This summer, Project Walk Claremont took on a new challenge. One of the specialists began working with Augie Nieto, founder of Life Fitness and chairman of Octane Fitness. Nieto was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease) in 2005 and has been unable to breathe on his own or move anything but his toes for several years.

“We had never taken a person who was struggling with ALS, and we weren’t supposed to, according to Project Walk corporate, but I convinced them to let me try to help Augie,” Alpert says. Nieto’s situation was a different challenge than that faced with spinal cord injured clients because of his inability to communicate except with his eyes when not in his computerized chair, meaning he could not communicate any discomfort.

Nieto had already been exercising using specialized equipment developed by some of his friends in the industry, plus he was taking new experimental medication. However, within the first six sessions at Project Walk, Nieto’s progress has exceeded his expectations, he wrote in an email to Club Industry earlier this month. During that time, Nieto has been able to stand for the first time in five years and move his arms for the first time in six years, he wrote. According to Alpert, Nieto now has hip and wrist flexion and extension. He is able to do a bicep curl, and he is sitting up with good posture for the first time in almost five years.

Nieto also has gained increased control over his facial muscles, according to John McCarthy, chairman of Augie’s Bash, a fundraiser put on by Augie’s Quest, a group that raises funds for ALS.

Prior to the Project Walk program, Nieto had been stretching to maintain his flexibility, but now he is working on regaining rather than regressing the effects of ALS. He also has a goal in mind: walking his youngest daughter down the aisle when she gets married next summer, he wrote.

Alpert says that if Nieto’s progress proves out, it could show that this treatment helps those with ALS, and perhaps it could be expanded to people with multiple sclerosis or dementia.

“My belief and prayer was if we could help someone with ALS, who else could we help?” Alpert says. In time, Alpert and company just may find out.

Editor’s Note: Project Walk and the Be Perfect Foundation will be the recipients of sponsorship money and donations collected as part of the run/walk Club Industry is doing at 6 a.m. on Oct. 25 as part of the Club Industry conference in Chicago. You can register for the run/walk when you register online for the conference or onsite at the trade show. Register for the show and the run/walk here.