When Life Fitness founder Augie Nieto was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) a year ago, 24 Hour Fitness founder Mark Mastrov enlisted the fitness industry to help Nieto battle the disease, and he convinced Nieto that there was only one way to fight the illness -- go big.
And big indeed was Augie's Bash, a fund-raising event that took place March 22 at the IHRSA show in Las Vegas, raising nearly $2.8 million from sponsorships, donations, and live and silent auctions. Sure, there were celebrities supporting the cause, including co-host and comedian Bob Saget, Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong, comedian extraordinaire Robin Williams and rock band Doobie Brothers. But the riveting and emotional presentation was when Nieto, also chairman of Octane Fitness, and his wife Lynne took the stage, with Nieto telling his story of discovering how he, then 47, discovered he had ALS, one of those mystery diseases that no one has figured out how or why someone gets it, how to prevent it or what the cure is.
In fact, Nieto seemed next to tears, so touched by the standing ovation by about 2,000 attendees and sponsors in the room who munched on sushi and teriyaki chicken skewers and sipped cosmopolitans and Sonoma-Cutrer wine.
"I'm going to beat this son of a bitch," he said. "It's going to take your effort, my effort, my family's effort,…and I thank you from the bottom of my heart….
"Let's go find a cure," he added in closing, before introducing his family and accepting a check from the Bash. The money will go toward MDA-funded research for ALS, which destroys the nerve cells that control muscles, ultimately causing complete paralysis while leaving mental function intact. Survival is typically two to five years after diagnosis.
Just a week earlier, the Muscular Dystrophy Association, under which ALS falls (www.als-mda.org), announced it was funding genetic research with $650,000 raised through Augie's Quest (www.augiesquest.org). Nieto and his wife Lynne serve as co-chairs of the ALS division of the MDA. This one-year research project will be the largest screening of genes ever in a search to find what causes or increases vulnerability to ALS. Click here to see that MDA release.
The $2.8 million raised by the Bash event, held at the Las Vegas Hilton, is a record amount raised by any event aimed at combating ALS, which affects more than 30,000 Americans, according to the MDA. Live and silent auctions of dozens of prizes, including cruises, San Francisco getaway weekends, fitness equipment, art and wine, added to the fund-raising efforts. The opportunity to play one-on-one basketball with Magic Johnson brought in $40,000, and a racing bike signed by Armstrong sold for $30,000.
Said event MC Mastrov, just before leaving the stage to the Doobie Brothers, to which the attendees rocked until close to midnight, "We know we're going to go out there and kick ALS in the rear end. This is just the beginning."
SNEWS® View: Although there were a few mumbled complaints about an inadequate sound system and a lack of tables, everyone was glued to Nieto's talk and moved by the effort to help find a cure for such a mystery illness. The gaggle of giggling industry women who ambushed Lance Armstrong on his way out of the bathroom for his autograph and an up-close chance to chat may have scored the biggest prize of the evening -- one that was free. Now, if Lance had sat down and signed autographs for the masses at $5 a pop, the MDA could have racked up another pile, although Armstrong would have had a sore arm since you betcha there woulda been hundreds lined up. We pray that the money raised so far can help find a cure for this awful disease.