There are moments in time that can completely change the course of our life. This was the case with BCRPA’s 2022 Fitness Professional of the Year, Shannon Whieldon when she witnessed her grandfather having a heart attack.
Springing into action she quickly transported him to the Emergency Room. The experience resulted in a lifelong commitment to taking care of her own health and well-being and those around her.
“Boom, he arrested right in front of me,” Shannon says of the moment her, and her grandfather’s life changed. “I immediately thought, okay that is not going to be me.”
Her grandfather recovered, quit smoking, hopped on his stationary bike, and rode every day for another 30 years.
Over time, Shannon’s grandfather became just one of the many people she has inspired, encouraged, and supported to live a healthy and active lifestyle.
In September of this year, in recognition of a life spent making a difference, Shannon was awarded BCRPA’s 2022 Fitness Professional of the Year at its annual BCFit’22 conference. This prestigious title is given to Fitness Leaders who contribute to British Columbia’s fitness industry and inspire, inform, and actively model active and healthy lifestyles.
Dedicating the past 40 years of her life to community fitness and health promotion, the accomplishment fits Shannon to a T.
She believes deeply in the power of movement, and that everyone can learn and benefit from fitness.
“You don’t have to do something insurmountable to start out. Just start slow. If you stop and get discouraged, start again,” Shannon advises.
Becoming a Fitness Leader
Shannon began working as an Industrial First Aid Attendant and a Fitness Instructor at the YMCA in the early 1980s
Her family, clients, and friends say sharing her knowledge of active living is an around-the-clock job for Shannon.
She is someone who during her 27 years as a nurse in acute care, took the time to implement a preventative back care program in her unit so doctors and nurses completed 30 minutes of self-care exercise by the end of their 12-hour shifts.
Her brother, Mike Whieldon, says “[Shannon] knows how to connect people so everyone benefits,” and says her intergenerational approach to fitness is “refreshing.”
When Shannon drives home after work, her brother says she checks on her older clients to ensure they have what they need, “and still finds time to make sure our mother was doing her four endurance exercises and using her medications properly.”
Peers commend Shannon’s resourcefulness and ability to understand the critical needs of her clients, as well as her passion for working with older adults.
“She sees ability, not disability, opportunity, not obstacles, and she has the unique ability to instill that confidence with her clients,” says Personal Trainer Brian Chua. “Shannon brings a contagiously positive attitude to any workspace, and she is an amiable character in every setting. Her attention to others, paired with a rare enthusiasm to assist in their success has created a diverse network of people looking to pay forward the kindness they were originally shown.”
Those who have worked with her and experienced her expertise firsthand say Shannon helped them progress beyond their expectations and build lasting confidence.
“That’s the strongest part of fitness — enjoying movement. Once [people] enjoy movement, movement becomes part of life,” Shannon says.
The Power of Exercise
Shannon credits movement to saving her son’s life. For eight years her son underwent chemotherapy and two and a half years of restorative leg surgery. During this time and his recovery, Shannon supported him through nutrition and exercise to keep his strength up.
The pair developed a lasting bond through exercise, and their connection through fitness led to one of Shannon’s proudest accomplishments.
While her son was undergoing cancer treatment, he had CVC lines installed in his chest, which provided direct IV access to his heart. Shannon needed to be close to his school in case of an emergency, but she wanted to ensure he was wholly independent.
The solution: creating an anti-bullying karate class. Through this Shannon could be close at hand and bring exercise into the classroom for the other students.
Watch the 2014 CTV Segment about Brendan’s recovery:
During her five years working in the school system, she used karate and traditional martial arts to teach an anti-bullying and physical fitness program.
“It wasn’t about teaching the skills of karate,” she says, “it was the skills of compassion and kindness.”
As Shannon explains it, traditional karate is about healing from the inside out.
Her program emphasized the importance of getting kids active while they’re young, instilling responsibility and teaching the students how to be leaders. Those students in turn imparted their leadership skills to their peers.
Fifteen years later, Shannon says the students she taught still stop by and tell her how she changed their lives. She credits them for making her a better teacher.
“It makes me really proud,” she says. “Those kids also pay it forward.”
Shannon’s impact creates a ripple effect, and the concept of paying it forward is embedded in her practice.
She teaches children and grandparents core flexibility exercises that they can bring home and teach to their parents or grandchildren, bringing together families through a common bond of exercise.
Through compassion and kindness, Shannon motivates generations of families to take care of their health and well-being while cheering them on every step of the way, as she does with her own family.
Regardless of the time, place or situation, Shannon sees opportunities for movement and invites others to join.
One of those positive moments has stuck with her and is a testament to her intergenerational approach to fitness.
As Shannon was following her son in his ongoing pursuit of karate, she took the opportunity to squeeze in some exercise of her own by following along with the class from the back of the room.
Some of the other parents noticed and joined in. Shannon says that spontaneous moment inspired a group of moms to stick with the classes for another 10 years, which in turn seemed to help their kids progress faster than children in other classes.
“You don’t have to do something insurmountable to start out. Just start slow. If you stop and get discouraged, start again,” Shannon says.
Shannon’s ambition and drive are undeniable. Her achievements in community fitness are a part of a growing list of spectacular feats.
From securing a bronze medal at the 1988 World ParaSki Championships in Austria, to skydiving into Expo86, there are few things she hasn’t done. These accomplishments surprised even her as they were read to the crowd at BCFit’22 while she received her award.
“I was truly honoured and quite shocked,” she says.
Today, Shannon is a Supervisor of Fitness Leaders, holds Specialties in Older Adult Fitness, Personal Training, Weight Training and Group Fitness, and is deeply committed to making fitness education accessible and inclusive.
“Motion has to be part of life,” Shannon says.
She strives to help people who don’t think they can exercise realize their potential and build a sense of accomplishment. By starting small and meeting clients where they are at, Shannon proves how a few minutes each day can have an enormous impact over time.
Find out more about Shannon’s practice as a personal trainer on her website.
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