It was just another day, like many others, as I kissed my daughters goodbye and headed off to the airport. This would be the 20th year that I made my annual pilgrimage to the IHRSA conference and trade show, or as I so fondly call it “The Gathering Place.” You see, along with the annual Club Industry event in Chicago, this event provides many others and myself with the opportunity to spend time with old friends and the opportunity to network with new ones. Of course, I also find the time to do a little business as I need to pay the bills.

Upon arriving at the conference I could tell that there was something different about this year's event. Yes, it was IHRSA's 25th anniversary. Yes, they had a whack of big name speakers. Yes, it was in Las Vegas, a city where only those who live there actually get sleep. But this year there was a different feel to the event.

So, what was different? Unlike any other year, there was a human element to the conference that brought together fierce competitors, past and present facility owners, associations, manufactures, consultants, presenters and many others. All came together to help one of our own, Augie Nieto, former president of Life Fitness and current chairman of Octane Fitness.

It was only a year ago that I was having dinner with Augie and a small group of his friends and associates in San Francisco. Shortly thereafter, I learned he was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, more commonly know as Lou Gehrig's Disease.

Since learning of his disease, Augie, in typical fashion, has reached out to the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the prime supporter of ALS research. Together, they've created a fundraising effort called Augie's Quest. The goal is to raise enough funds to fast track research in an effort to find a cure for ALS now.

To help with this fundraising effort, IHRSA hosted the Augie's Quest Gala. Mark Mastrov of 24 Hour Fitness served as the evening's emcee. Bob Saget of television sitcom Full House fame kicked the night off, then comedian Robin Williams, via video, lent his twisted humor to the night.

Williams also introduced his friend and the evening's speaker, Lance Armstrong. Armstrong passionately spoke about the challenges he faced with cancer and how a cure was found for his particular type of cancer overnight. Then Augie took to the stage, reminding us why we were there. There wasn't a dry eye in the house. After Augie and his wife, Lynne, spoke to the audience for a few minutes, the auction began, raising $2.8 million.

As I sat back and reflected on the evening, I found myself thinking about former President Bill Clinton's comments a day earlier. During his keynote Clinton eloquently stated that to make a difference in the world, we needed to collaborate and create partnerships. What happened at the Augie's Quest Gala is an example of what Clinton was referring to; however, it went beyond it, as competitors came together with one common goal.

We have seen examples of this over the years, whether it was Mohandas Ghandi, a simple man who changed the fate of a nation, or Lech Walesa, the driving force behind the solidarity movement in Poland. One person can make a difference.

So what does this have to do with my aging column? Everything.

What will it take for this industry to come together to address the health of an aging population, one which Augie and Bill Clinton are part of? Do we need an individual to rally around? Someone facing the hardships of aging? Many of us don't have to look any further than in the mirror or at our own parents to find that.

What would happen if the fitness industry forged meaningful partnerships with all elements of local and national government? What if for-profit organizations worked hand-in-hand with not-for-profit organizations, or private industry collaborated with public entities, or if academics worked with those in private enterprises to deliver their research instead of criticizing them for not having enough education?

Like Augie's Quest to find a cure for ALS, the industry's quest to attract and serve the older adult will take a collaborative effort. Our industry is full of wonderfully caring and giving people who have shown that they can put aside competition for a good cause. The future of our aging population is a good cause. In the words of Ghandi, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” It's time our industry determines the change it wants to see relating to older adults and makes those ideas a reality.


Colin Milner is chief executive officer of the International Council on Active Aging. An award-winning writer, Milner has authored more than 100 articles on aging-related issues. He can be reached at colinmilner@icaa.cc.