My Journey to IHRSA 2015: Part 1
When John asked me to document my trip to IHRSA 2015 I thought it would a quick and easy post about the trip and what I saw while I was there, but when I finally sat down to write this post I realized what a “long strange trip it has been” and it starts long before I boarded Southwest Airlines flight # 4812 from Denver to Los Angeles last Wednesday.
I started working in the fitness industry way back in 1992 at The Sports Training Institute in New York City. I had just graduated from State University of New York College at Cortland with a degree in Physical Education and a minor in Coaching. The problem was that there weren”™t any new teaching jobs available, so I thought for the time being I could work as a trainer, make some money, enjoy the big city and wait for some PE positions to become available. The problem was that personal training is addicting, you are surrounded by like minded highly motivated fit people all day. Your fellow trainers become great friends and training partners and you clients, many who are very smart and successful people, become your mentors and this is something that is very hard to leave. So I didn”™t I went “All In”. I completed an ACSM, American Council of Sports Medicine, 4 day workshop, passed the certification test to become an ACSM Health Fitness Instructor and went down the road of changing lives through fitness. I spent the next 3 years commuting from my family home in the upstate town of Highland Falls NY to the city, a 60 minute train ride, every day. It was exciting, our gym was one of the most respected training facilities in the city, we saw actors, politicians, professionals athletes and many more of the rich and famous everyday, not a bad gig for a 23 year old kid.
I was still living at home was because in my junior year of college my mother had passes away after a 2 year battle with lung cancer, so after graduation I decided to go back home and help my father take care of things at the house and help raise my 2 younger brothers. Now it had been almost 5 years since her death, my family had moved on from this tragic loss and I felt it was time for me to get on with my life and I had a big decision to make, I was either going to move into NYC or move away and start a new life in another state. For some reason Colorado had always intrigued me maybe it was the songs of John Denver or the fact that I had taken up triathlon and Boulder Colorado was and still is the Mecca for multi-sport athletes. I contacted some of my Pi Kappa Phi brothers, whom had moved to Colorado after graduation, asked if I could crash at their apartment until I found a job and my own place and set a moving date for the day after Christmas 1995.
I rolled into Denver around New Years Eve and was ready to make a go at a new life, I filled out employment applications at every gym and health club in the area. This was in the days before the internet so you couldn”™t just perform an google search for the best health clubs in an area. I was lucky enough to be awarded a Personal Training position at what I later found to be and still believe is the best health club in the Denver area if not the country, Greenwood Athletic Club. This place was big and beautiful, everyone was so fit, healthy and happy. I felt like I had landed a dream job!
The next 6 months, at Greenwood, was probably the most important and impactful of my entire adult life. First, I met my wife, Blair. She had come to Greenwood after back surgery and needed some rehab and training exercises and as luck would have it I was given her contact information to set up her training sessions. After our first meeting I was hooked but not being “that” kind of trainer I simply didn”™t feel it would be professional to ask her on a date, so what I did was give free session after free session until she finally got the hint and SHE asked me out. We were married in July of 1996 and now have twin 15 year old boys, Seth and Christian. During this time I also met a group of highly motivated and inspiring triathlon training partners. This was a group of people who made me believe that no goal is impossible. I had never dreamt that I could complete an Ironman distance triathlon, but with this group believing in and helping me I have now reached the finish line in 8 of these 140.6 mile events. Now I take great pride in helping other triathletes go farther than they ever imagined possible.
The final and most important event as it relates to this post, because obviously meeting my wife was the most important event of this 6 month period, was the introduction of Spinning®. I”™ll never forget how excited our GM, Steve Krum, was when he returned from IHRSA the year Johnny G launched the Spinning® program. Steve wanted Greenwood Athletic Club to be the first club in Colorado to have this program and started recruiting instructors the minute he got back in the club. Being a competitive triathlete and personal trainer Steve thought I would be a good fit for this amazing new program. Before I could help launch the indoor cycling program at Greenwood I was offered a position as Fitness Director at the Sports and Fitness Center at the Jewish Community Center of Denver. I was excited to offered this management position and felt like this was the next step in my fitness career but I was really going to miss Greenwood and felt like I was missing out on the launch of fitness”™s next “Big Thing”. It took me 2 years of prodding and negotiating with my General Manager and Executive Director to finally bring indoor cycling to the JCC. I got certified through Maddog Athletics, began teaching 3 classes a week and so began my indoor cycling journey.
From my very first class I was hooked. It just felt right, it was the perfect forum for me to share my love of fitness, riding, coaching and music. It also let me utilize the skills I had been taught while majoring in physical education. Class after class I worked to improve my presentation skills, refined my cueing, searched for the most motivating music and experimented on the perfect work to rest ratios for an indoor cycling class setting. As new technology emerged I embraced it; cd burners, mp3 players, iPods, laptops, video, clipless pedals, cadence meters, heart rate monitors and then finally power meters and heads up displays. My goal was to use every new technology to make my classes more motivating and engaging. I also went to every training I could find and afford. To me the Master Instructors were like Rock Stars, they had huge followings, cued perfectly, used all the new technology and were just great instructors. I always learned something new at every training. I thought it would be cool to be one of them, to also share this love of indoor cycling with other instructors, but I told myself I wasn”™t articulate or charismatic enough to ever break into that top tier group of instructors. So, I took all this new knowledge, from every training, and used it to teach the best classes I could. Class after class and year after year I worked to become the best instructor I could be. After about 10 years of teaching, training and managing, I could sense that my time left at the JCC was short. The new Executive Director had a completely different vision for the the Fitness Center than mine and I figured it was time to move on.
Prior to leaving the JCC I had been in contact with some of my old friends that were still working and/or working out at Greenwood Athletic Club and they put me in contact with all the right people. They all gave me stellar recommendations and when I eventually left the JCC I was able to hit the ground running with positions as Personal Trainer, Masters Swim Team and Triathlon Coach and Indoor Cycling Instructor. I had always hoped to eventually make it back to Greenwood, I figured I would go do my time in the “minor leagues” and eventually get called up the “majors”, but life in “minors” was comfortable and easy, I had developed a great system of management had an exceptional staff working for me I also had a steady following of training clients and solid group of indoor cyclist that came to my classes. Life in the “majors” was a lot different, Greenwood is considered one of the best health clubs in the country, they have the best of everything; staff, trainers, group exercise instructors, equipment and a beautiful facility. If I was going to survive here I was going to need to really step it up! I was and still do wear a lot of hats at Greenwood but for the sake of this post I”™m going to focus on indoor cycling.
Through the years I had developed my very own teaching style. I like my classes to “flow” from one interval to the next, one position to the next and one song to the next. I also like to build on what we do early in the workout throughout the class profile. I had been teaching this way for years and many of my riders at the JCC had been riding with me through this evolution so they just got it. The new riders at Greenwood had never experienced anyone who taught this way and my first few classes were a disaster. As anyone who has ever worked in the fitness industry knows, members don”™t like change. I was told that my class was just too complicated, the members just want a killer workout. I was terrified I was going to lose my classes, I had worked so hard to be good enough to work at this club now I might get sent back to the “minors”. I was confident that my unique style would be successful but I realized that it might be too much too soon at this new club so I took a step back started with much simpler profiles and slowly started layering in my progressions. After a short time I began to develop a following and eventually was filling my classes like the other top instructors at Greenwood.
One day one of my riders approached me after class and told me about a long business trip he was going and how he wished there was a way I could record my classes so he could take them with him when he was on the road. This got me thinking and before long I had purchased a digital audio recorder and the necessary cables to hook up to the mixing board in the cycling studio. This was the birth of “Dennis Mellon”™s InCycling Podcasts”. At first I just recorded my classes and would transfer them to a thumb drive for anyone who wanted them, then I built a website, www.dennismellon.com and made each class available to stream, but then I learned about podcasting and realized if I formatted each recording properly they could be available for download in the iTunes Store. Once my podcast was approved by Apple and available in the iTunes Store I needed to figure out a way to market it and get more followers to move up the charts, this is when I started looking into social media. I read a few articles on how to market with social media, created a Twitter and Facebook account and was a on my way.
One of the techniques used to create a large social media following, especially with Twitter, is to search for like minded people and “Follow” them. Proper Twitter etiquette is to “Follow Back” anyone that “Follows” you. In a very short time I had a few thousand “Followers”. Another technique used to increase your social media presence on Twitter is to “Re-Tweet” the posts of some of the “Power Users” on your “Follow” list. I had been listening to every episode of the Indoor Cycling Instructor Podcast hosted by John Macgowan and as an industry leader I figured he was someone that I should be “Re-Tweeting”. After a few weeks of re-tweeting all of John”™s posts I received an e-mail from him that simply read “Why aren”™t we working together?” I e-mailed him back and we set up a time to talk.
During this initial conversation John and I spoke about teaching experience, styles and just about everything indoor cycling. We agreed on much more than we disagreed on. John asked me if I would be interested in submitting a class profile and that next week we would record my class description of this profile and it would be available to the members of his website. I was so nervous, this was my opportunity to show the world the teaching style that I had been refining for over 15 years. The profile I presented was named “A Little Bit of Everything” (https://www.indoorcycleinstructor.com/icipro-instructor-training/music/icipro-podcast-287-little-bit-everything-audio-class-profile/). My playlist employed a new song selection technique called “Harmonic Mixing” which requires each song to be in a harmonically compatible key so songs sound like they flow together, which fit perfectly my flowing profiles. John loved it! He even recorded a podcast with me where we discusses this new music mixing technique. I felt like I finally hit the “Big Time”, I was contributing to the “Premier independent resource for Indoor Cycling Instructors around the world.”, hits to my website were going through the roof and I was getting e-mails from around the world from people telling me how much they enjoyed the class recordings that were available on my podcast “Dennis Mellon”™s InCycing Podcasts”. Life was good! The recognition was rewarding, but what was most satisfying was hearing how I was helping other instructors improve their classes and receive that coveted compliment “That was the best class I have ever taken”.
John and I started working together more and more and one day he asked me if I had ever considered being a Master Educator/Instructor. I think I laughed at the question, I told him of course I”™ve thought about it and would love to be that elite class of instructors who train other instructors, but there was no way I would ever get the opportunity and that I didn”™t think I was good enough. John assured me that I had what it took and that many of his contributors had gone on to be Master Educators/Instructors, I told him it would be great if that happened but I wasn”™t going to get my hopes up. Then one day I received an e-mail from Laurel Mylin, GM at Stages Indoor Cycling asking if we could set up a time to talk. Laurel and spoke for quite some time about education, experience, Stages Indoor Cycling, we also spoke for a while about the new Spinner Ion Blade that Greenwood had just purchased and the new Spin Power Program that I had just completed. As our conversation was winding down I thought about what John had said about so many of his contributors becoming Master Educators/Instructors and I figured I should let Laurel know I would be very interested if there was an opportunity. Laurel said that they had been watching me for while and that there may be an opportunity with Stages and that something “REALLY BIG” was going to be happening with the company in 2015. She told me she would pass my information along to Cameron Chinatti, Director of Education and I should be hearing from her soon.
After talking to Cameron on the phone, observing her present multiple times and Cameron watching me instruct, I was hired on with Stages Indoor Cycling as a Master Educator. This is a great honor and huge responsibility. I now have the opportunity to shape the direction of indoor cycling for years to come, an activity that has been part of my identity for so long. I know it”™s just a bike that goes nowhere, but it has helped so many people reach fitness and weight loss goals they never dreamed were attainable or maybe the time spent in on this bike that goes nowhere is the best part of someone”™s day, never dismiss the power of the ride.
So, last Wednesday, as I sat awaiting take off of Southwest Airlines flight # 4812 from Denver to Los Angeles I had a tear in my eye as I thought about all the people who helped me and all the hard work it has taken to get to this new chapter of my life and fitness career.
In Part 2 I”™ll write about the actual IHRSA 2015 experience.
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