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Tuesday
Jun252013

Augie's Conquest!

IHRSA's Joe Moore, L., confers with Augie NietoThe fitness industry’s ‘chairman of the board’ continues to do business, and promote innovative new technologies, while battling ALS 

 

CBI: In March, during IHRSA’s 32nd Annual International Convention and Trade Show, you staged the 8th edition of Augie’s Bash. How did it go?

AUGIE NIETO: It was tremendous—a wonderful and richly rewarding experience. Some 950 people attended, a 27% increase over 2012, and we raised a total of $1,633,997. I’m tempted to round that off to $1.6 million, but we recognize and value every dollar. That total was also up over last year.

CBI: Despite the fact that you’ve been dealing with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) for eight years now, you astounded everyone at the Bash by performing an impressive number of leg presses on stage. Were you counting?

AN: I did 25 reps in a row with 120 pounds—I thought that was about all the audience would enjoy—but, in the past, I’ve done as many as 75 with 120 pounds.

CBI: Given the common perception that ALS destroys a person’s ability to control their voluntary muscles, how’s that possible?

AN: I’m not sure. I can’t pinpoint a specific thing that’s responsible for the change. I think that having physical limitations and learning how to live differently has given me an inner strength I never knew I possessed. There’s no question that my athletic training has prepared me to battle this disease. Some people compare having ALS to running a marathon, and I’ve run 21 marathons, so I’ve had more preparation than most! I’m also inspired by the remarkable love and dedication of my family and friends, and fueled by the countless messages I’ve received from other individuals living with ALS. They help keep me focused and moving forward.

CBI: Is this, conceivably, a possible example of the mind’s ability to “rewire” itself to compensate for physiological shortcomings?

Still going strong: Industry pioneer Augie NietoAN: While I’ve always believed in “mind over matter,” I’m not naïve enough to believe that it’s a cure for ALS. I believe that the progression of my ALS has plateaued, which happens in a small percentage of cases, and, now, I’m rebuilding my strength—actually generating new muscle mass—with the exercise I’ve been doing.

CBI: You also attracted a great deal of attention during the IHRSA trade show when you engaged your upper body on a piece of equipment developed by Octane Fitness, a company that you preside over as chairman of the board. Did you use the upper-body component in a positive—or a passive—way?

AN: I currently have no strength in my upper body, so the Octane machine that I rode was a specially adapted xRide elliptical. It has a motor to move the arm and leg pedals to get me started, but I can overpower the motor and drive the pedals myself, which is what I did during a 20-minute workout on the trade-show floor in front of a large, emotional crowd. My arms were the first to lose strength, and will be the last to regain it. My hope is that, by moving my arms, that will gradually happen.

CBI: Since you were diagnosed with ALS, you’ve become known as the industry’s most prominent and successful philanthropist or, should I say, humanitarian, raising millions of dollars through Augie’s Quest to find a cure for ALS. Yet, in some ways, you still seem like an “equipment guy.” How do you think of yourself?

AN: Actually, I think of myself as a “marketing guy,” employing my skill set with brands and products that I believe in, such as Augie’s Quest and Octane Fitness. Whenever I can, I also like to serve as a “connector,” introducing individuals who, I think, may be able to help one another.

CBI: How would you like to be remembered? As, perhaps, “the guy who whipped ALS”?

AN: I don’t plan on being “remembered” anytime soon because I’m not going anywhere. But, when that day does come, years and years from now, I’d like my legacy to be one of perseverance in the face of ALS. I’d like to be regarded as someone who helped the thousands of families who are fighting this disease to finally get the answers they want and deserve.

CBI: Can you provide us with a little update on where things stand with respect to the Quest?

AN: Since 2006, we’ve raised, as of today, $36,996,009.53. I could round it off to $37 million, but, like I said ... Thanks to IHRSA’s leadership, the fitness industry is responsible for over 60% of that amount. Another large portion has been raised by our friends at the YPO (Young Presidents’ Organization). Augie’s Quest wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for IHRSA, its members, and the health and fitness industry. Some of our most generous supporters purchase sponsorships for the BASH, donate auction items, and participate in our Clubs for the Quest program, which allows the members of individual clubs to support the cause: I like to call this “the trifecta.”

CBI: The principal beneficiary of your fund-raising efforts is the ALS Therapy Development Institute (TDI), another organization that you chair. Tell us something about your work with the institute.

AN: I was introduced to TDI in 2005 at an “ALS 101” session that was conducted by their president, who was then Jamie Heywood. I soon learned that TDI had a unique approach and a revolutionary model when it came to ALS research.

I became chairman the following year. In addition to the $37 million we’ve raised through Augie’s Quest, we’ve raised an additional $40 million at TDI, bringing the total to more than $77 million.

In terms of results, we’ve identified two “lead” compounds during the last five years, and are now putting the first of them into clinical trials (Phase 2A) with ALS patients. We expect to see results by the end of this year, and hope those results will allow us to move rapidly into the second trial (Phase 2B). For a drug to move from beginning to end in terms of development generally takes five to 10 years.

CBI: Beyond working to find a cure, you’ve also been looking for ways to make life easier, more pleasant, and more productive for those living with ALS. Tell us something about those efforts.

AN: Contrary to what most people might think, the hardest part of having ALS, for me, wasn’t the inability to move, but, rather, the loss of the ability to communicate. Early on, I took a number of proactive measures to make sure I’d always have a way to “speak” to people.

I sit on the board of DynaVox, whose communication devices have improved the quality of life for so many people with ALS. I’ve worked with Troy Jurgensen, the owner of Computer Dx, to develop software, called TypeRight, that allows me to type up to 40 words per minute with my feet. I can then vocalize the text, or use it for e-mail and WebEx communication. I also use a product called Control4, which our home and boat have been outfitted with, that allows me to control my environment— things such as temperature, lights, the TV, stereo, satellite TV, Internet radio, BluRay, motorized doors and gates, etc. If it weren’t for this sort of technology, I don’t believe I’d be here today.

CBI: Finding solutions for ALS may be the focus of most of your activity these days, but, as we noted earlier, you serve as the chairman of the board of Octane Fitness and, also, on that of North Castle Partners, Inc., the private-equity firm that recently acquired Curves International, Inc.

AN: I’m so excited about Octane Fitness. Their core strategy of concentrating on low-impact exercise has driven tremendous growth. While remaining true to their commitment to be the “best in the world” in their area of focus, they’ve managed to introduce products such as the xRide (seated elliptical) and the Lateral X (lateral elliptical), bringing real innovation to the fitness industry. As chairman of the board, I draw on my business and life experiences, working with CEO Dennis Lee, to help formulate the strategic and long-term plans for the company. I’ve also just joined the board of Curves, and am incredibly excited about its prospects, as well.

CBI: Does it feel at all strange to be working for Octane Fitness, a company that competes with Life Fitness, the multinational equipment manufacturer that you’re largely responsible for?

AN: Not necessarily. Octane competes with Life Fitness, but they come at the market from very different directions and with different business models. Life Fitness will always hold a special place in my heart. I still have great relationships with the team there, and believe they’ll continue to do great things under the hand of President Chris Clawson. Chris and I correspond regularly, and I have to thank him for being one of the biggest supporters of Augie’s Quest. In fact, the leadership of the two companies often work together, and, right now, are in the midst of preparing a joint press release about me riding the xRide at the IHRSA trade show!

CBI: At the Bash, the emcee, television reporter Suzanne Malveaux, told the crowd, “We hope that next year, Augie walks out on stage.” Are you up for it?

AN: Our tag line for BASH 2014 is “Come Get Inspired.” It will be about seeing things you didn’t think were possible—possibly even me walking on stage!

Check out video of Augie Nieto doing leg presses on the trade show floor. 

WANT TO JOIN AUGIE’S QUEST? HERE’S HOW!


Augie’s Quest, a charitable initiative founded by Augie and Lynne Nieto, raises funds to support research to find a cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The principal fundraiser of the year is Augie’s Bash, which takes place during IHRSA’s Annual International Convention and Trade Show. Clubs, other companies, and individuals also can contribute at any time by logging on to AugiesQuest.org or calling Quest headquarters at 858-277-8206; or by joining Clubs for the Quest at ClubsfortheQuest.com

Augie Nieto, 55, earned a degree in economics from Claremont McKenna College, in Claremont, California. He is the cofounder and former president of Life Fitness, one of the world’s largest fitness equipment manufacturers. He currently serves on the board of directors of numerous organizations including North Castle Partners, Inc.; Octane Fitness; Curves International, Inc.; DynaVox; and the ALS Therapy Development Institute (TDI). He is the recipient of numerous honors, including IHRSA’s Person of the Year Award. After being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 2005, he and his wife, Lynne, founded Augie’s Quest to raise funds for ALS research; they also co-chair the ALS Division of the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA). 

Reader Comments (1)

You are truly a man of substance doing all that you do to let people know about this horrific disease. May God keep you safe and happy as you continue all of your great work.
April 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne Scholz

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