description of this 32-year-old’s spirit, personality, and professional performance. Currently the director of people and fitness operations at the Newtown Athletic Club (NAC)—as comprehensive a purview as CBI has ever encountered—Golden arrived at NAC in 2013 with an impressive human resources (HR) management pedigree, and quickly fell in love with fitness. Since then, her HR and operational assignments—and achievements—have proliferated rapidly. The areas or activities she’s been tasked with include the club’s outdoor restaurant; its fitness venue and adult fitness programs; member feedback; and oversight of its 25-member personal training (PT) team (her involvement yielded a 30% increase in PT revenues). She’s also developed NAC’s LifeFit program to increase medical referrals, and helped implement a medical wellness partnership with a regional hospital and health conglomerate. And, in between things, she spearheaded NAC’s Brooklyn Half Marathon initiative, leading over 50 runners to raise $167,000 for Augie’s Quest. “Honestly, the sky holds no limits for Kate,” says Linda Mitchell, the Club’s director of marketing and public relations.

Director of Operations
Gold’s Gym Regina
Saskatchewan, Canada

A civil engineer by training, Skye Kaiss, 35, didn’t seek a career in the fitness industry. Rather, it came looking for him. In 2005, a Gold’s Gym franchise salesman approached Kaiss and his father about the possibility of their purchasing and operating a Gold’s facility. “We were a bit apprehensive,” he recalls, “but I chose to switch careers and jump in head first.” To learn the business, Kaiss surrounded himself with knowledgeable and influential industry leaders. “One of the greatest things about fitness people is their willingness to teach and mentor others,” he observes. A natural at recognizing and capitalizing on opportunities, he’s opened four Gold’s Gyms in Regina, and is now planning a fifth. In 2014, he won the Gold’s Gym Visionary of the Year Award. Kaiss’ club business now encompasses 50 full-time employees, 100 part-time staffers, and 9,000 members; boasts a 70% retention rate; and generates $8 million in annual revenues. In addition, he’s also the founder and president of Club Vitals, a firm that produces a unique, web-based, equipment maintenance product.

Sales and Marketing Director
The Claremont Club
Claremont, CA

A 13-year veteran of The Claremont Club, Shannon Malooly, 32, began her career with the company as a group exercise instructor and personal trainer. She served as the club’s group exercise director for eight years, and, in 2013, was named its sales and marketing director. The operation, with a $12.2-million annual budget and a membership of more than 10,000, has both challenged and fulfilled Malooly. Fortunately, she’s a creative multitasker. “I feel as though I was born to do this, and working on the fitness side provided me with valuable insights about some of the important links that often are missing in club marketing,” she explains. She’s developed internal and external campaigns, overseen a corporate rebranding, created an integrated marketing platform, and spear- headed website redesigns. She’s also active in community outreach, and presents at industry shows. “I wrap things in pretty packages and promote the club’s value to members,” Malooly enthuses. “Once someone buys in, they enjoy an improved quality of life, and we have a raving fan!”

Club Manager
Les Mills Newmarket
Auckland, New Zealand

With bachelor of arts degrees in communications and business management and marketing, and an insatiable entrepreneurial spirit, it’s always been clear that Carrie Kepple, 35, was going to go a long way. Thus far, it’s taken her from a journalist position with the Peoria Journal Star (where she twice inter- viewed then–Illinois Senator Barack Obama); to New Zealand, where she’s been an important member of the Les Mills team; to, most recently, being nominated to serve on IHRSA’s board of directors. Although she worked for several years with Gold’s Gym International, Inc., she’s served Les Mills in a wide range of capacities since 2005. Notably, she’s opened, reopened, and/or managed three of the chain’s 12 facilities, including one in Christchurch that was damaged by a severe earthquake in 2011. Her metrics at the Newmarket club in FY1 attest to her skills: number of active members, 101% ahead of target; attendance, 212% ahead; net profit, 111% ahead; staff/contractor satisfaction, 84.6%; and net promoter score (NPS), 44.6%. Her entrepreneurial fires undiminished, she and her wife, Amy Styles, are distributors for Kyäni, a line of nutritional supplements, and have just launched a new business, LIFE- STYLES-Mindful Wellness.

Divisional CEO
Fitness On Demand
Chanhassen, MN

Garrett Marshall, 32, began his career by accident—literally. After suffering a sports injury, he offered to give kids swimming lessons in exchange for a gym membership, which allowed him to undergo rehabilitation. He found himself hooked on the fitness industry! Between 2004 and 2008, he worked at a major health club, and gained a wealth of experience in sales and sales management, member activities, food and beverage, national club operations, and business development. Turning his attention to the start-up technology side of the industry, he launched Fitness On Request (now Wellbeats), and, then, in 2011, helped start Fitness On Demand, a leading provider of virtual group-exercise programs. Fitness On Demand was acknowledged on Inc. magazine’s list of the 5,000 Fastest Growing Private Companies in 2015 and 2016, and now serves clubs in more than 20 countries. Marshall’s take on technology? “I don’t necessarily sleep outside of an Apple store before the latest iPhone release,” he responds. “But I love technology that solves problems, improves processes, and creates efficiencies. We can help our customers save money and provide more value.”

Director of Customer Experience
The Abs Company
Chester, NJ

After having spent two years in the travel and hospitality industries, Silvia Milaschewski, now 33, wanted a change. It was then that, via a temp agency, she discovered The Abs Company, a core and functional training equipment company. She started as an administrative assistant in 2011, and now serves as the company’s director of customer experience. Her colleagues and clients praise her quick problem-solving, excellent organizational skills, and professionalism and composure—particularly when dealing with demanding clients. Her fluency in Spanish has expedited many customer inquiries, and been particularly useful as the company has increased its sales efforts and expanded in her native Peru. “What I like most about my job is that I meet people from different parts of the fitness industry, from about 40 different countries, so I’m always dealing with something new,” she observes. “I enjoy solving problems and developing strong relationships with customers. By ensuring that our customers are well-informed about how our products work, I can help members achieve their fitness goals—which changes their lives. I like to think I’m having a positive impact on the industry.”

Sales and Customer Service Manager
Am-Finn Sauna and Steam
Meridian, ID

While completing her degree in human resource (HR) management at Boise State University, Nicole Ness, now 23, became a customer service assistant at Am-Finn Sauna and Steam, a sauna and steam room supplier. There she improved the tracking of sales opportunities, and was recognized for her outstanding follow-through. When she graduated last May, Ness became the company’s sales and customer service coordinator. She’s been busy ever since. She’s implemented a new training program, introduced a monthly customer newsletter, and served as Am-Finn’s representative at trade shows and other events. She’s also taken on the tasks of creating job descriptions and coordinating corporate team-building outings, holiday parties, and employee-recognition efforts. “It’s reward- ing to be part of a business that constantly strives to meet its customers’ current needs, anticipate upcoming trends, and, then—innovate,” she says. “I’ve met so many amazing industry leaders at events, such as the IHRSA convention and trade show, and their passion, dedication, and drive is incredible.”

General Manager
Healthtrax Fitness & Wellness
Newington, CT

When people talk about “fast-track” performers, they might well be speaking about Jason O’Tash, 33. He began his career in fitness just a decade ago by selling and servicing memberships at a Healthtrax facility in Enfield, Connecticut. Within two years, he’d been named membership director and, then, fitness director. In 2013, he was named Membership Director of the Year and won the firm’s President’s Award. That led, the following year, to his being promoted to the position of general manager of Healthtrax’s 28,000-square-foot club in Newington, where he oversees some 50 employees. “At Healthtrax, I’ve learned to never stop being ‘a student of the industry,’” he says. For professional development, O’Tash regularly attends NEHRSA (New England Health, Racquet, and Sports Association) conventions, and, last August, he attended the IHRSA Institute. “At the Institute, I gained a much broader understanding of the fitness industry, which has changed my mindset and my daily routine,” he reports. “And I now have an international network of fitness professionals that I can call upon for advice and help.”

EcoFit Networks
Chicago, IL

Often described as possessing a “leading-edge voice and a visionary mind,” Michael Piermont, 32, is driven by his focus, courage, and innovative approach to thinking. His brainchild, amSTATZ, a SaaS (software as a service) platform for the fitness industry, is an online community that connects personal trainers with their clients. Following launch, it quickly grew to 268,000 users, and, within five years, Piermont had sold the company to the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). He was subsequently recruited to become the CEO of EcoFit Networks, which provides asset-management tools for health clubs. Within the first six months, he’d increased revenue growth by 900%, developed new products, established an advisory board, and raised additional capital. “My goal is to make the fitness industry more streamlined so it’s easier for owners and operators to run their business,” says Piermont. “Using data and technology will allow them to deliver a better experience, and lead, in turn, to a healthier community.” Piermont also presents at industry events.

CEO Lindsey Rainwater, LLC
Denver, CO

Lindsey Rainwater is a business-development consultant who, having worked with leading health club and supplier brands for more than seven years, is much in demand. One of the reasons is that she thrives on transformational change. “Change can be so hard, and my objective is to support change management, both for individuals and organizations, so that it’s as simple, easy, and enjoyable as possible,” she explains. “Being a consultant allows me to work with people in the industry, and assist in the process of reverse-engineering problems towards solutions.” Bryan O’Rourke, the CEO of Integerus Advisors, who collaborates with her frequently, notes, “Lindsey was a key driver of Fitmarc’s strategy to become one of the most successful distributors of Les Mills group exercise programming.” Rainwater observes, “The pressing dynamic of increased technologies creates challenges for many fitness professionals. Learning how to compete most effectively, to win new members and grow the industry as a whole, is no easy task, and has never seemed more difficult. In order to remain relevant, professionals need more tools.” Rainwater, 33, also is active in the Fitness Industry Technology Council (FITC), which O’Rourke heads, and IHRSA’s International Leadership Council (ILC).

Fitness Director
Flemington, NJ

Folks invariably describe Chelsea Salisbury, 32, as “a go-getter.” She holds a bachelor of science degree in exercise and sports science, and, recently, began working towards a master of science, with a concentration in kinesiology and applied physiology. After being hired in 2013 by HealthQuest, a 104,000- square-foot multipurpose club with some 9,000 members, Salisbury launched Complete U. Members and nonmembers making use of it can receive nutrition counseling, supplements, personal training (PT), and family-based wellness and lifestyle education. Salisbury also excelled at PT sales, and, since being promoted to the post of fitness director, has developed the most successful PT team in the company’s history. Revenue for 2016 is projected to increase by 42% over 2015. Her secret? “I raised the hiring requirements,” she says simply. She attributes her impressive productivity to a clear focus, lots of ideas, and solid multitasking and delegating skills. “When each of my staff understands their role, things run smoothly.”

Regional Director of Fitness East Coast
Crunch Fitness
New York

While working as a professional musician and amateur boxer—he won the New York Golden Gloves competition in the light heavyweight division in 2010—Michael Spiegel became a personal trainer at Crunch Fitness to supplement his income. “My day gig quickly developed into my passion, and I discovered I really loved helping clients reach their goals.” Quickly rising through the ranks at Crunch, he now oversees personal training at 24 of its clubs in three states, and shares his commitment to ongoing education via the chain’s own curriculum, as well as workshops and certifications. After earning the NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine) Pursuit of Excellence Award in 2010, Spiegel, now 33, earned his master’s degree in exercise science and health promotion from California University of Pennsylvania. He’s also a master trainer for TRX, kettlebells, and Bulgarian bags. “I have an unrelenting desire to get better, and to empower as many people as possible via the gift of fitness,” he says.

Corporate Group Fitness Manager
MVP Sports Clubs
Orlando, FL

One of Ali Svendsen’s favorite quotes, provided courtesy of Mark Twain, is, “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” Svendsen, clearly, has profited from his advice—to the benefit of many others. Within a few years of joining MVP, she’s quickly progressed from being an aerobics instructor to managing eight group-ex managers and more than 400 instructors, at eight clubs, who conduct over 1,000 classes per week. She’s also created a leadership training initiative for instructors; manages MVP’s internally produced programs; helped formulate its Recovery Yoga offering; and worked closely with MOSSA, which markets branded group fitness programs. In addition, she’s been a mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters, and is a youth group leader at a local church. Svendsen credits her incredible productivity to, among other things, extensive to-do lists, and “a plethora of Post-it Notes—like every- where!” In summary, she observes, “I’m only one—my team is many; each has a role to ensure that all components of the program run smoothly.”

Global Education Manager
Precor, Inc.
Woodinville, WA

It comes as no surprise that, last year, Erica Tillinghast, 34, was awarded the Precor Pinnacle Award, the company’s second-highest honor. She did, after all, create Precor’s fitness education department, which involved hiring, training, and developing a team of 50 master coaches on six continents, which now conducts workshops and continuing education courses on the company’s cardio and Queenax equipment. “Our coaches are an integral part of Precor’s business, providing best-in-class training for fitness professionals and operators around the world,” she explains. “Our programs focus on movement education, program design, and team- building. In addition, our coaches author onsite workshop courses and articles for the online Precor Coaching Center.” Tillinghast also speaks at international fitness conferences, and offers trainer, operator, and sales education workshops at clubs and trade shows worldwide. Her main message: “Successful programming starts with absolute clarity on the group size, training style, and intended audience. ... Define your vision, assess your staff, and program for success!”

Fitness and Operations Manager
Aquafit—Health, Fitness, Wellbeing
Sydney, Australia

Amber Willsher, 27, joined Aquafit just three years ago, and, since then, has had an inordinate impact on the 43,000-square-foot facility, which serves more than 4,200 members. She’s officially responsible for overseeing and managing its fitness and aquatics programs and amenities and 16 employees, but, as a member of the club’s senior leadership team, she also plays a role in shaping its strategic vision and direction. “Amber embodies the Aquafit values of integrity, respect, compassion, and community,” says Kristen Green, the club’s general manager. “She’s provided leadership and stability to what was once a fragmented fitness team.” Willsher’s responsibilities are demanding, detailed, and wide-ranging—from tracking key performance indicators (KPIs) to policing maintenance—but her ability to prioritize and multitask efficiently is equal to the task. She also participates in fundraising activities for local charities, and is committed to ongoing professional development— both for herself and her team. The culture she’s helped create “allows me to come in to work loving what I do, day in and day out,” she says. “When you work with passionate and talented people who share your values—that’s when the magic happens.”

Senior Director of Fitness
Healthtrax Fitness & Wellness
Glastonbury, CT

Since joining Healthtrax in 2009, Matthew Wright, 32, has racked up a remarkable record. He’s opened three new clubs; built exceptional employee teams; developed strong operational procedures; and earned a master’s degree in several fitness-related disciplines. And that’s just for starters. Over the past two years, he’s developed standard operating procedures for all of Healthtrax’s facilities, designed and presented a two-day personal trainer workshop, and introduced a new online trainer curriculum. He’s also joined IDEA’s personal trainer committee, made plans to speak at IDEA’s next World Fitness & Nutrition Expo, and was recently elected the president of NEHRSA (the New England Health, Racquet, and Sportsclub Association). Clearly, Wright is driven by a passion for learning, sharing, and making a difference. “As leaders in the fitness industry, it’s our responsibility to unite, educate, and promote the most up-to-date information and successes of our industry for all to utilize,” he maintains. “My best advice for all fitness professionals is to be deliberate in your practices. Whatever it is you’re doing—do it with intent, with passion, and the heart of a teacher.”