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IHRSA members take fight to Capitol Hill during Summit

Scott and Beth Gillespie of Saco Fitness talk to an aide for Maine Senator Susan Collins, at IHRSA's 10th annual Summit for a Healthier America.It is easy to arrive at IHRSA’s 10th annual Summit for a Healthier America in Washington, D.C., and be a little intimidated. Most of the two-day event takes place in the shadow of the Capitol building. 

But when the 40 or so IHRSA members stepped back and took a breath they realized that what they are asking for from their city and state’s representation is in the entire nation’s best interest. 

“We are all fighting for same thing – for a healthier America,” said Roberta Kruse-Fordham, general manager of Sports, Fun & Fitness in Florida, N.Y., at her first Summit. “We are all on the same team, advocating for a healthier America, a healthier future for our children.” 

On the second day, members had meetings – usually between 1 and 3 - with aides and assistants for representatives and senators, set up and often attended by IHRSA staff. The primary purpose was to stress the importance of primary prevention – the prevention of disease before it occurs, including regular exercise, healthy eating, avoidance of tobacco and other controlled substances, stress management, and routine medical exams - explain the bills IHRSA supports, and talk about specific laws and issues particular to a member’s club. 

“I think this year was better than past years,” said Kevin McHugh, chief operating officer at Atlantic Club, in Manasquan and Red Bank, N.J. “I think as the whole issue of health care becomes more prominent each year, and more and more we can incorporate our concepts into future bills, we will get better listening.” 

Steve Harris, founder and owner of Cross Court Athletic Club in Woodland, Calif., was attending the Summit for the first time. When issues on the State level started to affect his business he felt it was time to make some noise. 

“What we wanted to bring home was that (the fitness industry) are frontrunners in (the fight against) obesity and high health care costs and people to need change their lifestyles,” he explained. “You need to stay in the ear (of politicians) and bring the issues to the forefront. 

“We are in the industry that really helps people. Our country needs us, and (Capitol Hill) needs to listen to us.” 

One of the issues that hit home for Harris was California considering taxing gym memberships. 

“If (government) is not going to help us (with the fight against obesity) then stay out of way and allow us to do our job,” he continued. 

Linda Mitchell, director of Marketing, PR and Charitable Giving at Newtown Athletic Club in Newtown, Pa., was excited that in her first meeting, with the aide to Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick, that the tables were turned and she was asked to answer a couple questions. 

She was asked what her club did to encourage members to exercise, since she was asking the congressman to support it, and how her club was faring in the tough economy. She intimated that the aide was probing her to see if she would be asking for financial assistance.

“I thoroughly enjoyed (the Summit),” said Mitchell, a 30-year veteran of the industry but at the Summit for the first time. “I thought, as a professional in the industry, it was really rewarding to me personally to be positioned, through IHRSA, to have an affect on decisions.” 

Roberta Kruse-Fordham, center, talks to a congressional aide her first meeting during day 2 of the Summit for a Healthier America, in Washington, D.C. IHRSA Public Policy Communications Coordinator Lilly Prince, left, attended the meeting for support.Kruse-Fordham echoed Mitchell’s feelings of not feeling like a small fish in a big pond. 

“It’s a rewarding experience and it feels good to be part of something bigger than just local communities and local advocacy,” she said. “This is our opportunity to create a rippling effect. Our industry can make a difference and I came here to have my voice heard.” 

While Healthtrax Fitness & Wellness has had a representative at the Summit in past years, 2012 was the first for David Finestone, vice president of Operations for the Maryland-area chain. He said his meetings went great, with a lot of back and forth. But the opening day of the Summit, with speakers and a chance to network, was valuable, too. 

“The first day of the conference just reinforced the greater good we serve,” he explained. “We know the good we do and that we are serving much greater purpose. We contribute to the welfare of the country. 

“This might sound corny but I proud of our process and our elected officials. It might be a slow process but we do have a say in future legislation.” 

Linda Howard, chief operating officer at Alturnative Fitness in Pikesville, Md., also felt meeting new colleagues was as rewarding as talking to Caren Howard, aide for Congresman John Sarbamnes. 

“I think overall the Summit is a very good experience. It gives us an opportunity to get together, share thoughts and see where we are going as an industry,” said Howard who was at her second Summit in her little more than one year as an IHRSA member. 

“You want to be heard on the issues that are going to impact our industry and the health of Americans."

For day 1 coverage, click here.


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