Doing the work he loves

By John Peters

July 15, 2013

Michael McHone has spent much of his life pursuing two endeavors: athletic competition and the pursuit of fitness being one, helping people improve themselves and pursue their goals is the other.

Newly appointed as the executive director of Pro Health Regional Fitness Center, McHone gets to do both — but his vision is to take those efforts far beyond the center’s present membership.

Pro Health, as its name implies, is a fitness and wellness center that has been aligned with Northwest Medical Partners since its inception 12 years ago.

While the center will continue to work with the medical practice, Pro Health is in the process of moving to a non-profit status, which McHone said gives the center the opportunity to pursue more grant-funded projects that, he hopes, will take the message of fitness and wellness into the community.

“There is a crisis in this country,” he said last week, just hours after beginning his new job. That crisis, he said, is the growing obesity rate in the nation. While he can’t tackle the problem nationally; McHone said he believes Pro Health can help locally.

“I want to go out to the businesses and industry, offer wellness programs, possibly work with the schools, senior citizen groups,” he said.

While Pro Health already has a goodly number of clients using its facilities — he said there are about 1,800 members who utilizing the center and its exercise equipment — he believes the center can reach many more people by going out into the community, taking fitness on the road, even if that doesn’t necessarily mean more people walking through the doors at Pro Health.

“Let’s say we convince an industry they can save on their insurance if they start a wellness program,” he said. “Say they have 30 to 40 people working there, we might get 10 of them here, but we might be more successful if we go out to their campus and set up a wellness program.”

Whether it’s at a business location or at the Pro Health facility at 280 North Pointe Blvd. in Mount Airy, McHone wants to show people that fitness is more than something athletes aspire to, that pursuing good health can have a positive effect on the daily lives of individuals.

“My goal is to show this can be a fun and important part of your life, it doesn’t have to be misery,” he said. That means gradually introducing people to exercise and workouts, a little at a time, so that they can integrate it into their lives and, he said, maybe have some fun. Exercise, he said, it not something to dread or something that is supposed to be difficult — a message some fitness programs seem to miss.

“People get in one of those programs, they (program leaders) work them so hard they quit or when the course is over they never go back,” he said.

He thinks fitness programs should be fun.

“I’ve always had fun with it … Honestly, if it really hurts, I’m probably not going back,” he said, expressing a sentiment shared by many.

McHone started his career as a teacher and coach, which led to a life-long fascination with the dual interests of athletic competition and helping others. Still active at 63 — he is a tennis pro at Cross Creek Country Club and regularly competes in state, regional, and national tennis tournaments — McHone peppers his conversation with stories from bygone years that illustrate lessons he’s learned through athletic competition, often sprinkling in names of some of the legends of prep sports in this region of North Carolina and Virginia.

That he ended up on this career track, however, might be considered a bit of an accident, and he credits Alex Gibbs, the former football coach at Mount Airy, with setting him on that path.

“He was just the best history teacher,” McHone said of Gibbs. “I wanted to do that, to be a history teacher like that.”

In those days certain additional duties often went with particular teaching jobs. In this case, history teachers also were expected to take on coaching duties. It was in those ancillary responsibilities that McHone found his passion, coaching young athletes, helping them achieve success on the basketball court and then translating those skills to use in life away from the game.

He coached for a number of years at Patrick County High School in Stuart, Va., winning Piedmont District Coach of the Year honors and enjoying on-court success that brought victories against some of the powerhouse teams in the state.

He left Patrick County to take a job at Surry Community College — “I went to SCC to take a position for a year and ended up staying for 28 years,” he jokes.

While there, he helped restart the athletic program, including the baseball team, and served in various positions, including technical and vocational program counselor, interim evening dean, dead of student services, and eventually vice president for student development, where he also served as the athletic director.

He moved on to take the positions of counselor, athletic director and student activity director at Wytheville Community College in Wytheville, Va., in 2007, again to help with a small athletic program and to work with individuals to help them pursue their goals.

It was his work at Surry Community College, though, that landed him in his present position at Pro Health.

“Some of the board members of Pro Health also served on the board of trustees at Surry Community College,” he said. “They were familiar with my work.”

Many of the duties he held at the college, McHone said, have prepared him for the work at Pro Health. Among those are knowing how to set up classes — determining the number of students needed, the schedule and facility requirements; how to set up courses at remote locations; how to work with individuals to help them develop and pursue their goals; oversight of a campus and its facilities; and how to seek grant funding for programs are among the specific skill sets he’s utilized over the years.

Most of all, though, he thinks his love of the fitness lifestyle and his desire to help others is what has equipped him for this task, and his desire to make a difference is the driving force behind taking this new post.

“I’ve been lucky enough for 40 years to help people, work with people and help them reach their … goals. I’ve spent most of my adult life in a gym or on a tennis court. These are the people I want to be around…the health of an entire community is an important issue…the challenge is to see if I can make a difference.”