The Medical Fitness Association recently recognized Hank Boerner, director of North Mississippi Medical Center's Wellness Centers in Tupelo, Baldwyn and Pontotoc, with the 2011 Pioneer Award.

Presented during the 20th annual MFA conference in Orlando, the award recognizes an individual who has significantly advanced the medical fitness industry. Boerner joined MFA in 1993 and has served on many committees, including a 10-year stint on the board of directors as treasurer, chairman-elect, chairman and past chairman. He helped start the Mississippi Association for Hospital Health and Fitness Centers, which later became part of the South Central Region for MFA.

A native of Miami, Fla., Boerner spent most of his childhood in Rockledge, Fla., a small coastal community near Kennedy Space Station. There he enjoyed surfing, skateboarding, skiing and other nontraditional sports. In 1976 Boerner graduated from Florida State University with a bachelor's degree in physical education, which at the time was an unlikely course of study for someone who did not play traditional sports like football, baseball and basketball. After several internships in the public schools, he decided he was not ready to commit his life to teaching. He returned to school and earned a master's degree in exercise physiology in 1979.

After two years of searching, surfing and waiting tables, Boerner worked four years with The Sports Medicine and Fitness Institute in Birmingham, Ala. In 1985 he returned to Florida to work for the Bally Health and Fitness Center, Nautilus Fitness Centers of South Orlando and The Justice Aquatic Center before opening the Wellness Center at the Lakefront with a local group of physicians. This facility, which was his introduction to medical fitness, had a walk-in clinic, physical therapy, fitness center, day spa and food service.

In 1992 Boerner moved to Tupelo to serve as director of NMMC's Wellness Center. After 10 years in Tupelo, he realized his goal of offering wellness services at all NMMC community hospitals. In 1999 he helped found Project Hope, a local group that has raised close to $1 million to help individuals with heart disease, diabetes and cancer. During his tenure at NMMC, Boerner has helped the community add a skate park, three disc golf courses, a 5K cross country trail, two fitness trails and a fitness center at Tupelo High School. He also co-chairs the Healthy Tupelo Task Force to try to make Tupelo the healthiest city in Mississippi.

In 2010 the NMMC-Tupelo Wellness Center became the first Certified Medical Fitness Facility in Mississippi. After three decades in the fitness industry, Boerner still surfs, skateboards, runs, hikes and promotes non-traditional sports as a way to improve health.

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