Ed Halper (left), proprietor of Mountain Fitness, and Frank Melfa (far right), author of Bodybuilding: A Realistic Approach, pose with Summer Games first-place winners Margery Greene and Joe Cacciato. The 2001 event raised more than $1,200 for the MS Society.

Let the Games Begin!

Members at Mountain Fitness of Warren, N.J., look forward to the “Summer Games” every July, an Olympic-style competition that benefits the Multiple Sclerosis Society. This year's event raised more than $1,200 for the Mid-Jersey Chapter of this society, with a goal of $2,000 set for next year.

A 3,500-square-foot club with a focus on private training, Mountain Fitness publicizes the Summer Games in local newspapers, which also print results and pictures. The club recruits sponsors for the event through its quarterly newsletter. Helpers have included Frank A. Melfa, author of Bodybuilding: A Realistic Approach. Melfa has not only served as a celebrity judge, but he has awarded autographed copies of his book to winners.

While open to the public, the games draw competitors mostly from the membership base. The event raises funds through entry fees, T-shirt sponsors and T-shirt sales. Individual event winners receive prizes supplied by the MS Society.

Events in the 2001 Summer Games included the bench press, squat, dip, chin-up, 500-meter row (using rowing machines), basketball free throw and one-minute lay-up competition. Mountain Fitness sets up the events so that people of all body types have a chance at winning. In the bench press, for example, the club awards titles for overall lift, most repetitions at body weight and highest lift above body weight.

The most popular events are the more nontraditional contests, like the basketball competition and 500-meter row. “Those attract people who might not ordinarily compete,” notes Mountain Fitness proprietor Ed Halper. “They want to get involved for the fun and camaraderie, but would not want to do the squat, for example. People don't realize how hard an ‘all-out’ 500-meter row is.”

Each year, the club will add or subtract certain events, depending on the participation level and reaction from the previous competition. “The key is to keep it fun,” Halper says. “If it becomes too serious, you lose competitors and ruin the spirit of the event.”

Halper is already toying with a new concept for next year. “We plan to hold a separate bench press and squat competition next March, and then do nontraditional events for the Summer Games, similar (but downscaled) to the things featured on ESPN's ‘World's Strongest Man’ competition — things that people can't specifically train for to keep it interesting,” he says.

In addition to raising money for a great cause, the Summer Games keep things exciting during a slow time of year. Plus the event motivates members to stick with their training all year.

“There's always a lot of good-natured kidding amongst the members about the games,” Halper says. “They're either talking about last year's performance or getting ready for next year. It's easily our most talked-about activity.”

Halper should know, as he is a competitor in the games. “All in all, it's a fantastic time,” he says. “The MS Society is a very worthy charity, and, unfortunately, since so many people are afflicted with the disease, it's a cause that everyone can relate to and get behind. We hope to do it for many more years to come.”

The Summer Games event is one of three major fund-raisers that the four-year-old club hosts each year. In October, Mountain Fitness sponsors the Watching Hills Municipal Alliance 5K Run, to benefit drug education programs at the local high school. Each December, the club hosts a large Toys for Tots drive, in cooperation with the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. And in May, the fitness facility fields a large contingent for the Midland 15K Run, a benefit for the Midland School in Far Hills.

“Our membership base is in their 30s and 40s, and are still looking for competitive outlets,” Halper explains. “These events provide that, and raise money for worthwhile causes as well.”