ENTRY FROM: 2016 Top Health Promotion Professionals

Nominee: Aaron Hunnel


Wellness is not something we do to people, but rather something we do for people. We can get people to participate for an incentive, or we can empower them to be engaged in a cause. This type of engagement allows us and our organizations to move from transactional wellness, to transformational wellness.

I believe that people are the greatest gifts in the world. Without people, money, business, wellness programs, even life cannot exist. People bridge the gap and help get us get from where we are to where we want to be.

The past five years have been incredible for me both personally and professionally. As a wellness coordinator for Network Health (insurance company), a health coach for the Wisconsin Army National Guard and a business owner delivering corporate keynotes and trainings around the country, I’ve had the privilege to engage and interact with over 10,000 participants in a variety of settings.

All of these opportunities and experiences have taught me one simple yet important lesson: People define wellness differently.

Rather than telling people how they should define wellness, I’ve discovered that empowering people to define their own wellness has greater impact and results.
As I’ve come to realize just how important people are in life, I’ve made it my mission to change the world by inspiring others to live with positivity, passion and purpose. I believe that when these three principles are part of life, people feel energized about eating right and exercising; they feel like they have momentum to overcome stress; and they are crystal clear about the person that they want to become.

As a result of this, people become empowered to discover and define what health and wellness means to them. And that, to me, is one of the greatest gifts you can give someone.

Spending time with family in Minneapolis after presenting at a company

Professional Development:

I hold a BS in Health Promotion & Wellness from UW-Stevens Point and working towards a MS in Organizational Change Leadership. I am a NWI Certified Wellness Practitioner and ISI Certified Intrinsic Coach. I was recognized as a 2014 WELCOA Top 100 Wellness Professional and also received the 2012 UWSP’s Chancellor’s Leadership Award.

 I entered the field because I truly love people, and after overcoming addictions and finding my life’s purpose, I wanted to empower others to find theirs. The Intrinsic Coach holds tremendous value in my life and inspires me to see people as more than what’s merely apparent.

Demonstrated Success:

One of my clients, a school district, asked me to think of how we could implement more stress-based interventions to the 1400 teachers and staff. After some strategic thinking, I suggested we create a movement called, “Mindful March.”

The purpose of this program aimed to challenge participants to engage in mindfulness both individually and collectively. Wellness takes on a whole new dynamic when the culture embraces it and it becomes part of the organization.

That was our vision. And we wanted to provide the right amount of diverse experiences for our participants, because we knew people connect with and are motivated by different types of opportunities.

Each week during the month of March and early April we offered a challenge to engage people in their own mindfulness. We kicked off Mindful March with a Mindful Eating webinar aimed at empowering people to redefine what nutrition means to them and why mindful eating contributes to total wellness. 

Simultaneously, we also kicked off WELCOA’s Eat Right for Life, so participants didn’t just gain the knowledge through the webinar, but also had a chance to practice the application.

Each week we had an event around Mindfulness.

We involved the local YMCA and incorporated a mindfulness “Focus on Family” event.
We coordinated a mindful walking group.
We challenged participants to submit what they believed wellness meant to them.
We took the words and made a word collage to show the diversification and unification of how mindfulness is defined but how it’s intertwined in our community/culture.
Then we concluded the program with a live meditation event.

This event went over extremely well. We had participants each bring a mat to lie on, spent a few minutes sharing and building relationships, provided them with the reasons meditation can enhance mindfulness, and finally conducted a 20 minute guided meditation. All gave great feedback about how much they enjoyed the event.

At the conclusion of this program, each participant was able to articulate at least one way they believe they can practice mindfulness in their lives. Participants loved the program, and especially the guided meditation. We just scheduled our second guided meditation event based on the high demand.

We used a few of WELCOA’s benchmarks to help garner strong participation and engagement.

First, we used the second benchmark to create a cohesive team. No one can change their life by themselves. We all rely on people in some shape or form. As such, we must find a way to come together and leverage our strengths to empower people to find their own wellness voice!

Next, we used the fifth benchmark to apply appropriate interventions. We overcame obstacles by providing opportunities to participate in various experiences (e.g. webinar, WELCOA Eat Right for Life, family event, creative word art, and the guided meditation).

Lastly we used the sixth benchmark to create a supportive environment for participants by building relationships and challenging their comfort zone. At the guided meditation event, only two out of the thirty participants had ever done meditation before.



I’ve served as a leader by pushing my limits and then challenging people I serve to do the same.

In October ’16, I along with my friend Adam, pushed our friend Katie for a 100 mile run. We wanted to not only stretch our own physical and mental limits, but empower others to do the same. 

After 29 hours of brutal Door County, WI hills, Katie walked the last 1.01 miles to the finish – the furthest she’s ever walked. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it gave me hope that I can accomplish anything in life.

Sometimes I feel like people have lost their hope to achieve their personal wellness. 

I want to inspire them to find that spark and fan that flame! I’ve had the privilege of sharing this message of hope with various organizations and events as a national speaker.


I’ve contributed to the advancement of the industry by making wellness more than just about eating right, exercising and managing stress.

As a profession, we’ve become weight-centric and often forget that exercise, eating normal, and managing stress all start with a thought - belief.

My mission is to support people to develop their best thinking so they can align with who they are and who they want to become.

I fostered personal autonomy by bringing various techniques to over sixty soldiers during a training program. I taught yoga, which many had never done before. After two weeks, the students were now teaching each other. I also had them develop their purpose statement and share with the entire group. It got to the point where I didn’t even have to ask anymore. The group became so energized they were empowered and inspired to tell everyone their purpose!

Compelling Vision:

If we treat people like numbers, like high blood pressure or cholesterol, then they react like numbers, and we diminish their value and become a barrier in their life.

Newton’s third law of motion states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. If we approach people with an extrinsic source of motivation (to include financial), then people will be extrinsically motivated.

My vision is to shift this perspective to intrinsic motivation starting with ourselves, so that we can make it about supporting people to find their meaning, purpose and value in life.

I believe we must appreciate the uniqueness of others, amplify their strengths, and challenge them to become better than they were yesterday.

The next five years we must come together as a profession and empower our employees and organizations to not see wellness as transactional, but rather as transformational! 

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Spending time with family in Minneapolis after presenting at a company Army Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Course Empowering soldiers to strengthen mind, body and spirit and enhance resiliency Word collage activity for Mindful March
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Aaron H.
Aaron Hunnel is a U.S. Army veteran, award-winning wellness consultant, author and keynote speaker. His purpose in life is to change the world by inspiring others to live with positivity, passion, and purpose. After returning home from two deployments and battling through addictions, Hunnel found peace and strength in endurance racing. He participates in these endurance events by pushing and pulling a young woman with cerebral palsy. Their team completed an IRONMAN triathlon in 15 hours and 39 minutes, and a 100 mile run in 29 hours. Hunnel lives with his family in Appleton, WI. View Aaron H.'s Profile.
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