With a sold-out crowd of 1,000 filling a hotel ballroom for the second-annual Augie’s Bash to raise funds to fight ALS, the event had attendees laughing, crying, thinking hard about their own lives, and digging deep into their wallets.
Held during the annual IHRSA trade show, the March 30 event, which followed a late afternoon speech by Augie Nieto, Octane chairman and Life Fitness founder who was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) in March 2005, also raised $2.07 million in the quest to find a cure through research.
“Oh man, are we going to par-teee!” Nieto said when he first took the stage after a talk by author Mitch Albom, whose book “Tuesdays with Morrie” is about the Tuesday afternoons Albom spent with a former teacher who had ALS.
“I’ve been given clarity of mind as my muscles are failing me,” Nieto said from the wheelchair that is now his motor. “I have more focus and more insight than I’ve ever had in my life. It’s one of the gifts this wonderful, horrible disease has given me.”
His appearance this year was two years and one day after his diagnosis in March 2005, he noted, occasionally stopping during his short evening talk to fight back tears or to wait for applause to settle. He cited an email he received two days after his diagnosis from industry veteran Chris Clawson that read, in part, “They might call it Lou Gehrig’s disease, but they’ll call it Augie Nieto’s cure.”
Goal: raise $60 million
Nieto, 49, with his wife Lynne founded Augie’s Quest, dedicated to raising money to research the cause and cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, a neuromuscular disease that affects about 30,000 Americans, and are co-chairs of the MDA’s ALS division. Since its inception in mid-2005, they have raised more than $9.5 million, with a goal to raise $60 million, with a requirement that 100 percent of the money raised will go to research. In the evening’s auction, a one-week stay at a private mansion in Hawaii brought in $27,500, and opportunity to participate in a weightless flight with physicist Stephen Hawking went for $30,000, helping to pump up the earnings.
Although Albom gave a moving and motivating talk, it was Nieto rolling out onto the stage finally that brought down the house with a long standing ovation that brought him back to choking down tears.
“You can’t control what happens to you,” Nieto said.
But one thing Nieto still controls is the quest he is on to fight ALS.
Said long-time friend and CEO of 24 Hour Fitness, Mark Mastrov, “He’s a man on a mission right now.”
Attendees clinked glasses and bid on silent auction items to boost fundraising, and then filled out forms during the event that donated tens of thousands of dollars to the cause.
Intimate afternoon talk
But for those who paid attention to the packed IHRSA schedule, the time with Nieto began at 4 that afternoon, rather than 7 that evening. Nieto gave a presentation to between 300 and 400 people in a cavernous lecture hall that became an intimate place when Nieto in a wheelchair took the large stage with his wife Lynne by his side.
His speech, called “From Success to Significance,” came slower than in the past and he took to the stage in a wheelchair this year, but that didn’t stop him from talking for more than an hour, sharing laughs, and even poking a little fun at his condition.
At least Liberace didn’t get ALS, he said with a chuckle. He’d rather have something named after an athlete like Lou Gehrig.
The talk was sprinkled with philosophical statements about life (“What you have to do is have a passion.”) and wisecracks about things that have happened since he was diagnosed with ALS. A man always in stupendous shape from running marathons, climbing mountains and lifting weights, Nieto joked that his belly now has a name: Bob, which stands for “belly over belt.” And Bob has a mind of his own, with him and his family often addressing Bob like a person and asking Bob what he wants. After a chuckle, Nieto elegantly transitioned back to inspiration.
“Nobody wants to die,…but death is something we all share,” Nieto said. “Follow your heart, don’t have regrets, and if you live your life that way, it will be fulfilling.”
For more information about ALS and Augie’s Quest, go to www.augiesquest.org.
SNEWS® View: Nieto has become more of an inspiration than he perhaps ever was as a successful businessman who built Life Fitness from one bike being hawked from an RV to a global power. He is driven to make even more of a difference than he ever has. SNEWS® will keep you posted on events and opportunities to donate and support the cause. And take the chance if you haven’t to listen in to a two-part podcast interview with Nieto by clicking on www.snewsnet.com/podcasts and going to Fitness Audio.