To John Urmston, fitness wasn’t just a job; it was a calling and a mission. That is how the former executive at Nautilus and the Sports and Fitness Insurance Corp. is being remembered.
Urmston died last July at the age of 66. He lost his battle with Parkinson’s disease, which he contracted as a result of exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, where Urmston served as a company commander in the United States Marine Corps.
In 1982, after working in the textile industry, Urmston arrived at Nautilus Sports Medical Industries, which was then based in Florida. (The company is now part of Med-Fit Systems, Fallbrook, CA.) At Nautilus, Urmston served as vice president of marketing and sales, general manager, chief operating officer and president. Urmston later helped found the Sports and Fitness Insurance Corp., Madison, MS, where his daughter, Jennifer Urmston Lowe, serves as the national account manager.
“Being in the fitness industry is almost always a passion,” Urmston Lowe says. “For dad, he had a fitness passion from the time he was a Marine and working out and running. That extended into getting to know Arthur Jones and using Nautilus equipment.”
“John was a military man, and he was very disciplined,” Cirulli says. “He had a lot of integrity. When it came to doing things, he had great structure. He always did what he said he would do. He was a good man.”
Flanagan says Urmston first came in contact with Nautilus through his clothing business, which did private labeling of Nautilus-branded apparel. Among other duties at Nautilus, Urmston served as the emcee for seminars conducted by the company, Flanagan says.
“He was a very balanced man,” Flanagan says. “He believed in his Christian values first, then his family. He always provided for them and raised an outstanding family.”
Perhaps no one in the industry knew Urmston better than Wes Brown, who now works for Med-Fit Systems in the direct sales and new business development unit. Brown owned a Nautilus Fitness Center in North Carolina before he worked for Urmston in a sales position at Nautilus Sports Medical Industries. For the past 30 years, Urmston lived in Brown’s hometown of Mount Airy, NC, where Brown says Urmston “made a positive impact on everything he was involved in.”
“Many people around him will never know how global John’s work ethics, decency and high moral standards networked his influence on businesses everywhere he went,” Brown says. “He was my dearest friend, my mentor and an inspiration to all people who knew him.”
Urmston was chairman of the Fitness Products Council and helped install the gym at the White House in 1993, according to his obituary. Then in 2002, Urmston helped put fitness equipment on the White House lawn under the George W. Bush administration for the President’s Fitness Initiative. Urmston was a member of the White House Sports and Fitness Council and was president of the United States Military Sports Association for seven years, supporting military athletes deployed around the world.
Since Urmston’s Parkinson’s diagnosis, Urmston Lowe says colleagues in the industry had asked about her dad and his health at trade shows. For about a month after his passing, the family received numerous phone calls and emails offering their support and condolences.
“It has been amazing,” Urmston Lowe says. “My mother and my brother and I have all been inundated with calls from this industry. Dad loved the fitness industry. To be able to work in the fitness industry, doing something that tangibly improved people’s lives, really drove him.”