22 Sep 2023 World leisure: news, training & property
Sign up for FREE ezine

Health Club Management
2023 issue 2

View issue contents

Leisure Management - Augustine ‘Augie’ Nieto

HCM People

Augustine ‘Augie’ Nieto

Because I will be in your heart, I will get to experience the joy when we discover a cure for ALS

Augustine ‘Augie’ Nieto Photo: Augie’s Quest
Nieto with Arnold Schwarzenegger Photo: Augie’s Quest
Nieto continued to exercise, outliving his diagnosis Photo: Augie’s Quest
Nieto walked his daughter, Lindsay down the aisle in 2014 with the use of a special rig Photo: Augie’s Quest / BrianHawkinsPhotography.com
Nieto before the ALS diagnosis Photo: Augie’s Quest
The Nietos with Mitch Albom and Paula Abdul Photo: Augie’s Quest
The Nietos hosted numerous ‘big bashes’ to raise funds for ALS research Photo: Augie’s Quest
Lynne and Augie Nieto with the Dalai Lama in 2006 in San Francisco, following a trip to Tibet Photo: Augie’s Quest
The Nietos fundraise Augie’s Quest / Steve Cohn Photography

Tributes have been pouring in for Augie Nieto, founder of Life Fitness and charity Augie’s Quest, who died of pneumonia on 22 February, a week after his 65th birthday, following a long battle with ALS.

Nieto was one of the founders of the fitness industry through his work driving the formation and growth of Life Fitness and his contribution to the success of numerous other sector businesses, such as Octane, Quest Software and DynaVox, Curves, Jenny Craig and HydroMassage. Here we reflect on his life and career.

How it all began
Following the creation of the Lifecycle – the first electronic exercise bike – by Dr Keene P Dimick in 1968, Nieto and Ray Wilson established a company in 1977 called Lifecycle Inc to sell bikes based on his design.

Dimick was a chemist with a desire to improve the effectiveness of his own exercise routine. The Lifecycle he created provided a 12-minute workout that started with a warm up, followed by four ‘hills’ with progressively harder resistance and then a warm down. The bike provided efficient interval training long before everyday exercisers knew what this was and is still in production today.

Nieto famously hit the road in a Winnebego with the Lifecycle in the back, touring the US to evangelise about the potential of this new machine, which cost around the same as a Ford Mustang at the time. The cost made sales a challenge and Nieto ended up gifting bikes to leading operators – a move that prompted a rush of orders when the potential of the bike was realised.

The product formed a strong foundation for the business, which scaled rapidly, becoming a global brand just as the fledgling fitness industry was hitting its stride.

The business was acquired for the first time in 1984 by Bally for US$10m and renamed Bally Fitness Products. In 1987 it was rebranded as Life Fitness. The launch of a wider product range followed, including strength training equipment and the following year, the company created its first computerised strength training program.

Nieto takes back the reins
In 1991, Nieto reacquired the business for US$62.5m with the backing of private equity firm Mancuso and Co. He went on to sell the business for the second time to Brunswick Corp six years later in 1997 for US$310m, eight years before his ALS diagnosis.

In 2001, Nieto became an operating advisor for North Castle Partners private equity, as well as taking on a slew of industry non-exec roles.

The ALS diagnosis was to follow four years later in 2005 and change the direction of his life, although Nieto continued to work in non-exec roles, even when he was only able to communicate via a computer controlled by his toes.

Brunswick sold Life Fitness to KPS Capital Partners for US$490m on June 27 2019, demonstrating the huge economic value generated by the business started by Nieto and Wilson over 40 years before.

At this point, in spite of his health challenges, Nieto again invested in Life Fitness, taking up a board position (www.hcmmag.com/Augieinvest). At the time, Jay Bernstein, partner at KPS told HCM, “We’re thrilled to bring Augie back as an investor and a strategic partner. We’re confident his experience and vision will help Life Fitness drive forward its legacy of being a strong, focused and innovative global market leader.”

Rewind: Augie’s Quest
Following his diagnosis in 2005, Nieto lived with ALS for an exceptional 18 years and with his wife Lynne by his side, overcame successive setbacks and physical decline, using an exercise and wellness regime to improve his prognosis, with regular visits to work with physical therapist at Claremont Club’s Project Walk and home workouts on specially adapted Hammer Strength and Life Fitness machines. He also followed a special nutrition programme that was delivered via his feeding tube.

All the while the Nietos worked on Augie’s Quest, the charity they’d established in 2005 to fund research into cures for ALS.

At the outset, the Nieto’s mission was to get ALS on the development lists of big pharma, however, the disease is so fast moving that the cohort available for testing and treatment is small and the commercial opportunity for drug companies is limited.

As Lynne Nieto told New You a decade ago: “Fifty per cent of those diagnosed with ALS die in 18 months and 90 percent within three to five years. Because the progression is so quick, people don’t live long enough for the tested patient population to be larger enough.

“One of Augie’s goals became identifying drugs that slow down disease progression, so a large enough patient population existed for pharmaceutical companies to have interest in funding drug development.”

The charity has raised over US$200m to date, with these funds used to help establish the Augie’s Quest Translational Research Center at the ALS Therapy Development Institute. The goal is to better understand the mechanisms of how ALS affects the body and use the knowledge to develop new, more effective treatments.

Current areas for study include investigations into how the status of the microbiome might impact the disease and searches for new candidate drugs.

The funding has led to the creation of Tegoprubart, one of the most promising ALS treatments currently in development and marks the first time a non-profit organisation research project has reached this stage of drug development.

Tributes for Augie Nieto
Following his death, the Augie’s Quest charity said: “As a leader in an industry dedicated to maintaining muscle strength and performance, it is a tragic irony that Augie’s disease robbed him of the strength and use of his body. But ALS could not take away his fierce competitive nature, determination, drive and love of life, friends and family.

“A visionary and true hero to so many ALS families, Augie galvanised the global fitness industry, corporate partners, individual donors, ALS families and friends, to join forces to change the way people live with ALS.”

The Nieto family, his four children and eight grandchildren, paid tribute, saying:

“Augie Nieto was our hero. He inspired us, made us laugh, and made us cry. He taught us that when life hands you unspeakable challenges, what really matters is surrounding yourself with people who love you, and a cause you believe in. He was passionate about finding a cure for ALS, and we are proud to be “Augie’s team”.

“Augie was a visionary — an icon in the fitness industry, and a powerful force in the ALS space. He was the co-founder and retired CEO of Life Fitness, chair and co-founder of Augie’s Quest to Cure ALS, and chair of the ALS Therapy Development Institute.

“He was a beloved husband, father, brother, son, mentor, and friend. Under his leadership, almost US$200 million was raised for ALS research. More importantly, Augie was directly responsible for countless advancements and changing the landscape of this horrific disease.

“We were proud to fight with Augie and Lynne to transform the way ALS research is funded, approaching it in unprecedented ways. We will diligently work beside his beloved wife in Augie’s honour and memory to find a cure for ALS.”

The final words go to Augie, who said in a note published posthumously: “As hard as it is to leave my dear friends and family behind, I know my fight is not over. I have battled ALS for almost 18 years. Physically, ALS has finally taken my body, but my fight to rid the world of this insidious disease will continue.

“I know I have a lot to be thankful for. I was luckier than most and was able to enjoy those close to me longer than so many friends with ALS. I’m thankful for my family, as I count them as the finest achievement of my life. I’m thankful for my friends who stayed by my side and were a constant reminder of how precious life is, in spite of its difficulties.

“Please keep me in your hearts…please help continue the progress of Augie’s Quest to Cure ALS. Please help Lynne to carry on the mission – the second finest achievement of my life.

“Because I will be in your heart, I will get to experience the joy when we discover a cure.

“Thank you for making my life better, by virtue of being in it!

“Forever in your heart, Augie.”

• Augie Nieto’s life story was told in the award-winning film, Augie (www.hcmmag.com/Augie)

• To contribute to Augie’s Quest, visit www.augiesquest.org

Originally published in Health Club Management 2023 issue 2

Published by Leisure Media Tel: +44 (0)1462 431385 | Contact us | About us | © Cybertrek Ltd