Joining Forces Network Hits Close to Home for General Manager

On Saturday afternoon of the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) conference, two members of the President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition (track star Allyson Felix and personal trainer to the first family Cornell McClellan) sat down with Roberta Kruse-Fordham, general manager at Sports Fitness & Fun, Florida, NY, and Scott Goudeseune, American Council on Exercise (ACE) president and CEO, to discuss Joining Forces, an initiative started by the White House to help members of the military and their families in various ways.

IHRSA partnered with Joining Forces less than a year ago to create a network of clubs that would aid the families of deployed Reservists and National Guard members by providing their family members with one or more free club memberships. This partnership led to the donation of more than 100,000 free gym memberships, Felix said. A similar partnership with ACE led to the donation of more than 100,000 hours of personal training, according to Goudeseune.

With the growing awareness of the campaign and continued encouragement to participate from first lady Michelle Obama, the President's Council enlisted another one of its well-known members to promote the cause. NFL quarterback Drew Brees made an appearance (via video) to rally IHRSA members to sign up to help these families stay healthy while their loved ones are away protecting the freedoms we enjoy here at home.

However, it wasn't the first lady, the NFL quarterback, the Olympic athlete or even the personal trainer to the first family who brought the initiative into perspective and pulled at the heartstrings of the audience. It was Kruse-Fordham, who shared why her club was one of the first to join the Joining Forces network and how it has inspired her.

"Joining forces for me was extremely heartfelt," Kruse-Fordham said. "I currently have a 25-year-old son who has been in the Navy for six years, and he is on his fifth deployment right now. When I saw Joining Forces, all I could think of was my son T.J. (Palovchik)."

She said her son is like your brother, nephew or friend, and all the children, men and women involved in the military are all of ours. Kruse-Fordham emphasized the soldiers who are giving up time with their families to fight for the freedoms we take for granted every day.

"My son T.J. said to me, 'Mom you live in a world filled with butterflies and rainbows because I'm over here in reality, and I am happy to do that for you and for all the people out there so that they can continue to live in their butterfly- and rainbow-filled world,'" Kruse-Fordham said. "My son T.J. understands why he does it, and so the bare minimum I could do as a club operator is to give to every man and woman and child who has a military member out there defending our freedom in America and other nations. I would strongly encourage all of the other club operators, owners and general managers to get on board with the program."

Like many of the initiatives and programs IHRSA promotes, IHRSA has packaged the program flawlessly, Kruse-Fordham said, from the press releases to the decals on her door and the material with which she could educate her staff. Many people from the community come into her facility to thank them for participating in the Joining Forces program.

"I had a woman come into my office and say her husband was getting deployed at Thanksgiving, and I told her I was going to give her a membership for six months because we are a part of the IHRSA Joining Forces program," Kruse-Fordham said. "She put her head in her hands, and she was in tears. She has two small kids and said she could never afford to be here on her own. I told her, 'Today, the doors are wide open for you,' and she has been there almost every day."

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