Augie, Ditka and the AB Show

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augie-ditka-ab-show-2010.pngThere were many highlights to last week's Athletic Business show in San Diego. Two of the biggest highlights involved Augie Nieto and Mike Ditka.

The folks at Athletic Business, especially Peter Brown and Sue Searls, were kind enough to invite me to a special breakfast reception Friday morning with Augie, who is the Life Fitness founder, chairman of Octane Fitness and the chief inspirational officer for Augie's Quest, the fundraising arm of the Muscular Dystrophy Association that raises money for ALS research.

Augie and the folks at MDA announced the theme for the Augie's Bash in March at the IHRSA show in San Francisco: Make a Muscle, Make a Difference. Augie's Quest has raised more than $26 million since 2006. Several of Augie's old friends from Life Fitness stopped by to say hi.

The breakfast took place just before the AB show keynote address by Ditka, the former Bears player and coach and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Ditka met with Augie and posed for photos, flexing his muscles to go with the theme of Augie's Bash.

After Ditka left to prepare for his speech, I interviewed Augie for about 30 minutes. It was an amazing experience to say the least. Be on the lookout for more on our chat down the road, especially as we get closer to our pre-IHRSA show coverage. In short, despite all of Augie's physical difficulties—including not being able to eat or breathe on his own—he says he's never been busier and hopes to live another 30 years. Amazing.

Ditka's keynote address was both entertaining and informative, especially on his own life and experiences. I knew Ditka had played for the Chicago Bears and Dallas Cowboys, but I didn't know he had a brief stint as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles.

"People in Philadelphia didn't know I played there," Ditka quipped.

I also knew that George Halas, the owner and coach of the Bears, was instrumental in Ditka's career, but I didn't know that Cowboys coach Tom Landry was the one who gave Ditka new life late in his playing career as well as his first shot as an assistant coach.

Ditka cited quotes from Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi (always a good idea for motivational speeches) and went on to discuss the qualities that made up the title of his speech: attitude, character and enthusiasm. Then he took questions from the audience about everything from his 1985 Super Bowl Champion Bears to today's game. When asked about fantasy football, Ditka replied, "I think the biggest waste of time and effort is fantasy football." That got the biggest roar and applause from the crowd. Ouch! That hit close to home!

Now for some notes and observations from the rest of the AB show, go to Part II.

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