Chicago is the place to be in October in the fitness industry. That's because each October, Chicago is the home of the Club Industry national show. Last month, 8,700 people traveled from fitness facilities near and far to attend the Club Industry 2007 Conference and Exposition. And they had a lot to talk about when they returned home.

Perhaps the highlight of the show for many attendees occurred on the second day at the Lifetime Achievement Award presentation and the keynote address. More than 500 attendees, including many veterans of the industry, packed the room to watch Alan G. Schwartz, chairman of the board of TCA Holdings, receive the Club Industry's Fitness Business Pro's Lifetime Achievement Award. After the presentation and Schwartz's speech, Laila Ali, world boxing champion and daughter of boxing legend Muhammad Ali, offered the keynote address.

In his acceptance speech, Schwartz spoke about how the industry has changed in the 40 years that he's been involved. (Schwartz opened the Midtown Tennis Club in Chicago with his father, Kevie, in 1969.) He commented about the increased professionalism of the business and about how the financial industry takes the health club business more seriously now than in the past. He spoke about how he looks forward to getting more involved with his company, which is being headed by his son Stephen Schwartz, as his tenure with the International Tennis Federation comes to a close.

Schwartz did take issue — good-naturedly — with the title of Lifetime Achievement Award. As an avid tennis fan, he prefers to think he's just entering the third set of his match, with plenty more to contribute to the industry.

After Schwartz spoke, Ali took the podium, walking in from the back of the room where she had been standing with her husband, Curtis Conway, who is a former Chicago Bears football player. At 15, Ali was diagnosed with Graves ' disease, a thyroid condition that required radiation treatment. By 18, she had gained too much weight, so she decided to go to a boxing gym. It was for that reason — not because of her famous father — that she gave boxing a try, she told the standing-room-only crowd.

Today, Ali is the women's super middleweight boxing champion of the world with a 24-0 record, 21 by knockout. Although she has not retired from boxing, she is not currently boxing because “there are no challenges in the sport,” she said.

Ali spoke at length about her experience on the popular reality TV show “Dancing with the Stars.” Although she did not want to participate in the TV program at first, she eventually said yes and went on to become a finalist.

Keeping weight off has always been a struggle for Ali, she said, especially when she's training for a fight. Ali stressed that people of all ages need to be comfortable in who they are. She is currently working on a kids program for Nickelodeon that focuses on getting obese children in shape.

Ali's keynote was the most memorable part of the show, says Pam Conner, Club Industry 2007 speaker and fitness director at Sarasota Family YMCA in Sarasota, FL. Conner's presentation about youth fitness drew about 20 fitness managers and professionals, mostly from nonprofit fitness facilities.

“[Club Industry 2007] is a wonderful time for people that all have the same goals in this industry, to brainstorm, network and learn,” Conner says.

On the third day of the show, Phillip Mills, creator of Les Mills International and owner of 10 Les Mills fitness clubs in New Zealand, offered the keynote address on the topic of sustainability.

Mills began his keynote address with a video about the need to become environmentally more efficient. He also promoted the book that he and his wife, Jackie, wrote titled “Fighting Globesity-A Practical Guide to Personal Health and Global Sustainability.” The book outlines how fitness and nutrition affect the planet, and how individuals can make changes to their lifestyles to positively affect the world and the environment, he said.

During his address, Mills stressed the importance of “greening your body.” He said that fitness professionals and fitness facilities must do four things: create greener facilities, become advocates for green, become better at running their businesses, and create a powerful sense of cause and mission.

“Think about what you'd like to leave as your legacy,” Mills told the audience. “You have to have a strong sense of purpose.”

Club Industry 2007 marked the first year for the magazine's awards presentation to its annual Best of the Best contest winners. Sponsored by SportsArt Fitness, the presentation featured the following winners: Best Behavior Modification Program — Texins Activities Centers and Health Fitness Corp., Dallas, TX; Best Children's Program — Bodyworks Family Sports Centers, Lubbock, TX; Best New Member Integration Program — Cooper Aerobics Center at Craig Ranch, McKinney, TX; and Best Nonmember or Community Program — Bodyworks Family Sports Centers, Lubbock, TX.

Besides special events, the show also featured numerous seminars, early-morning workouts and more than 200 exhibitors on the trade show floor, according to Zari Stahl, Club Industry show director.

Attendee Jasmine Jafferali, master trainer at Chicago's East Bank Club, says, “I liked seeing new speakers this year and the wide variety of topics presented, such as medical fitness and round-table discussions, which included personal training degrees in the fitness industry, among others. Presenting new material is important to this ever-changing industry, and the conference definitely introduced some cutting-edge material.”

For more on the show, read the magazine's blog at: http://blog.fitnessbusinesspro.com/fitnessbusinessproblog/.

See more photos from 2007 Club Industry