Not long after takeoff, about 10 miles east of Tampa, FL, the battery on Joe Cirulli’s A36 Bonanza single-engine six-seat airplane exploded. Cirulli, an experienced pilot, lost all contact with air traffic control as well as his lights and navigation. His only guide was a compass that he could only see by holding a flashlight in his mouth.

It was the middle of the night in 2005, and a hurricane approaching the east coast of Florida meant Cirulli couldn’t go east, as several airplanes were headed from the east to land in Tampa away from the hurricane. Cirulli, flying solo, navigated his dark airplane over the Gulf of Mexico, then he zigzagged across the state, looking for a place to land, his fuel running low.

That night was not the first test of Cirulli’s mettle. Before he became the owner and CEO of the now profitable Gainesville Health and Fitness Centers in Gainesville, FL, he had reached and overcome the depths of despair many times.

Next month, Cirulli will receive Club Industry’s Lifetime Achievement Award at the Club Industry Conference and Trade Show in Las Vegas. How he became the 10th recipient of the award is a tale worthy of a movie script, one part “Rudy” and one part “Rocky.” It is a tale of grit, determination and the will to succeed. Cirulli is, in the health club industry and in life, a survivor.