How One Health Club Manager Saved His Club Thousands

Olympic Athletic Club General Manager Mark Durall saw a problem brewing and took steps to stop it. What happened next saved his club and the industry time and money—and it’s something anyone could do.

The Olympic Athletic Club (OAC) in Seattle, WA, first opened in 1979 and has been an IHRSA member for over 35 years. In this time, OAC has grown to be a favorite among the active residents of WalletHub's No. 2 healthiest U.S. city of 2019. Once a prohibition-era speakeasy, OAC's building offers a unique aesthetic for members.

So, how did one club operator save OAC and the whole Seattle fitness industry thousands of dollars?

Like most IHRSA members, OAC's General Manager Mark Durall attends the IHRSA International Convention & Trade Show and reads the online resources available to all staff at IHRSA member clubs. Although, he rarely took advantage of a vital benefit available to every IHRSA member. The part of IHRSA that monitors legislation that could negatively impact the fitness industry, notifying members on when and how to take action.

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Olympic Athletic Club General Manager Mark Durall in front of his club.

Then in early 2019, Durall received a communication from IHRSA's Assistant Vice President of Government Relations Jeff Perkins about a bill that had already passed one committee. Durall knew if he didn't do something this legislation could cost his club thousands and possibly cripple his business. The Washington Senate wanted to pass a bill that essentially voided all liability waivers, but only for for-profit fitness facilities. If passed, this would have opened up gyms and health clubs to a barrage of frivolous lawsuits.

"There's an inherent risk to exercise, and we know that," says Durall. "To have legislation proposed that would take [liability waivers] away from us would really expose us to endless lawsuits that would cost thousands of dollars and drive some of us out of business."

OAC is open 24 hours, and their memberships include cardio and weight training equipment, a wide variety of group exercise classes, two swimming pools, and more. Without liability waivers, WA fitness facilities would have to consider completely restructuring what type of equipment and amenities they keep in their club.

What could Durall do?

He sprung into action, creating grassroots campaigns—with the help of IHRSA's Government Relations team—and contacted staff and owners of other health clubs across the state. "The response was truly inspiring," says Durall. "To see health club owners and managers from every district—regardless of location or political affiliation—work together to make sure we can continue that work was very inspiring."

The movement didn't stop there. Durall and the clubs he contacted sent emails, letters, and faxes to their state legislators sometimes even calling their offices to voice opposition to the bill. The clubs also checked their membership records to see if any of the lawmakers were members at their club.

It took time, but Durall says together the industry prevailed. The bill failed to pass the second committee or become law. "Everybody got together with one purpose which was to stop this legislation from being approved," he says.

It's easy for gyms to focus on expanding their business, developing a new program, or purchasing new equipment. The problem is when clubs assume someone else will take care of the situation, or they don't need to make their voice heard. "The reality is, if you're not paying attention to what type of legislation might be proposed that could cripple your business, then you're not going to be prepared to deal with it."

This experience has led to Durall and OAC joining the Industry Leadership Council (ILC). Something he now believes is one of the most important things any club can do.

How can you protect your health club?

If you want to save your business time and money, Durall says you should have two big focuses. What harmful legislation is coming now and what you can do before it arrives. There are actually several ways you can recreate his success.

Subscribe to and Read IHRSA Legislative Alerts

When lawmakers introduce bills that can harm your business, IHRSA tracks, summarizes, and sends out alerts to clubs at risk. You can only benefit from these alerts if you read them.

Connect With Other Clubs

Stay in contact with the other fitness facilities in your area, so when legislation pops up that can hurt your business, it's easy to rally together and take action. Even if you're competitors, your clubs have common interests regarding operating your business.

“The reality is, if you're not paying attention to what type of legislation might be proposed that could cripple your business, then you're not going to be prepared to deal with it.”

Mark Durall, General Manager

Olympic Athletic Club - Seattle, WA

Talk to Elected Officials

Often state and local officials introduce legislation not knowing it will hurt your business and the community. Building a relationship with lawmakers allows you to explain the ins and outs of your business, helping to protect it. Even if your state is not currently considering any harmful bills, invite legislators to your club and start getting to know them. It will make contacting them when there is a problem that much easier.

Not sure how to contact your elected officials? Bookmark this article to never lose the resources below.

Contact Your U.S. Congressperson:

  • Call the House of Representatives: 202-225-3121
  • Call the Senate: 202-224-3121
  • Find your U.S. senators' contact information.
  • Find your U.S. representative's website and contact information.

Contact Your State Elected Officials:

Contact Your Local Elected Officials

Contribute to the ILC

The contributions of ILC members allows IHRSA to fight harmful legislation and support policies that acknowledge the role health clubs play in shaping a better future.

Any health club owner, operator, or staff member can be the next Mark Durall. And we can help. Email our team for more information.

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Kaitlynn Anderson Fernandez @IHRSA_Advocate

Kaitlynn Anderson Fernandez is IHRSA's Advocacy Content Manager. She uses her experience as a multimedia journalist to tell the story of IHRSA's advocacy and public policy efforts. Kaitlynn spends her free time watching sci-fi movies, boxing, or working towards her goal of being able to do five pull-ups (a skill that would come in handy in the event of a sci-fi-like apocalypse).