Inspiring others through motivational speaking, personal training and performance
Photography by Sonshine Portrait Design
I was born in Detroit, Michigan to high school seniors. When I was five, my mother moved to New York to become a flight attendant and my father was in trouble with the law, so my grandparents raised me. In seventh grade, I moved to the Chicago suburbs to live with my mother.
My Detroit community was 95-percent African American and poor. My Chicagoland community was 95-percent Caucasian and upper-middle class. It was a big cultural shift for me, but going back and forth between the communities allowed me to see options for my future that I hadn’t imagined beforehand. In both places, my biggest influences were my music teachers. I sang and played the flute. Making music and listening to music always makes me feel good.
Describe your educational background. What inspired your interest in broadcast journalism?
I really enjoyed writing in my English and sociology classes in high school, so my guidance counselor suggested adding pre-journalism to my application at the University of Illinois. After a year of discovering I was not happy in my business classes, I took a print journalism class that met in the evenings. We covered lots of local city and board meetings, and had to write and turn in our stories before the end of class. I loved the immediacy of it and the rush of having to meet the deadline. I knew then I was going to be a journalist. When I took my first broadcasting class, I felt very comfortable in front of the camera and microphone. I also felt like if people could see and hear me, they would recognize my sincerity in trying to do the job well.
Tell us about your career path in radio and TV, and the skills you learned to become a great talk show host.
During my senior year at the U of I, I received an internship through the Illinois Broadcasters Association. I was placed at WMBD-TV/AM and KZ93-FM in Peoria, full time, for four months. I loved the energy of having TV and AM/FM radio all in one building. They gave me a chance to cover lots of stories and even a few lead stories for the daily newscasts. When I finished my studies, they offered me a full-time job, and I happily accepted.
My first big assignment was covering Caterpillar/United Auto Workers contract talks in the early 1990s. The talks were heated and sometimes malicious. Covering them took me to St. Louis, Chicago, San Diego and Philadelphia, and earned me two appearances on CBS News. It also gave me plenty of opportunities to do live reporting on both TV and radio, which meant I had to really listen to what people were telling me and convey their sentiments with the same emotional tone.
What CAT/UAW didn’t give me was whatever my managers deemed necessary to anchor the evening news. When they told me I “wasn’t six and ten o’clock material,” I chose to resign soon after. On the day of my resignation, the general manager on the radio side of the building offered me an opportunity to come back and co-host a radio show with fellow broadcaster, and now my husband, Greg Batton. That was an easy and enthusiastic YES for us both. We hosted the afternoon and morning shows on 1470 WMBD in the late ‘90s. We had a baby in 2000, then we guest-hosted for WGN and WLS in Chicago before joining WLS full-time in 2002. We resigned at WGN several months later over schedule changes that didn’t suit our family.
I took a job as Group Fitness Department Head and personal trainer at Lifetime Fitness, and Greg got his real estate license. In 2005, we returned to Peoria so Greg could co-host the morning show once again on 1470 WMBD. I went back to developing my fitness company, Power Zone. WTVP asked me to host a talk show called Consider This in 2015, and I have been working with them on public television and radio shows throughout Illinois since then.
When and how did you decide to launch Power Zone, and what were some of the challenges you experienced as a business owner?
I started my fitness business in 1994 as a Jazzercise franchisee. I realized that I wanted more autonomy and wanted to create my own workouts, so I gave up my franchise and changed the business name to Power Zone in 1999. I immersed myself in studying the industry, reading, attending workshops and earning certifications in most of the popular formats (group fitness, personal training, lifestyle coaching, yoga, pilates, kickboxing, cycling, TRX, etc.) Working as a manager for Lifetime Fitness in Chicagoland really expanded my horizons. The job required I be skilled enough to teach and evaluate every class on our schedule of offerings. It also introduced me to the corporate side of fitness. Having to learn the company’s mission, practice corporate policies, do the hiring and payroll for my staff, and hold regular staff meetings helped prepare me for running Power Zone as a full-time business.
Doing so hasn’t been without its pitfalls. When I moved back to Peoria, hindsight revealed that many of the business skills I learned in Chicago were the skills needed to do Lifetime Fitness’ business. Power Zone’s operations, however, required a whole new skillset. Writing/updating a business plan, securing a loan, ordering/maintaining equipment, budgeting, bookkeeping, scheduling, staffing, and developing policies and procedures were all processes I learned the hard way.
I’ve had my fair share of sleepless nights, wondering how I was going to pay the bills, if my body could handle another workout that week, or if I was spending too much time away from my husband and kids. I have discovered over the years that our Peoria community is a giving one. When I was brave enough to ask for help or understanding, there were many who were willing to provide it.
What philosophies drive your work as a motivational coach/speaker? How does this role align with your roles in fitness and in the media?
My motivational speaking was born out of requests from organizations curious about my journey. Early presentations were mostly about how this Detroit girl came to be a Peoria broadcaster. Now my presentations include a variety of health/fitness subjects, work/life balance, motivation/leadership strategies, and more.
What is one goal you hope to accomplish in your lifetime?
I would LOVE to attend the Grammys! Music is a part of every day of my life. To be in the presence of music makers, writers and producers for a whole evening would be thoroughly inspiring, and just an all-around good time.
What inspires you?
I’m inspired by the enormous ripple effect of small kindnesses.
What three words would you use to describe yourself?
I am grateful, energetic and eternally curious.
How do you unwind after a long day of work?
A good meal, glass of wine and time with my home crew. We always manage to share a laugh about something just before bedtime. It’s a great way to end a day.
If you could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be? Why?
I’d have dinner with success coach Anthony Robbins. He turned his childhood/young adult obstacles into opportunities for greatness and now, with a net worth of almost $500 million, still spends his life teaching others to do the same.
As a child, what did you aspire to be when you grew up?
I always wanted to be a singer. Not a sold-out stadium, rock star singer, but a cozy little lounge-with-friends kind of singer, where I could help you feel the way the music made me feel.
What is your favorite TV show?
I am really enjoying This Is Us. The characters tackle real-life issues in real-life ways, leaving no stones unturned… blended families, race relations, financial hardship, weight loss, marriage, divorce, birth, death, drug addiction, entrepreneurship and the quest for fame. The writing is outstanding and the delivery makes you identify with every story line. It’s the one show we watch as a family, and somebody is always crying happy or sad tears before it’s over.
Then and now, I speak honestly and from the heart, and I try to interact with the audience. No two presentations are exactly the same, because I and the audience members bring different experiences to each presentation. It’s the same for my fitness and media work. Authenticity is paramount. The minute I get “outside of myself” and start speaking/training like I think I should instead of how I am, it shows. I feel it, the audience feels it, and it takes real effort to get the camaraderie back.
Tell us about some of your major accomplishments in recent years.
My proudest professional accomplishment of recent years is that I completed my training and certification and am now a Fellow of Applied Functional Science with the world-renowned Gray Institute for Functional Transformation. I’d become really adept at noticing when clients weren’t using good form and then figuring out why. Certain exercises seemed easy for some and really challenging for others… functional things like kneeling and standing without holding on, sitting up from a declined position, twisting or bending without discomfort. I found the answers to my questions by studying biomechanics.
Being a GIFT Fellow means I’ve been trained to know how muscles and joints function optimally during movement, how they affect other muscles and joints when they don’t, and how to train them to move optimally again. This skillset allows me to move beyond “a great workout” to designing training specifically to enhance a client’s sports performance, reduce/eliminate chronic pain, or assist a doctor or physical therapist with rehab after an injury or surgery. The distinction of being a GIFT Fellow is held by less than a thousand people worldwide.
One of my greatest personal accomplishments of recent years is singing publicly again. Music has always been so important to me, but somehow I had relegated my singing to the shower and the car. My husband and children provided me with the encouragement, the venue and the accompanist; all I had to do was pick the songs and sing them. I created a one-woman cabaret, sharing stories about my life and singing songs that connect us all to those experiences. The show lends itself well to telling other people’s stories, too… but that’s a process still in development.
Tell us more about your partnership with your husband.
Greg and I spent 10 years doing radio shows together after we were married. People often asked how we did it, but it really didn’t take a lot of extra effort. We are great friends, see the world similarly (albeit through different lenses), and enjoy a spirited conversation. Life is a little more complicated now with two more active kids, separate careers, and extra-curriculars in music, comedy and public speaking, but we are still great partners and call on each other for support as needed.
Describe your involvement in the community and some of the causes that are near and dear to you.
I have always felt welcomed by the Peoria community and have enjoyed being an active part of it. I currently serve as a commissioner on the Peoria Civic Center Authority and am a member of its Marketing Committee. The Peoria Civic Center is one of our community’s great resources, and I enjoy playing a small part in welcoming the weddings, shows, concerts, conventions and sporting events that happen there. Health, fitness, education, the arts and family welfare are also important issues for me and have led me to volunteer for many local organizations over the years, including the Central Illinois Wellness Council, OSF Saint Francis Women’s Services, the Women’s Lifestyle Show, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Kickapoo Council of Girl Scouts, The Salvation Army and a few local theaters.
How do you maintain a balance between your work and personal life?
I take a couple of hours alone each week to self-assess… how am I feeling about myself, my husband, kids, job, and all the things I do? I read, pray, exercise, journal, listen to music, etc. I try to do more of what works for me, and change what doesn’t (or at least do less of it). Outside of that, maintaining a work/personal life balance for me often means blurring the lines between those two concepts. I’ve created a work environment that allows my family to contact me, visit and even work with me sometimes. I also have a home environment that allows my clients to call upon me/socialize with me outside of my regular business hours. I realize this plan doesn’t work for everyone, but it suits my life very well.
What’s the hardest life lesson you’ve had to learn?
You can’t be everything to everybody. When I left my reporter/anchor job to become a radio talk show host, I would often hold back my opinions because I knew there would be some listeners who would disagree and possibly not like me because of it. When I became a personal trainer full-time, I was so worried about losing clients that I would let them dictate where, when and how long I would work. In both cases, I changed my behavior to suit the listeners/customers, many of whom didn’t listen or train anyway. Today I choose to set my guidelines for working according to my needs and my business’ needs. I overserve those who stay and don’t take offense if others choose to go because what I’m offering isn’t what they need.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
Strive to provide value. People may seek to be in your company or do business with you because of what they’ve seen/heard/believed to be true about you. If you don’t offer them something that enhances their home/work/social experience, the relationship rarely lasts. iBi