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Joe Cirulli, who has owned and operated Gainesville Health and Fitness Centers since 1978, is the 10th recipient of Club Industry's Lifetime Achievement Award. Photo by Migdalia Figueroa.
A Leader from the Start
Joe Cirulli was born and raised in Elmira, NY, a largely blue-collar town in south-central New York just north of the Pennsylvania border. He is the third of seven children born to Armand and Fran Cirulli. Armand served in the U.S. Navy and later worked for the post office. Fran was a nurse. Many days, Armand would return home from his postal job as Fran was leaving for work. It was a busy household in which young Joe saw hard work first-hand.
Cirulli (pronounced “seh-ROO-lee”) started working out at age 7, watching Jack LaLanne on TV. By age 9, Cirulli already showed an interest in lifting weights, so at Christmas, he received a Mighty Mouse weight set. Still in grade school, Cirulli led the neighborhood kids in workouts in the cellar of his house. He later lifted weights with men at the local YMCA.
In high school, Cirulli expanded his leadership role. He led his football teammates in weight training, and before his senior year, No. 63 was named captain.
“He would always leave everything out on the field,” says Cirulli’s sister, Linda Cirulli-Burton.
In his Notre Dame High School yearbook, a photo of Cirulli on the sidelines of the football field is paired with this quote: “It’s not winning that matters but the will to win.” The quote was from Vince Lombardi, legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers and one of Cirulli’s idols. Years later, another of Lombardi’s quotes is displayed on Cirulli’s club wall.
One of Cirulli’s greatest achievements in high school came in a loss. As a wrestler, he faced an opponent 20 pounds heavier—and with a beard. The opponent almost pinned Cirulli, but at the last second, Cirulli lifted his shoulder to prevent the pin. After time expired, Cirulli’s teammates gave him a big ovation for his efforts. It was one of the first moments in which he showed his survivor instincts.
While attending Corning Community College in Corning, NY, Cirulli ran and hitchhiked the 20 or so miles back home so he could lift weights with his friends in Elmira before returning to Corning.
His journey to Gainesville came almost by accident. After getting his associate’s degree, Cirulli and a buddy planned to travel the country, starting with a trip to Gainesville, but the buddy backed out. So instead, Cirulli went to Gainesville anyway to visit his girlfriend, who was going to a community college there. Cirulli arrived in Gainesville on Oct. 27, 1973. That is when his real survival story began.