Meet the Winners of American Spa's 2019 Women in Wellness Awards

Back for its third edition, American Spa’s Women in Wellness Awards honor those who are making an impact in the industry and beyond. These exceptional women are transforming the wellness world with their noteworthy contributions such as serving on related industry boards and organizations, discovering untapped opportunities, giving back, and bringing their unique perspective to all that they do. Nominated by their peers and chosen by acclaimed wellness journalists, these women are showing they’re a force with which to be reckoned. Here, check out the winners of the 2019 Women in Wellness Awards and discover just what makes them the cream of the crop within the industry.

Industry Icon: This award honors a longtime female spa leader who sees the potential of our industry and has influenced its growth and success. ​​​​​​

WINNER: Ruth Stricker, founder, owner, and executive director, The Marsh, a Center for Balance and Fitness (Minnetonka, MN)

Ruth Stricker
Ruth Stricker

A pioneer and spokesperson for the mind-body connection, Ruth Stricker founded The Marsh, A Center for Balance and Fitness in 1985. She began her career in wellness as a health education and youth camp director. Embarking on a path to entrepreneurship, she led group fitness classes and pioneered the study of mind/body interactions associated with exercise. During this time, she was diagnosed with lupus. Her blend of mindful exercise was soon acknowledged by medical professionals as the beginning of the mind-body movement. Part of the International Spa Association (ISPA) from the beginning, she was involved in creating the organization’s original mission statement. Throughout the years, Stricker has presented on a variety of topics at the annual ISPA Conference. She was a founder and a vice president of the ISPA Foundation Board of Directors, served on the ISPA Education Foundation Board of Directors, and was an inductee of the Washington Spa Alliance Inaugural Hall of Fame honoring visionaries and contributors to the spa industry. She also established the Ruth Stricker Spa and Wellness Award in 2008. When Stricker won the 2004 Alex Szekely Humanitarian Award, former ISPA chair Jeff Kohl said, "Ruth was a driving force behind the evolution of people no longer seeing spas as pampering but instead as a requisite to staying physically, emotionally, and spiritually healthy.”


Owner & Operator: This award honors the female owner of a spa or wellness facility who makes an impact by successfully managing with business acumen, creativity, integrity, and grace.

WINNER: Nina Smiley, co-owner and director of mindfulness programming, Mohonk Mountain House (New Paltz, NY)

Mohonk Mountain
Nina Smiley

As co-owner and director of mindfulness programming at Mohonk Mountain House and co-author of The Three Minute Meditator, Nina Smiley is committed to sharing simple and effective mindfulness meditation techniques. After receiving an undergraduate degree at Vassar College and a Ph.D. in psychology from Princeton University, Smiley went on to work in Washington, D.C., where she taught at the University of Maryland, oversaw media relations at the American Psychological Association, and worked as associate director of research at Porter/Novelli/Omnicom. She then joined Mohonk Mountain House, her family’s business, and served as director of marketing for many years. A strong advocate in shaping the concept of The Spa at Mohonk Mountain House and of bringing the outdoors in, Smiley integrated mindfulness throughout the property. She also co-authored Mindfulness in Nature. A champion of the wellness industry, Smiley has served on ISPA committees and was chairperson of the Historic Hotels of America. “As a spa owner, Nina is an inspiration to others in the way she lives her life,” says Barbara Stirewalt, general manager of Mohonk Mountain House. “She is a role model, moment to moment, as she treats the people around her with kindness, offers insights, and acts with integrity and grace, helping create a culture of respect and kindness.” 

Brand Founder: This award honors the female founder of a wellness-centric product or equipment company who makes an impact by managing with business acumen, creativity, integrity, and grace. 

WINNER: Lejla Cas, founder, Knesko Skin

Lejla Cas
 Lejla Cas

An internationally renowned celebrity skincare specialist, esthetician, and makeup artist, Lejla Cas began her career in Australia, where her family settled after fleeing war-torn Bosnia. There, she was introduced to Reiki, which she used to stay balanced and grounded. Fascinated with crystals and metaphysical healing powers, she dreamed of creating a skincare company based on the principles of energy work. Cas came to the U.S. on a work visa in 2007 and never looked back. She began working for leading international cosmetic brands while seeing private clients for skincare and makeup services. During that time, she realized that like the stressed-out women she was treating, she, too, had no time for herself. So, she began masking and meditating after long flights and delved deeper into her energy work, using crystals and Reiki to align her chakras. Discovering the difference it made to her overall wellbeing, she was inspired to share the concept with her clients and launched Knesko in 2012. Using the money she and her husband had saved for their dream wedding, they instead used it to build their dream business. "Lejla’s intention when she founded Knesko was to educate women to love themselves and to take time they truly deserve to nurture their souls,” says Nancy Griffin, principal of Contento Marketing. “She loves inspiring younger female generations to follow their dreams. She leads from the head and the heart, with intention, passion, and purpose.”


Spa Director: This award honors a female spa director who leads a successful team and inspires her staff, her employer, and her clients with savvy business skills, courage, integrity, fairness, and creativity.

Winner: Tammy Pahel, director of spa, Carillon Miami Wellness Resort
founder and principle, Spa Management Solutions

Tammy Pahel
Tammy Pahel

With an innate talent for developing world-class spas and wellness facilities, Tammy Pahel began her career in 1989 as executive director at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort (Farmington, PA). She also led spa operations at the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa (Phoenix), The Spa at Caesar’s Palace (Las Vegas), and Deer Lake Lodge & Spa (Montgomery, TX). In 1999, Pahel founded Spa Management Solutions (SMS), a spa consulting and management company. She also served on the International Spa Association (ISPA) Board for four years and participated for an additional eight years on various ISPA committees. More recently, she led the creation of a successful collaboration at Turnberry Isle Miami (FL) with spa-equipment brand Gharieni, an integrative-medicine company, and more. The unique partnership led to the rebranding of the spa to Âme Spa & Wellness Collective. Today, Pahel is director of spa at Carillon Miami Wellness Resort (FL) and manages a team of 100 professionals. “Tammy is a visionary,” says Kim Marshall, founder and principle of The Marshall Plan. “Unlike other spa directors with years of experience who take the tried-and-true safe route, Tammy is bold enough to adapt to the changing times and use her years of accumulated know-how to create ‘the next evolution in wellness’ wherever she goes.” 

Spa Consultant: This award honors a spa consultant who helps create unique, meaningful, effective, and expertly crafted wellness spaces.

WINNER: Diana Mestre, founder, Mestre & Mestre Spa Consulting

Diana Mestre
Diana Mestre

With more than 35 years of experience in the development of spa and wellness projects, Diana Mestre has had a major influence on spa design throughout Mexico. As founder of Mestre & Mestre Spa Consulting, she shares her gift for storytelling. Committed to highlighting each spa’s unique story with personalized treatment menus that inspire memorable, impeccable, and unforgettable experiences, she has created a portfolio of spas that have been recognized by Virtuoso, Forbes, Five Diamond, World Luxury Spas, and more. From advancing quality standards and enhancing protocols and rituals, she creates economically successful ventures that run the gamut. Some of her greatest accomplishments include the creation of the SE Spas for Grand Velas Riviera Maya, Riviera Nayarit, and Los Cabos, where she has been a consultant for the past 15 years. Mestre is also a member of the consulting initiative task force for the Global Wellness Institute. Her latest projects with Auberge Resort, Susurros Del Corazón (Punta de Mita, Mexico) and Etéreo (Riviera Maya, Mexico), will showcase the heritage of the Huichol and Mayan cultures. Her vision is to create and design genuine signature experiences with a sense of place, rooted in cultural themes while implementing world standards of excellence for the spa industry in Mexico and Latin America. 


Educator and Trainer: This award honors a woman who is making a difference in education and sharing her knowledge of industry topics, products, equipment, and more.

WINNER: Anne Bramham, founder and instructor, ASTECC

Anne Bramham

A respected industry mentor with more than 30 years of professional experience as a consultant, program designer, and teacher of esthetic therapies, British-born Anne Bramham is the founder of ASTECC (Advanced Spa Therapy and Education Certification Council) and an instructor for the Dr. Vodder School International. Through ASTECC, Bramham is focused on creating highly personalized treatment programs specific to the needs of clients. As a result, ASTECC’s all-natural, holistic approach has been adopted by top resort spa destinations throughout the U.S., including various Montage and Kohler properties. Widely regarded as an expression of spa’s wellness potential, Bramham’s ASTECC curriculum features components of soft tissue therapies, Dr. Vodder’s MLD, hydrotherapy, and bio-chemical elements. “Anne was speaking of wellness before we even knew what the word really meant,” says Kristi Dickinson, director of spa and wellness at Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa (Rancho Santa Fe, CA). “She is revolutionary in her approach and often seen as rebellious in her quest to expect more from the spa industry than simply pampering and relaxation. Anne is one of the shining lights of the wellness world. Her expertise, authenticity, and commitment are unlike anybody else’s. She is a critical part of the work we do, and the contributions she has made to developing ‘thinking therapists’ working on this deeper level will be felt for decades to come.”  

Philanthropist: This award honors a woman who is making an altruistic impact on a charity or cause within the spa and wellness industry.

WINNER: Delia McLinden, cofounder and vice president of sales and business development, FarmHouse Fresh

FarmHouse Fresh
Delia McLinden

Although Delia McLinden has her hands full as head of sales for FarmHouse Fresh, that hasn’t stopped her from advocating for her furry four-legged friends. When she’s not traveling for work or pleasure, McLinden’s favorite pastime is rescuing dogs. It’s no surprise considering she once served as adoption program director for PAWS (Pets are Worth Saving) Chicago, one of the country’s largest no-kill rescue organizations. While living in Chicago, Delia started a downtown dog-walking business, City Dog, as one of her first entrepreneurial ventures. Today, she continues her life-saving work with animals. An avid dog rescue volunteer for 15 years, McLinden recently founded Archangel Animal Network, a non-profit organization dedicated to saving the lives of Texas shelter dogs. Over the past 12 months, she has raised $25,000 and coordinated transport for hundreds of dogs scheduled to be euthanized. She raises funds by holding events in the Dallas area, networking with individuals and small businesses, and more. As of July, Archangel Animal Network has saved 280 dogs and 11 cats. The organization’s 2019 goal is to save 500 animals by year’s end says Kimberly DeOrsey, spa director at Delray Beach Marriott (FL). “Delia has unlimited compassion for animals and immediately dives in head-first to help.”

Industry Insider: This award honors a woman known as a powerful connector, serving as an inspirational mentor due to her networking prowess and for connecting members of the wellness world.

WINNER: Kristi Konieczny, founder, The Spa Buzz

The Spa Buzz
Kristi Konieczny

A seeker of trails, both in nature and trying to blaze them, Kristi Konieczny is a wellness leader with a wealth of experience. As a former spa director, corporate wellness director, fitness professional, and esthetician, Konieczny now seeks to connect and foster strong community relationships with her company, The Spa Buzz, which hosts spa industry gatherings for connectors, influencers, innovators, and visionaries in key spa markets across the U.S. A champion of wellbeing, she launched the Buzz Bus Tour and Well on Wheels to highlight opportunities for living well across the country. Her latest venture, The W.a.v.e, curates wellness adventures in Ireland. “One thing I’ve learned from Kristi is to not wait for everything to come together before doing it,” says Doreen Young, spa director at The Oxford Club and Spa (Denver). “She has an idea and starts moving and putting things together. She creates things, and magic happens. She doesn’t get bogged down by the what ifs. Kristi is energetic, full of great ideas, and one of the best people in the industry.” 

Environmental Leader: This award honors a woman in wellness who is making significant strides in protecting, nourishing, and rejuvenating the planet. 

WINNER: Anna Ayers, cofounder and CEO, Amazon Beauty and Rahua

Anna Ayers
Anna Ayers

Passionate about reconnecting people with nature, Anna Ayers cofounded Rahua, a sustainable hair and bodycare line made with powerful rainforest ingredients with her husband, hairdresser and salon owner Fabian Lliguin. Together, they traveled to the Amazon rainforest, where Ayers was inspired by the beauty of the untouched forest. Ayers and Lliguin created Ecoagents, a nonprofit organization with a mission to create awareness about the Amazon Rainforest and the importance of protecting it. While working with Ecoagents, Ayers fell in love with the people and plant life. Determined to help the Quichua people develop a sustainable business, she and Lliguin were inspired to create Rahua. Committed to creating a business model with philanthropy built into its DNA, Ayers' approach is to empower the indigenous people to create and sustain an economy based on preserving their traditions. The company also created The Pink Flamingo Project, an ongoing environmental cleanup effort working with locals to clean natural habitat areas of the pink flamingos and other endemic species in the Galapagos Islands. Ayer’s work through the company and Ecoagents has helped preserve 37,500 hectares for pristine and bio-diverse tribal lands deep in the Amazon rainforest, ultimately producing oxygen and offsetting the carbon footprint for every client, retail partner, and more.

PR & Marketing Guru: This award honors a woman in public relations and marketing who manages, creates, and shares the message of wellness-related locations, products, equipment, and more.

WINNER: Jennifer Hawkins, founder and president, Hawkins International

Hawkins International
Jennifer Hawkins

Taking Hawkins International Public Relations from a one-woman startup to a major player in public relations, media relations, and digital communications for the luxury travel and lifestyle industries, Jennifer Hawkins is committed to the boutique and approachable culture she created back in 2002. With more than 30 employees, she has expanded the company to include a Los Angeles office and launched a new division focused on beauty and wellness. A thought leader in the travel and wellness PR space, she has created a platform for women to have a voice and excel in their trade. She leads an all-female executive team, creating positions for women to lead and inspire. Hawkins spearheaded the company’s embrace of social media, which created a new division offering influencer relations, social media activation and training, content strategy, and video integration services. Well versed in the strong and growing integration of wellness in the hospitality space and how it is transforming the business, Hawkins works with a variety of wellness leaders, including Sunrise Springs Spa Resort (Santa Fe, NM), Carillon Miami Wellness Resort (FL), and YO1 Wellness Center (Monticello, NY). “I call myself the accidental entrepreneur,” says Hawkins. “I can honestly say the majority of clients we’ve signed have come because of our reputation, and they stay because they know we will innovate and deliver.”

Be sure to check out American Spa's September/October issue for the full story of winners, finalists, and judges. Stay tuned on American Spa online, as well as FacebookTwitter, and Instagram, for more about Women in Wellness. Visit for info on the upcoming Women in Wellness Leadership Conference.


2019 Women In Wellness Awards: Owner & Operator Of The Year

2019 Women In Wellness Awards: Brand Founder of the Year

2019 Women In Wellness Awards: Spa Director of the Year

2019 Women In Wellness Awards: Spa Consultant of the Year

2019 Women In Wellness Awards: Educator and Trainer Of The Year

2019 Women In Wellness Awards: Philanthropist of the Year

2019 Women In Wellness Awards: Industry Insider Of The Year

2019 Women in Wellness Awards: Environmental Leader of the Year

2019 Women in Wellness Awards: PR and Marketing Guru of the Year