The Thursday afternoon group fitness class in Ryerson's Recreation and Athletics Centre went full force to the very last second of their 40-minute workout. Despite their aches, the class could not contain their smiles as Ryerson Athletics employees entered the studio with a bouquet of flowers for the instructor, 2017 CanFitPro Fitness Instructor of the Year winner Dione Mason.

The award highlights the contributions of an instructor who shows exemplary leadership, influence, and effectiveness in their role. With Mason's skill of reaching each individual student in a group setting, she accepts the honour having had enthusiastic support from those she has instructed.

“I was humbled,” she says. “In this industry, I'm really proud to be among so many instructors who are amazing. I certainly don't consider myself to be the strongest or the smartest, but I know I'm very passionate about what I do. So to be able to be recognized for the work that I've been doing for the past 15 years, particularly in the past year in the community, it was humbling. It was just surreal.”

Mason began her career as part of a deal with an instructor she had exercised under, one that would promise her a free membership in return for teaching one class each week. Eventually, the part-time hobby would become the focus of Mason's work when she would leave her desk job to pursue fitness instruction full-time.

“My work, to me, has to have purpose, and I like to see how I can impact individuals,” she explains. “Sitting at a cubicle, I couldn't see through the work that I was doing how it impacted another person in a positive way. I could see that when I was teaching group fitness classes.”

This career path would lead her to Ryerson University, where she was attracted to the core values of the fitness program.

“I was really excited to join the team because I really do believe that the Ryerson program is a great program,” she says. “I respect the fact that they give variety in programming, that they focus on the principles of health and wellness, not just on fads, but making sure that their participants are really achieving their goals from a fitness and an overall wellness perspective.”

“Having instructors like Dione who are dedicated, caring, innovative, and true fitness role models are the types of instructors that make a positive impact on our department as we strive to enrich and add true value to the student and member experience,” says Evangelia Taylor, Instructional Programs Coordinator at Ryerson.

An important factor of Mason's teaching is the ability to reach her students individually and work with their unique skill sets despite being in a group setting. She manages this through an acute understanding of her students and their individual needs.

“In a group setting, I just have the ability to really feel people,” she explains. “I can just tell when somebody's maybe not having the best day. I can walk up to them, look at them, without saying many words, and say ‘I see you'.”

This has translated not only to the CanFitPro Instructor of the Year Award, but the appreciation of her students. Mason maintains that this is the true goal of her teachings, as she will often hear of the ways that she has impacted the lives of those she has taught through her spirit and motivation.

“It's beyond just an award because my mantra isn't really about receiving awards,” Mason says. “It's those little stories that make me really excited. An award is great, but that's the greatest fulfilment I get, the small little successes from week to week, month to month, year to year.”

Away from her career as a fitness instructor, Mason is the Founder and President of the Simunye Foundation. The not-for-profit organization promotes positive lifestyle changes with the ultimate goal being a centre that provides fitness training, business and career development, and act as the only centre for African-Carribean culture and legacy in Canada.