According to a 2020 study from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the typical employee stays at a company for just over four years. However, when it comes to Linda Mitchell, she is far from typical.
Mitchell got her start in the fitness industry by teaching private dance movement classes while working full time in sales for the hotel management industry. However, after getting married and starting a family she knew she wanted part time work. This led her to teaching aerobics at Newtown Racquet Club — now known as Newtown Athletic Club (NAC) — in 1981.
“After one year I became the director of the program and quite simply never left the club or the industry,” explained Mitchell. “Because of the leadership and vision of Jim Worthington, the owner of NAC, the club grew and expanded exponentially in so many ways, allowing me to progress through many levels and variations of industry involvement. I never had to leave the organization to grow into new areas of the business.”
After leading group exercise for 15 years and developing the program from three instructors to over 50 with 200 classes per week, Mitchell decided to lean more into the business side of the organization. Sales and marketing were her focus for many years while she eased into public and community relations.
“To say Linda Mitchell is a pioneer in the fitness industry is an understatement,” said Worthington. “Linda started her career in 1981 when modern day fitness clubs not only didn’t exist but were just a thought for a handful of individuals. As the industry evolved and reinvented itself, so did Linda.”
As Mitchell transitioned over to more operational tasks, simultaneously NAC began a foundation to raise money for various charitable causes which she managed. Eventually, she focused more on the foundation as NAC became increasingly active in government relations in support of the Right to Try bill and the PHIT Act. Today, her roles include director of public and government relations, executive director of the NAC Have a Heart Foundation, and director of the PA Fitness Alliance.
Getting involved in political advocacy and helping others has been a bright spot in Mitchell’s career, particularly being part of the passage of the Right to Try bill in 2018.
“This is a bill which provides a direct pathway for terminally ill patients to access experimental treatments after they pass FDA Phase 1 trials but before they pass Phase 3 trials,” explained Mitchell. “This gives a dying patient hope sooner than having to wait the sometimes over 10 years for a drug to receive FDA approval. Most of these patients don’t have the luxury of time. This bill carries the name of Matt Bellina, a NAC member with ALS. We partnered with Matt and Augie Nieto to fight for research for a cure while advocating for the passage of this bill. Augie was our original inspiration, while Matt continues to inspire us with his tenacity for living, even after almost a decade since he was diagnosed.”
Mitchell also showcases her servant leadership through her role as the executive director of the NAC Have a Heart Foundation.
The NAC Have a Heart Foundation was formed by Worthington. His vision was to create a charitable arm of the NAC that would serve the community both locally and nationally. After giving significant contributions to the community — valuing more than $1 million annually — for over 20 years, he felt he wanted to gather all of these altruistic activities under one organization. Thus, the Have a Heart Foundation was born.
Through the work of the Foundation and the club, Mitchell has made remarkable contributions to the community, and they are a true testament to her life’s work.
In the late 1990s, Mitchell developed a financial scholarship program, which provided memberships at little to no cost, so more people in the community could join the facility. It was established then, and is still true today, that no one would ever be turned away from membership based on their ability to pay.
Most recently, Mitchell spearheaded the groundbreaking 52K in 52 Weeks initiative of the NAC Have a Heart Foundation. The idea is to donate $1,000 or more each week to a different charity, non-profit or urgent cause in Bucks County and the surrounding areas.
“Linda, in my mind and to the many who know her, is one of the most distinguished and accomplished individuals in the industry,” said Worthington. “As one of the first recipients of IHRSA’s distinguished Julie Main Award, Linda has had an amazing 43-year story of not only pioneering new positions and initiatives in the industry, but even more importantly giving back and making a difference to both the domestic and global fitness industry.”
Mitchell was also recognized for her leadership, compassion and an unwavering commitment to improving the lives of those in her community and beyond by being selected as a 2023 Honoree for the YWCA’s 31st Annual Salute to Women Who Make a Difference Awards.
And while Mitchell has certainly made an impact on her community and the industry, her career hasn’t come without difficult seasons, especially the COVID-19 pandemic. Like many other clubs and gyms, NAC’s membership diminished significantly during this time, and they struggled to regain momentum and pre-COVID numbers.
“I think the silver lining has been a renewed recognition of the importance of fitness and a healthy lifestyle in terms of public health overall,” said Mitchell. “And this has encouraged more people to prioritize their choices to include physical activity and more. Jim Worthington’s response to the pandemic was to push forward with our plans to reinvest in the club and keep improving it no matter what. Our commitment was and will always be to our members and the community. We’re passionate about the essential nature of what we provide and will not waver.”
This dedication to NAC members and the overall trusting, team-centered culture are the driving forces behind what’s kept Mitchell at the facility for over four decades.
Each department is led by a director who has autonomy over the operations and aspirations of that department. They’re also, when appropriate, given financial and other incentives to create growth and success in their own department. There’s an overall structure of support for these directors for them to flourish, but they have the ability to independently set goals and strategies to achieve those goals.
“The NAC stands on its core value of Making Lives Better,” said Mitchell. “We do this by creating opportunities for physical fitness, mental fitness, socialization, wellness, recreation and sports. Our ability to encompass programming in all these areas distinguishes us from other clubs and gyms in the area, and even the region or nation. This kind of comprehensive approach didn’t occur overnight. After over 45 years of developing and providing services, we continue to expand and upgrade every area of our club, not only in terms of programming but also in terms of physical facilities.”
Just as NAC has evolved over the years to keep up with changes and find better solutions to serve members, Mitchell has grown right alongside it. What started as a part-time gig has blossomed into a lifelong career filled with service, giving back and improving lives in Bucks County and beyond. And while there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to having a successful career in the health and fitness industry, Mitchell credits hers to always staying open to learning.
“I advise anyone to take advantage of every opportunity to learn from others in the industry, no matter the size and scope of their operation,” said Mitchell. “One of the best ways to do this is to attend events offered by industry organizations that provide education and networking. Look around the industry — and even other industries — and identify who’s successful and find a way to learn from them.”