“I’ve held the same position at work longer than anyone I know,” laughs Susan Wheeler, spa director of The Avanyu Spa at The Equinox in Manchester Village, Vt., since 1987. And although she hasn’t made any drastic career changes, Wheeler has grown to become an expert in the industry, which is evidenced by the fact that she currently serves on the board of directors for the International SPA Association (ISPA). Through this prestigious position, she travels throughout the world, but this self-professed homebody always looks forward to returning home. “This is me, and this is where I want to be,” says Wheeler.
Throughout her childhood in Millbrook, N.Y., Wheeler always was interested in exercise—she was a competitive equestrienne and studied classical ballet. After learning about movement therapy in college, Wheeler became the director of a facility that focused on a variety of activities, such as tennis and aerobic dance. Several years later, she went on to form her own small dance company. Wheeler’s next step in life was a move to Vermont, where she found her current home at The Equinox in Manchester Village.
With a population of approximately 6,000, the tight-knit community supplies ample opportunity to become involved in charitable endeavors—a cause about which Wheeler is very passionate. “As a spa director, being involved in the community is important,” she explains. “If you want to be respected as someone who helps people, you have to live your life that way. There is so much payback you can get from these experiences.”
From larger endeavors, such as her role at Rotarian and being active in the area’s chamber of commerce, to smaller, more personal actions, Wheeler believes strongly in giving back. One of her fondest and most touching memories involves working with a physically challenged little boy. “A mother asked me if her son could visit the spa with a specialist and spend some time in our pool. He couldn’t go to the public pool because he suffered from immune problems,” explains Wheeler. “When he visited the spa, he could barely walk, but in the pool he would be a little tadpole, laughing and swimming. The whole staff adopted him. It made such a difference—for a short amount of time, he could just be free of everything.”
Her passion for helping others translates into her own therapy as well—reviving her childhood love of horses. “I stress to my clients how important it is to go back to something for which you really had a passion. Horses give me balance in my life,” says Wheeler—especially one horse in particular, named Lancelot. “He teaches me about having patience, unconditional love and all the things that are important to the spa experience. He keeps me on track and makes me realize how important it is to focus on others. These are lessons that I give back to my team, as well as to all of the members and clients at the spa.”
Although Wheeler can’t imagine her career as anything but being the spa director at The Avanyu Spa, she sees consulting and volunteerism in her future, as well as continuing her work with ISPA. She believes that open-mindedness is the key to happiness, whether it is in returning to a childhood passion or unabashedly helping others. “If you allow yourself to be open to all life’s lessons, there are great things to learn,” Wheeler asserts.