ENTRY FROM: The Top 100 Health Promotion Professionals

Nominee: Aaron Hunnel

Finding Life's Purpose: A Story of Triumph

II’d like to begin this entry with a thank you to all of the amazing people in my life. Through their contributions and support, I’ve been able to succeed in helping people find wellness, and live a life of triumph. Without them, I am nothing.

I currently work as a Wellness Coordinator for Network Health, a Health Insurance Company based in northeast Wisconsin. I help people live healthier lives by administering our Millennium wellness platform and facilitating healthy behavior change and educational interventions. I have over three years in the field, but have been a student of wellness for what feels like my entire life. I’ve struggled with my own wellness in the past, but through those challenges I’ve triumphed into a life of happiness and purpose. See I found that serving others helped me become a better leader, an empathetic listener, and a visionary for the direction that wellness is heading. The current population for the groups I manage comes to about 1200 employees. However, the total number of people I’ve had the pleasure of spreading the joy of wellness with exceeds tens of thousands. For me wellness is not a job. It’s a lifestyle. And by living by my 3 basic principles, I’ve been able to achieve a lot in my life.

1. Live outside your comfort zone. Living in fear of failure or because of what others might think can limit your number of opportunities for finding purpose or experiencing life.

2. Suffering in life can lead to your demise or to your enlightenment. Increase your optimism and grow form challenging opportunities.

3. Serve others. This comes down to spiritual wellness, or believing in something bigger than yourself. When you make yourself vulnerable to others and serve to meet their needs, you grow as an individual and transcend into authentic happiness.

By living these principles, I get to help affect change and tip a culture towards improved health and wellness.

Creating Hope: my Team Triumph IRONMAN Wisconsin

Watch as Adam and I, push and pull Captain Katie (afflicted with cerebral palsy) through IRONMAN Wisconsin, a 2.2 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run. This is how we enable and empower people to have hope and find purpose in life. At the end of the video, Katie walks the furthest she's ever walked in her life!

Professional Development:

I currently hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Health Promotion and Wellness with a Wellness Coaching emphasis from University of Wisconsin- Steven's Point and am working towards a Master’s in Public Administration.  During my undergrad, I received the Chancellor’s Leadership Award, an honor given to less than one percent of enrolled students that displayed leadership throughout their academic tenure.

I chose this field because I love serving others and I love wellness.  By putting those two “loves” together, I get to live a fulfilled life every day!  I currently hold a Certified Wellness Practitioner designation from the National Wellness Institute, a certification only given to individuals with 5 plus years of professional wellness experience or from the one of seven NWI Accredited degree program graduates.

Demonstrated Success:

I believe the meaning of success can vary.  Sometimes we get so caught up in the numbers (and yes, data matters), but we fail to realize the uniqueness  of individuals. 

People are more than just health screenings, they are more than total weight-lost, and they are more than a number calculated for presenteeism. People are magnificent and wonderfully made, and I’ve had the pleasure of helping them find a life of purpose and happiness.

See about three years ago, I had a life-changing event happen to me.  I stumbled on an organization called my TEAM TRIUMPH, a non-profit that empowers individuals with disabilities to compete in endurance events like 5k’s, marathons and triathlons.  It is through this group that I was able to meet a young and inspiring girl named Katie.  Katie has cerebral palsy and is bound to her wheel chair.  She relies on other people to take her places and for many other aspects of life, which maybe you’d agree we sometimes take for granted.  It is through our relationship that I’ve been able to reach others and motivate them to live meaningful lives.

Katie and I have done many races while I push and pull her in special racing equipment.  We’ve done a handful of 5k’s, a marathon, two half ironman races, and as of one month ago, IRONMAN Wisconsin (The pinnacle distance for an endurance athlete; The race includes a 2.2 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run).  Through these experiences, I’ve learned more about myself, and Katie and I have helped spread a message of hope- that anyone can seize any opportunity.  All you need is a team.  We’ve reached over 10,000 people through our racing and she’s accompanied me in almost every setting I’ve been in. 

WELCOA’s 2nd benchmark, Creating Cohesive Wellness Teams, is what we strive to do.  We help drive a sense of community and comaraderie in the cultures we infiltrate. 

We’ve shaved a professor and assistant dean’s head, to help with fundraising and had over hundreds of students and staff involved—the chancellor of the university even participated.  We held a fundraising event while I ran on a treadmill for 11 hours or 43 miles to raise $4000.  And just recently, our message of hope was the opening video for the mandatory associate forum at Network Health.  We are the connective tissue between who people are, and who they want to be.  We give hope.

With all of the networks I participate(d) in, I’ve helped over 200 people successfully complete a race from a 5k up to a marathon.  I helped change the culture for a technical college (previous position) for over hundreds of staff and thousands of students.  I’ve trekked over 1,000 miles and reached over ten thousand people during my journey with Katie.  And with my programming, I’ve helped approximately 50 people improve one biometric result from their screening.


I lead by actively participating in my community, state and country as a run coach, a pro bono wellness coach, and Warrant Officer in the Wisconsin Army National Guard.

As a run coach, I’ve helped hundreds of people learn how to run and achieve their fitness goals.  One of the biggest messages I’ve worked to spread in this community is that running to build relationships will take you further than running for time.  One client said that the training made her think, “What am I capable of?” When people ask questions like this, they tap their true potential—and as a result, create a mindset destined for success.

I’ve spent the last 10 years serving as a soldier in Wisconsin Army National Guard.  I’ve deployed twice and gathered so many wellness experiences during this time.  The Army helped build a foundation for success and how to be a leader.  Coupled with my wellness philosophy, I’ve been able to help lead many around me towards a healthier life.


In a previous position, I created a program called Passport to Wellness that incentivized healthy lifestyle behaviors in different dimensions of wellness (Spiritual, Social, Intellectual, Environmental, Emotional, Career and Phsyical).  Participants would apply for the passport, and once received (a little passport booklet), they would get a stamp for doing an activity in each dimension of wellness, filling out their wellness goals for the program and each dimension. 

This program, along with our mantra to “Increase Happiness and Decrease Stress,” helped change the culture.

My goal was to empower their choice and autonomy for wellness!

“Before Aaron, the wellness movement was stalled - Aaron changed that. Everyone got involved and excited. It became more about wellness and less about exercising.  It's amazing how he can motivate a group.”

“Our Training and Development Team did a presentation to the State Professional Development Group (16 technical colleges in WI) about FVTC's Wellness initiatives and Aaron's fingerprints were all over our presentation!”

Compelling Vision:

I believe that health is a product of our lifestyle, behaviors and environment.  Sometimes as wellness professionals, we too often look through the lens of physical wellness and tell people that they need to improve their numbers.  I’d argue that we empower people to live more fulfilled lives by communicating better, finding a peer group that can support their goals, and do things that are important to them.  As a product of this empowerment, there will be better health outcomes.

In the next 5 years, we need to get away from telling people what they need and listen to what they want.  I will help advance this industry by continuing to conduct research in the realm of positive psychology, resiliency, and living a meaningful life and their relationship to health, as well as continue to live my mission by serving others and leading them to wellness.

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Spreading wellness with my friend and captain, Katie. Mantra: Increase Happiness and Decrease Stress
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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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Hi Aaron, All the best with your contest entry. Your achievements, innovation and leadership in Workplace Wellness within your organization is most impressive. Congratulations! I would love to connect with you offline to chat more about your programs and services as I am seeking interested and talented Workplace Wellness Professionals like yourself as guest presenters/facilitators for our online Ambassador Certification program. Additionally, I would most welcome a case study of your organization's successes for a KWC International White Paper on Workplace Wellness Perspectives, Best Practices, & Case Studies that we are currently developing. With permission, these papers will also become case studies for our soon to be launched Certification Program providing further recognition to your amazing successes. Please contact me at if either of these opportunities are of interest to you. I look forward to connecting in the near future!

Lisa K. on 10/09/2014

An Amazing Story... I totally believe in your approach to Wellness! While it seems like we may impact one life at a time (and each life is worth it), it impacts many lives around those individuals! Beautiful work. Congratulations Aaron!

Adeline D. on 10/06/2014

You are number one in my book!

Debbie H. on 10/02/2014

Proud to call you brother! - Christian

Christian J. on 10/02/2014

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