Fly in for Fitness draws industry leaders to DC

Leading names in the fitness industry united around several worthwhile causes when they descended on the nation's capital for the SGMA's first Fly in for Fitness event in Washington, D.C. On day two attendees took to the marble floors of Congress and rallied around the cry that "fitness is not a luxury, it is a necessity."
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Leading names in the fitness industry united around several worthwhile causes when they descended on the nation's capital for the SGMA's first Fly in for Fitness in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 20-21.  The event featured panel discussions on the first day, followed by an outing to "The Hill" on day two where attendees took to the marble floors of Congress for lobbying and rallied around the cry that "fitness is not a luxury, it is a necessity."

"It is not often you get the chance to take part in an event like this," Pat Gormley, vice president of Balazs, told SNEWS®. "To be able to make a difference that impacts not only the health of our businesses, but the health of the country is a worthwhile thing to do, and I just couldn't pass it up."

According to the SGMA, this inaugural event was organized to achieve three primary objectives for the fitness industry: to promote pro-fitness public policy, to create business/networking opportunities and to educate SGMA's members on policy issues affecting the fitness industry.

"The Fly in for Fitness was a great way to showcase the unity of the fitness industry in this country -- with SGMA being the catalyst that brought everybody together," said Tom Cove, president of SGMA, in a post-event statement. "Despite the competitive element that exists within the fitness business, there are a number of common challenges and obstacles that require the attention of the entire fitness sector. This event is a constructive way for the fitness industry to work together for everyone's mutual benefit."

Among the panels, which were jam-packed with industry vets, were "Public Policy Promoting Physical Activity and Health," "Emerging New Business and Creative Programming," "Challenges Facing the Fitness Manufacturing Sector: Safety, Standards and Product Liability," and "Consumer Trends in Fitness." Regardless of the intended topic, though, the competitive element -- or more aptly, overcoming it -- was a primary topic of conversation during the first day's discussions.

The public policy panel, moderated by Icon's Colleen Logan, kicked off the daylong discussions that sparked interaction and discussion among the 75 or so attendees -- with many of the manufacturers, retailers and others in attendance taking an active role in the post-presentation discussions.

Perhaps the panel that had the most audience participation was the one titled, "Emerging New Business and Creative Programming," which featured several retailers such as Steve Dunlap of The Sports Authority, Dick Enrico of 2nd Wind Exercise Equipment, David Nees of Fitness Resources and Jeff Rothe of Sears, along with moderator Kevin Lamar of Lamar Health, Fitness & Sports. It became especially lively when the concept of working as an industry to raise the value of a fit lifestyle came up:

"There is a challenge out there with consumer confusion. There is a proliferation of brands, and we need to raise the public awareness as a group," Rothe, who is vice president and general manager of Sears, told the group. "I don't spend a lot of time or money on public awareness, but I think it is something we can and should all do together."

Attendees on the event's second day met early to prepare for a day of lobbying legislative representatives.

"We are in a great position to make a difference today because health care is such a hot issue," Bill Sells, director of government relations at SGMA, told SNEWS® "The private sector sees a $3 return on every dollar spent in wellness and preventative care. The proof is there that fitness is an investment for the government, not a subsidy."

The morning session spelled out the main issues to be discussed by the mostly novice group of lobbyists in the offices of senators and representatives, as well as tactics, protocol and more.

The three main issues were a mix of old and new ideas:

1. Carol M. White Physical Education Program (PEP) - This SGMA-initiated program provides money to schools, community centers and other youth organizations to purchase fitness equipment and train instructors for innovative P.E. programs.

2. Workplace Health Improvement Program Act (WHIP) - The WHIP bill would make employer contributions (up to $900) to an employee's health club membership tax-exempt.

3. P.E. included in core curriculum of "No Child Left Behind" - The bill, which would be introduced by John Cornyn, R-Texas, would amend "No Child Left Behind" to provide a national guideline for minimum standards for health and fitness in our schools.

Additionally, the group also suggested a new piece of potential legislation: Personal Health Incentive Trust Accounts (PHIT). This bill would create tax-preferred accounts to promote health and fitness through exercise, physical activity and team sports.

"It is nice to see the fitness industry come together for an event like this," Melissa Johnson, executive director of the President's Council on Physical Fitness & Sport, told SNEWS®. "I see lots of different groups come to Washington, and each one has an impact on the policy makers."

Taking a break during the day's nearly 50 meetings with Congress, the group met in the Appropriations Committee Room and heard a passionate speech from Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., whom Cove described as a "true champion for fitness and our cause."

"My heart tells me that by fourth grade if every child knows about the liabilities of a sedentary lifestyle and the benefits of a healthy one, we will ensure a healthy generation," Wamp, who founded the Congressional Fitness Caucus, told the crowd. "We need to get to them in the schools and teach them that through initiatives like PEP and WHIP that games should be played outside and not just on TV. We will see a huge savings in healthcare costs in the future."

According to the lobbyists, several of the members of Congress they met with seemed to feel the same way.

"It went really well," 2nd Wind's Enrico told SNEWS®. "Most of the people I've met with seemed open and positive about our issues. It will take time and persistence, but I think we have a good cause and a solid message."

SNEWS® VIEW: We have to agree with Enrico that this is a good cause and a solid message. We are really glad to see Tom Cove and SGMA take a leading position and continue to organize these activities, especially one like this that focuses on fitness exclusively and on the entire industry. We were also glad to see so many industry players at the event -- there is strength in numbers when it comes to influencing policy -- and we were happy to be a part ourselves. Hopefully, SGMA and the industry can build on this initial event and draw even more retailers and manufacturers (and even other industry groups, including health clubs) to increase the impact of the lobbying efforts on Congress. We noted a drop in attendance from day one's panels and discussions to day two's lobbying and rally on The Hill. That's too bad since the lobbying part is where strength-in-numbers really counts; we thank those and give kudos to those who did attend, but are a bit saddened that a number chose to skip the second day, which was all about speaking on a broader scale as the industry as a whole.

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