The sixth installment last Friday at the Marriott in downtown San Francisco was full of fun, joy and emotion. It's hard to believe that in a few days, Augie Nieto and his wife, Lynne, will celebrate—yes, celebrate, in their view—Augie's diagnosis six years ago of ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease.
Thanks to Augie himself, I was invited to attend the Bash, including the cocktail hour silent auction and dinner. Everybody, including Augie and Lynne, whom I met for the first time, were genuinely happy at the event. Natalie Morales of NBC's "Today" show, who served as the emcee, couldn't have been more delightful and approachable (plus absolutely gorgeous in person). In fact, Augie and Lynne, Natalie Morales and everybody in attendance were more than happy to meet and greet.
One of the interesting parts of the silent auction was the presence of a muse painted in the event's red and black colors. She hopped up on a stand in the middle of the floor outside the ballroom and flexed in different poses every few minutes. For the silent auction, guests received stickers with bar codes to place on the items on which they want to bid. Somebody actually put a sticker on the muse's toes.
All the big players in the club industry were there, as usual. The Bash provided me a chance to meet Bally CEO Mike Sheehan for the first time, extending my CEO winning streak for the week. Sheehan, like the rest of the CEOs I talked to, was excited about his clubs. He's a fairly big guy, too. I think you have to be at least 6-foot-3 and be able to snap a magazine editor like a twig, if need be, in order to run health clubs.
The star of the show, of course, was Augie. When he and Lynne were introduced by U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, I've never seen—much less been a part of—a standing ovation as long as the one the Nietos received Friday night. The tears both on stage and in the audience were tears of joy, for sure.
The more than $26 million raised (now more than $28 million after last weekend) over the past six years has really touched Augie and Lynne.
"One thing that is amazing is how this industry has solidified and come together," Lynne said after the crowd finally sat down. "More important than how much was raised is how we have spent it."
Lynne told the audience that there are new drugs in phase three trials for ALS research. In particular, a stem cell trial may stop and reverse the muscle wasting of ALS.
"We hope Augie can get back to running through airports again," Lynne said.
Lynne talked not only about their time at Zumbathon, which raised $30,000 that day, but also about seeing the original Lifecycle that Augie introduced as well as the special new Augie's Quest Lifecycle on the show floor in the Life Fitness booth.
"It was great to see something you created come back for you," Lynne said to Augie.
After Augie made some warm comments via his Dynavox machine, it was on to dinner, the live auction and the band Sugar Ray. As Augie posted earlier this week, the Bash for Augie's Quest raised $1.3 million for ALS research.